"The love didn't fade. It swelled through me like the limitless ocean that love is. We'll never see each other again. And, we'll never be apart."
Text by Caverly Morgan. Photos by Vineet Teames.
It was a moment film directors live for.
I meet him on the train, though I never learn his name. To say, “I meet him,” doesn't do justice to how his presence affects me. For it isn't an introduction based on personality or identity. It is a meeting of presence. Of shared being.
For the first hour I witness him as he interacts with the moving world around him and within him. A plastic spoon held out the window. Watching it bend and rattle in the wind. Giggles with his sister. A seeming forgetting of his mother, who is always within reach. Bubbles of joy arising as he feels the wind tickle the hair on his arms, stretched beyond the cell of the train.
Later we interact. He doesn't speak English, yet through play we dance. The game of intrigue infused with darting shyness. Gestures, smiles. Laughs. Language becomes a crude clothing that covers the nakedness of presence.
We are in love.
The second class non-air conditioned trains in India are a perfect symbol of an important cultural difference between here and where I was raised. India is not the land of exhalted individualism. It is not the land of 'me' vs. 'you.' At least, not the India I experience.
I'm well aware that I'm generalizing — and the difference here does feel deeply palpable. In the western world, where it's easy to find comfort, our confusion easily thickens. In our privilege, we come to the faulty conclusion that we truly can avoid pain. If we just try hard enough. That seeking pleasure bears good results.
And the problem, on one level, is that we can. Perhaps just for a moment. Enough to whet the palate for sure. The cycle rolls on.
Confusion becomes the result of our erroneous belief that we are this body-mind. We identify with it. We protect it. We defend it.
And yet this doesn't match our direct experience. On some level, we know we're living a lie. On some level, we know the law of impermanence, no matter how actively we resist it. We know that we are going to die.
On the train, people are layered on top of each other. We're together, moving without hurry through the land, for hours. The seats face each other, bench style.
Your neighbor, who is physically connected to you, legs or arms pressing, talks to you. It matters not if you've met. You're on the train together! You’re part of the community. How could you not be?
The woman next to me gets up at a stop. For several moments, I don't notice her puffy, abandoned purse and bag. When I do, I search for her. No avail.
After many more moments she returns. Relaxed. Focused on her wrinkled sari. Finding her purse just where she left it. As expected, holding her seat in her absence. She lives in a world in which it didn't occur to her not to trust those around her. A world so foreign to many of us.
Later an Indian friend suggests that it wouldn't be wise for me to be so trusting. I do recognize the risk of romanticizing what was witnessed. Still, wise or not to our conditioned minds, she trusted.
Hours more pass. Wallahs selling chai, water, idli, dosa, vada pass through the crowded walkway. Calling out, almost chanting, what they offer. A man comes through selling 'magic books' full of images that move as you pass a transparent cover over them. For less than a quarter, I buy one for my new young playmate.
The train is so full at this point that I'm up on the sleeper bunk with our luggage, a herd of passengers between me and the boy. As we pull into the station, bags shuffle.
People help each other gather their things. Full contact pushing that lacks aggression, rather seems to be steeped in a lack of fear of 'the other,' begins. Bodies swim to the door.
There's no way to wiggle through to him. He's focused on carrying bags for his mother. No name to call out, I join the herd and do my best. I lose sight of him until I make it to the door.
I find him there on the platform laughing with his sister. I eagerly offer a wave which he returns with glee. The train begins to roll forward and my wave turns to the universal gesture for come. Come quick!
His little bare feet don't hesitate as I wave the magic book in the air. He doesn't know what it is, but he's clear about one thing: it's a gesture of love. His run turns to a sprint.
The speed of the train is starting to outdo us. His family's cheers for him from afar, as if he's only feet away from a finish line.
I hang onto the yellow metal bar on the side of the doorless car and lean out like a trapeze artist. The baton pass is made! His arms raise in the universal sign of victory. It didn't matter what he'd won. He didn't even know what it was yet. But he knew he'd won. About this he was clear.
What he'll never know is that I too won. Tears fell from my eyes as the adrenaline faded and as he too began to fade.
The love didn't fade. It swelled through me like the limitless ocean that love is. We'll never see each other again. And, we'll never be apart.
The train sped on. Flying through this ever-changing world with ease and in perfect alignment with life's grace.