My father got his promotion four years back. I remember this because probably it has been four years since we began preferring AC coaches for our distant travel routes. The smell of the laundry, when you unpack the bed sheets in the AC coach, seems to be a luxury. Entitling you with the independence to use these with ‘free will’ is surely a luxury for a middle class in India. Last year, I was traveling back alone to my home in the summers from a distant place. I installed myself perfectly on the upper berth, the universal berth for bachelors, hiding under the blanket with my headphones. The only disturbance I had was when the caterers came or when that overexcited kid of the lower berth would climb to my adjacent upper berth with the help of fellow coach mates and then would cry to his mom to get him down, the next minute he climbs.
I slept peacefully like a bear in his hibernation, with the blanket saving me from the chilled air gushing out just above me and the sheet of stainless steel saving us from the temperature, melting the Chotanagpur plateau outside. I woke up with the loud chatter of people below me. They were busy in finding things and packing them as their destination was soon to arrive, by which I mean in an hour. I had to leave at the same station. What everyone hates about the AC coaches in summer is that you have to leave the air-conditioned zone to go for the washbasin or the washroom area. I had no choice. I had to freshen up. As I opened the door at the end of the berths, my face was hit hard with the accelerating heated air particles. It made me standstill because it felt as if the entire positivity and hope crashed with its collision with the heatwave. At that moment, I did not feel sad, rather I felt grief, inevitable grief. This feeling is unmatched because you get to experience it only at that particular door, or ‘The Door of Grief’.
I regained my senses as my eyes went on to the kid below, who was busy searching for something in the bags that lied around. Her parents sat leaning on the door of the coach. A paper serving as their bedsheet and the 80 kmph wind from the opposite door serving as their AC. Though, nowadays AC coaches in India ensure that the entry points to them remain safe from infiltrators, to clean up the ‘undesirables’ under the Clean Indian Movement. Well the coach I was traveling in was the last in the series and the sleeper coaches began after it. I think that is why they were successful in trespassing.
I had to get down soon, so without over thinking I went on to brush my teeth. The kid came to my legs with fruit in her hand; I think it was guava. Her hands were too small to get to the basin, so she reached out to me to wash the fruit. I washed the fruit and gave it to her. She smiled innocently as I handed her the fruit. I doubt if the fruit got cleaned because even after washing, it had touched my hand. I don’t think the kid noticed. I left as I had to pack my things.
I opened ‘The Door of Grief’ and instantly the water droplets on my beard froze. I thought, probably I had named the door wrong. The grief wasn’t permanent. I walked up to my seat to find the kid of the lower berth enjoying a fruit cake on my berth. He smiled innocently in response to the annoyed expression on my face. The smile seemed similar to the kid outside. It is real, the kids don’t notice. As I was lacing up my shoes, my mind was in search of a better name for the door. When suddenly my eyes went on to the door, where I could see through the transparent glass the kid holding her father’s hand waiting to get down at the arriving station. I stopped reviewing my thought of renaming the door. Probably the name wasn’t wrong, because, at the end of every journey, you have to step into the real world, by unlocking ‘The Door of Grief’.