Ravi sat on his cot, leaning on a stack of pillows, and looked out of the window. The sun was setting. The grazing herd of clouds was gone. Soon it was dark, and the fantasy returned, the fantasy of the journey. The seedling house became a compartment in a train, and he the lone and imprisoned traveller. Dark wastes lay on either side; from them fleeting signs spoke to Ravi—a solitary firefly, a plodding lantern. The wheels moved along the track with soft, deceptive thuds. Then he heard the far rush of another track racing towards his own, the sorrow of another, futilely seeking comfort. The rails met for one moment, tumultuously, to part again. To race away into the many-mysteried night.
“The rains were over, the skies shone, and Khasak readied itself for Onam, the festival of thanksgiving. Children went up into the hills at sunrise to gather flowers. For ten days they would arrange colourful designs in their yards with flower petals to welcome the deities of the festival. Ravi heard the children sing on the hillsides, and for a fleeting moment they touched him with the joy of a hundred home-comings. The moment passed, and once again he was the fugitive. A fugitive had no home, and a sarai no festival.
Ravi sought to share his fears with Madhavan Nair—the Onam recess would last a fortnight. Would the children come back to dreary routine after that spell of freedom?
‘If I were their age, I wouldn’t !’ Ravi said.
‘You lost your childhood somewhere along the way, Maash. I hope the children find it for you.”
Meanwhile Appu-Kili had caught a dragonfly and with nimble fingers slipped a lasso round its tail. Abida looked at the dragonfly, into its eyes of a thousand crystals. The eyes shone dully with the chronicles of the dead. If dragonflies were memories of the dead, as they believed in Khasak, whose then was this memory? Perhaps it was her mother’s pining images of sin and regret and drowning. The crystal eyes fell on her.
The journey into the vast unquiet universe, watched by faces in railway compartments, tolerant and incurious. In the nights Ravi curled up on luggage racks and slept to the soft beat of the rails. The names of railway stations changed, their scripts changed. Then on the road, up the high ranges, past hairpin bends in gasoline-perfumed buses. The roadway dust changed colour, sunrise and sunset changed places, directions were lost in an assailing infinity. The journey took him through cheerless suburbs, through streets of sordid trades, past cacti villages and lost townships of lepers, and ashramas where, in saffron beds, voluptuous swaminis lay in wait for nirvana.