I had two options – to go back to sleep or dig out a novel from the huge bag on my lap. It was Monday morning and I was riding the 7.30 bus back to Kolkata after spending the weekend at home. Whenever I travel, I carry couple of novels in my bag. I am not good at smalltalk and find it absurd to strike up a conversation with a stranger. The books are my best friends at these times. When the bus races on the endless monotonous roads, I roam around the battered battlefields of nineteenth century Atlanta or trek the Khyber Pass on the way to Peshawar from Kabul. But today, neither did I bring out the book nor did catch up on the unfinished sleep. I stared out the window as the vast grey fields hurried towards the opposite direction.
I saw the men and women digging out potatoes from the dusty fields. Cattle grazed on the grass patches. On the horizon, superimposed trees at different distances gave the false impressions of small curvy hills. All my life I lived in the planes and those dummy hills were all I looked forward too. As a child I wondered what lay beyond them! A few years ago, I was travelling to Jaipur from New Delhi by train. Just before entering Jaipur, the train passed through a vast stretch of hilly area. On both sides there were innumerable hills one beyond another. A child sitting opposite to me asked what lay beyond those hills. I only managed to say to the child that there were more hills beyond the hills. The child gave me an expression bordered on surprise and suspicion! This reminded me of another intriguing question which bothered me a lot in my childhood. What was there at the end of the universe? I knew that the answer was ‘Nothing’, but I could not perceive it as an answer. Every observed object has a defined boundary and beyond it lies another object. How can there be nothing beyond the periphery of this universe? This incomprehensible answer probably ignited my interest in the universe itself. I developed a liking for Astronomy - the science of heavenly bodies. I bought a backyard telescope when I was in class XI and this instrument became an inseparable friend of mine the following nights.I observed planets, satellites, stars and constellations. I read about birth and death of stars, about the nebulae, the galaxies, the white dwarfs and the black hole. I look at the night sky and I feel at home, the constant chatter in my head stops and a profound tranquility befalls upon me.
I suddenly noticed that the landscape outside was changing - from vast open fields to scattered factories billowing black smokes. I left behind the country side and was nearing the city of my destination. The engineering college I attended was beside the river Ganges. It has a very big complex lined with rows of trees. In spite of the attraction of the campus itself, on many afternoons I used to go to the river bank and stared at the factories of Khidderpore on the other side of the river. The complicated mesh of pipes delicately illuminated, the rhythmic mechanical humming of the machines, the fire emitting chimneys and the workers who appeared like black moving dots allured me, not sure why. I would sit on the ghat and scan the opposite bank well past the evenings as the boats and the steamers continued to move in either directions on the water in front of me.
I was shaken again by the cacophony outside. I refocused my eyes on the road only to find that I had already reached the city. A gloomy cloud sailed across my mind at the thought of a busy week ahead.