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Drink up and be somebody

Dear Reader,

History will boldly testify that your favourite blogger is usually slow on the uptake, a state of affairs that's blooming with each passing year like a reverse-Revital. "Why this self-harshness, G", you may ask? Well...

I've been doing the Bom-Pune-Bom trips for 9 years and it's taken about that long to accept that MSRTC Shivneri, still the best bus service of them all, simply cannot (or, realistically, will not) cope with 3-day weekends. Since my job profile does not allow me to plan my travel in advance on said Fridays, I land up at Dadar, view the queue of potential passengers snaking a long way from the ticket window and mentally prepare to arrive home at the hour of morning reserved for sheepish teenagers and dacoits. The Expressway doesn't help anyone's cause thanks to truck drivers spreading themselves generously across 3 lanes and clogging the Lonavala pass to a point where the traffic jam is about 3 km long. A stretch that would take 45 minutes 5 years ago now takes about 2 hours. That right there is progress.

The Christmas weekend brought that point home rather forcefully. Unwell for the whole week, I aimed to leave for home early on Friday, only to be tripped up by a last-minute meeting that, like most meetings, was both pointless and easily worthy of postponement. It took me 8 hours to get home, more than 5 of which were spent in the bus. C'est la vie. Unlike the hero of the weekend, I'd had just about enough of being martyred for a lost cause and decided on the spot to take the train on all subsequent 3-day weekends henceforth. This one, for starters. So, after 2 decades I came home by the Deccan Queen.

Now, a friend has written an excellent piece on travelling by the DQ. Do peruse, not just that article but the rest of his anthology. While I enjoyed reading it and may even have been subtly influenced by it to take the train, my experience was a tad different... as is its wont. Accompanied by family, said friend revelled in a twofold journey - one going back in time and another going forward to Bombay. It was heartwarming, certainly more so than the meal I was served on the DQ.

Thrilled to be on the train, I went the whole hog and requested the legendary cutlet plate. Sipping on my coffee, watching mile after mile of plastic-strewn track whizzing by, I reminisced happily about the highlight of our childhood train trips. In those Neolithic times, all we had were books, playing cards and each other to entertain ourselves, no doubt a horrible scenario for today's tech hoi polloi. And the cutlet meal. Its no-nonsense presentation would have shocked a generation brought up on Masterchef and Instagram. The taste wasn't particularly spectacular. There was heavy competition with the Karjat vada pav. But, we were easy to please back then and happy to plough through a meal that almost never rattled the tummy.

All I'm saying is, even a slice of nostalgia is better than the 2 tired slices of bread that now accompany the meal. The cutlets themselves were like my romantic calendar in 2017, i.e. lukewarm and dry and it took a mighty effort of will to finish the food. I felt a bit letdown but let's face it - most anything you enjoyed as a child doesn't seem so great anymore. Buoyed by my friend's article and unwilling to give up, I tried to take a seat at a table in the pantry car to watch the ghats go by. Not the brightest idea when the sun sets at 6:40 pm and the train decides to scoot ahead at a thrilling 5 kmph, for some inexplicable reason. Let me save you the trouble. 'Dreary' is the word you're looking for.

But, this experience let me understand something. If/when you're alone, enjoying some/anything becomes much harder. Nowadays it's tough to avoid pithy advice from people on various topics - "just ask her out... just get married... just travel by yourself... just have another drink... just work harder... yada, yada, yada", all of it said with a bloodcurdling, woolly-headed confidence that utterly disregards the mental state of the solitary individual. 2017 was the year I acutely experienced being alone. It's not that things changed drastically compared to previous years; simply that I only became more aware of my state of being on a day-by-week-on-month basis.

I'll keep this short - doing things by yourself isn't impossible, just incredibly challenging after a while, especially when it seems like everyone you know isn't solo. Sure we can have the time of our lives booking a seat at the movies, taking vacations by ourselves, having compact little meals-for-one, or just being home alone. It's a slope that becomes steep pretty quickly though, chafing like a raw wound no amount of experiential band-aids can cover. The effort required increases exponentially with every occasion. The sooner we're open and honest (with ourselves too) about it, the less we plunge into weary self-recrimination.

So, I doff my hat to the people who are alone and have the mental fortitude, belief and equanimity to go that extra mile, keep themselves busy and/or extract joy out of old and new experiences. Rather than go completely off the rails and advocate goumutra as the greatest panacea ever... I'm just saying.

Have a good 2018 everyone. And, if you aren't alone, bless your heart and keep your unsolicited advice on the matter to yourself.

Song for the moment: The train never stops (at our town) - Merle Haggard

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