The Bubble That Burst

15th May, 2014.

Whether we realize it or not, we live in a bubble. Yes, you and me. This bubble symbolizes our comfort zone. It represents our principles, fears and stereotypes. This bubble  is embodied in the way we live life. We are happy to exist in it.

Today I am writing about the time when I decided to take a sneak-peak outside that bubble. What better way to go about this little social experiment of mine (just looking outside the bubble), than to take a ride alone on an Indian train? My mind was set. This summer, I was going to go to Delhi by train. Little did I know that I would be this close to spending a night lying on the floor by a stinking train toilet.

I booked a ticket almost a month in advance, but on the day that the train left, I got to know that my name had been pushed on to the ‘waiting list’ and I wouldn’t be able to travel that day. No worries. I would try the ‘Tatkaal’ booking the next day, where we pay a small premium to book a ticket during emergencies. I tried for two days, but the website just crashed both times due to the rush (travel season). I was just going to Delhi to visit a few relatives. What about those who had to travel to meet a dying family member or hold their new born child?

Two days later, I was desperate. I decided that no matter what, I would get onto a train that day. Dad and I went to the railway station and checked out what was going on. We saw that the only option available was a non A/C sleeper class journey on board the Jhelum Express. And that, without a confirmed seat. Dad dealt with the ticket collector outside and then I boarded the train, mentally prepared to spend the night sleeping on the floor.

Walking down the aisle of the train, I was looking for a place to temporarily sit. I finally sat besides a fifty-something sardarji in one of the compartments. Believe it or not, the sardarji had an extra ticket because one of his friends had backed out at the last moment. Out of all the people in the whole damn train, I decided to sit besides probably the only man with an extra ticket. Crazy luck. At least I had a ‘bed’ to sleep on at night.

Now, I could comment on the despicable state of the train, but to put it simple, it was just really dirty. Nobody had cleaned the bogeys for ages. The train supplied no food, no water and no blankets. All these things were playing in my mind when I decided to calm down and give it some time.

As the day progressed, I relaxed and started to look at things as they were, without unnecessarily exaggerating them to myself. I started interacting with the people around me… Two friends who knew each other for the past 30 years (one being the sardarji) were going to Delhi for ‘business purposes’ (They liked to share a bottle of alcohol after almost every meal and before sleeping at night)… There was a young man who worked at a hotel in Koregaon Park. He was going back home to his family in Uttarakhand after two years… There was a young sardar who worked in Hinjewadi, travelling to Amritsar to meet his ailing grandparents… There was a large group of people on a pilgrimage… There was a young Muslim boy, who said he was going home. However, during the course of the journey, he changed his final destination too many times for the rest of the people to take him seriously. He was very friendly though and insisted on buying small food items for all the people around him throughout the journey… There was a soldier with his family who were relocating to Uttarakhand due to a transfer… Need I mention that most of these people were travelling without a ticket? I personally interacted with each and every one of them.

So many people. So many lives. So many tales. They were all out there, right in front of me. For once, I actually felt the life of another person. For once, I opened my eyes.

Just the feeling of standing alone at the doorway of the train, feeling gusts of wind blow against my face was surreal. I was there, yelling my lungs out to the endless lands that the train passed by. Singing at the top of my voice, I felt liberated. Not that I was captive before but just that I found a fresh, new life within me. I was truly alive. That, was my watershed moment. That was when my bubble burst and reality embraced me with open arms.

You, reading this right now. If you feel that you live in a bubble, go ahead, burst it. Live life which may be raw and rough, but very real.

Edwin Joseph.

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