Strange thoughts on a train are only natural. They are the perfect complement to each other. Like dal and roti, like curds and rice, like ... And very helpful for passing the time slowly rolling by in the fog covered early morning county-side. And in that moment, surrounded by perfect strangers, whom you are guaranteed never to see again, you can be yourself. Free from having to put up appearances, from having to build just the right impression, free to be just for the sake of your own enjoyment. Whimsical and care-free. Just because you felt like it. And so what if you seemed a bit stupid to others, it was not like their paths and yours were likely to cross again. And even if they did, would they really remember you. First impressions can be built again. Eventually, the rising sun clears away the fog and your misconception along with it. The urge to conform increases as the first warm rays of the sun awaken your fellow passengers. The desire to be whimsical was just as wispy. Easily dispelled by societal conditioning, as the fog in the bright morning sunshine.
With Hazartganj completely dug-up, I suffered my first traffic jam in Lucknow. Previously unheard of. It took a crawling hour from the railway station to meet an old friend of mine, Sudiptho, who studied at the IIM there. I was back in familiar surroundings. And memories weren't far behind. I always found it difficult to explain what exactly about this city called me back again and again. But it filled me with a satisfaction, a satisfaction of visiting a familiar home after a long bout of homesickness, to answer that call. Time and again. A funny thing about this city. Whenever I chose to visit it, I always had a close friend to welcome me. Maybe it was the city sending me a subtle message. After spending a week in a strange land hoping to make it a little more familiar, I was back in a familiar land, hoping to make it a little closer to my heart.
The campus was picture card pretty, to be truly experienced in misty late night walks with just your thoughts to keep you company. A little intoxicant may be of help. And walking down the quiet roads, you come to the realisiation that these are the roads to real life. Behind the glamour, behind the name and fame and just beside the feeling of having arrived against heavy odds, there lies the epiphany that this is just the beginning. A beginning that will make the difference between being a suit in the middle floors of a large corporate edifice and a chance to begin something new. As I returned to the hostels along with Sudiptho, who looked determined to sieze the opportunity offered by the college, I was slightly disturbed by the long slog of a couple of years that lay ahead of him. I guess this is a place only for those prepared to face it head on. Though the late night parties by the bare flagpole out amidst the acedemic buildings might help. A soothing balm, perhaps. In a place where there are precious few.
The longing had been with me for quite some time now. And now that I was in Lucknow, I couldn't leave without having eaten copious food at Dastarkhwan, a little roadside restaurant near Qaiserbagh. All my memories of Lucknow are tied, inexplicably to the tandoori chicken at that place. Eating which I realised that this could perhaps be the best preparation of tandoori chicken ever devised by man. Leaving Lucknow without eating here appeared profane, an act I could not bring myself to commit. On arriving at there, I was confronted by a huge crowd and a significant wait. I decided to roam around the place for some more time and come back a while later. There was a collection of buildings in that area, the Makhbara Imam Zaidi, that I wanted to take pictures of. Camera in hand, at late in the evening, I roamed about the place taking pictures in every angle that I pleased. Satisfied, I decided to rest myself on the lawn where the evening's dew had just begun to settle. Staring at the buildings, I failed to notice the policeman who had appeared behind me. He seemed suspicious. He enquired about my purpose. What was I doing here at this time. Where was I from, and where in Lucknow I stayed. Partially convinced by my answers, he recommended that I leave immediately. This appeared strange. I didn't look like the type to cause trouble, or so I thought. And as I looked around, I saw the shadiness of the characters that had assembled on the lawns. I was the odd man out. Or atleast, I would like to think so, just to feel better. Thus convincing myself, I left for Dastarkhwan, and consumed the most amount of food I ever had in my life.
As Sudiptho immersed himself in his work, I was left with a free run of the place. Having spent a memorable three days in Lucknow, it was time to make up my mind about where to head to from here. Delhi seemed the obvious choice. Old friends waited for me there and so did old memories. From a part in my life in which I had experienced true independence for the first time. It was a memory that I wanted to revisit, and one that I wanted to strengthen. And it was just an overnight train ride away.