Sunday, September 1, 2013

The mute spectator

The following piece is an assignment I wrote as part of Bangalore Writers Workshop.  We had to write 2 to 6 pages on 'Art inspires Art'. My inspiration was a painting by the Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh.

He entered the old rail station. Aren’t all rail stations the same, no matter where they are? After all, they only serve to transit people from one place to the other, acting as mute spectators to journeys of mankind. But, somehow, he sensed that this station had a certain charm to it. Was it because a church overlooked it and at this time of the day, one could see the setting sun beyond it? Was it because it was the final station for all trains leaving Austria and entering Germany? Did this fact lend the station an air of finality? Or was it because it rarely saw any visitors? Maybe, it was a combination of all this and something else… 

It had two low benches on each of its two platforms and right behind these benches were the blue colored ticketing machines of the Austrian rail company. His train was not due until 18.00. A chill breeze disturbed the lone can of coke on the platform causing it to rattle across hither and thither. His thoughts wandered…the day had been a tough one. He had just visited his parents and was on his way back to the city. Though they appeared to be doing well, it was quite evident that age was catching up with them quickly. His father’s voice had lost that spark he loved so much and his mother walked with a certain stoop. 

In the last year, since his last visit, the village’s economy had shrunk further. The supermarket, post office, bank and fuel station appeared to be mere remnants of much better times. With the young men and women migrating to cities in search of greener pastures, all that was left of the village was the ageing parents.  Left to themselves, they were too proud to move to the cities. When farming and small businesses were thriving, the village was a lively place. Of late though, it had become a phantom society populated by retired workers. Life seemed to have relegated the village to such a remote corner of its canvas that even the lightest of brushstrokes were impossible. 

A train arrived at the platform opposite. An old lady alighted with her dog by her side. Slowly and firmly, she made her way toward one of the two benches and sat herself down. Standing right across, he was able to see the crevices age had made on her face. She must have been beautiful once. Her face still retained a certain symmetry that must have lined admirers in another age. She carefully laid her walking stick aside. Her dog circled the bench a couple of times before getting bored. He sniffed at the walking stick and wagged his tail lazily. 

Five minutes passed. There was an absolute stillness except for the occasional howls when the breeze gathered pace. The old lady had not moved an inch. She was staring straight ahead. If our man on the platform opposite had moved himself straight into her line of vision and performed a wild dance, in all probability, she would have sat unmoved. There was a curious finality about her gaze. Was she trying to strain herself imagining the future that lay ahead or was she dipping into her memories and reliving them, one by one? How long would she rest like this gazing into nothingness? Was she waiting for someone to come and pick her up? Or was she waiting for the Sun to set before beginning her walk home? 
Just when he began imagining the worst, the dog tugged at her skirt. He hopped on to the bench and laid his head on the lady’s lap. This prompted a touching gesture from the lady. She ran her hand gently across the dog’s face beginning from his ears. The dog moaned and snuggled closer to her bosom. 

He shifted his gaze. The countryside surrounding the station was beautiful. Vast expanse of fields on one side lent it an eerie silence. In the distance beyond the church, the Sun was expending the last rays of its shine for the day.  It was the onset of autumn when days become shorter and the air, colder…soon trees would begin shedding their leaves forming beautifully colored blankets.  

He could not help recollect a poem by his most favorite English poet – ‘To Autumn’ by John Keats where he poses: “Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?”  At his age, when the World seemed so full of possibilities, this was a disconcerting thought, evoked perhaps by a combination of his pensive mood and the darkness that was quickly taking over. 

 His journey from this village to the city had not been easy. His childhood was spent cycling and hiking in the ranges bordering the village. As he grew up, he could see that his friends were moving out to pursue university education in the cities. Few came back. Deep down, he did not want to go. So, when he finally did leave, he left with a heavy heart. Memories of the village life used to catch him unaware.

In the beginning, he used to visit often and at every possible opportunity, but slowly, the city devoured his personality. Like a cobra gobbling up its prey, he got slowly drawn in by what it had to offer. The frequency of his visits came down and along with it, his love for the village life.
Something about this evening made him reminisce. The old lady was standing up and picking her walking stick. The dog appeared listless and irritated as if he was forced out of his peaceful reverie. As the lady made her way toward the exit, a bus pulled in. A couple disembarked, presumably people working in the village’s bank.  They held each other’s hand and as they passed by the old lady, wished her a good evening.  

The couple reached the platform he was waiting in and locked each other in a gentle embrace. Their arrival and their cheerful mien lifted his spirits. He thought of his girlfriend waiting for his return. Lights came on to illuminate the desolate platform. The hands of the church clock became visible in the distance. He could not help but think, he just witnessed an unusual change of seasons: from the gloominess accompanying autumn to the promise accompanying spring, albeit a delusional one. As if on cue, the breeze picked up. A sense of relief washed over him. 

He wanted to shout out an answer to the long departed poet: “Here are the songs of spring!” If he had, his voice would have been drowned by the sound of the arriving train.

1 comment:

Surabhi said...

Good one... peeling a person's mind, thought by thought.