The end of a wordless argument


Image courtesy: bergheimfollies.blogspot.com

I wrote the first part of this story a while ago. Ram and Kausi are having problems in their marriage, which sends Ram in a strangely introspective spiral. This final part is from Ram’s POV, and starts off with a disturbing memory.

I had been flipping channels, finally giving in to Scarlett Johansson’s charms in Match point, when the little one had crept in, her fingers furiously digging her nose.

“You know, amma* is going to leave the house. She said it to the phone”

I remember wrestling with the kick-to-the-crotch missive my daughter delivered and the urge to stop her from making pipes out of her booger. She could be a manipulative puppy dog sometimes, but that was not it. Her cherubic face had a shadow of almost nonchalance. It might as well have been Morse code to her.

The facts, meanwhile, have been adding up like numbers on that building in Union Square. The household has’t exactly been cackling with familial warmth. The kids are either the only ones talking or the only issue being talked about. And now, Kausi has plans to flee. Great!

Kausi slams her notebook down, her lips pursed tight—which actually means she nailed the killer conclusion for her piece—and gets ready to sleep. You had to live with Kausi to learn these quirks, and how they could throw you off-kilter sometimes. She would be in the midst of a nerve-wrecking tirade about something I did, and the next moment, laughing about some slip-of-the-tongue she had while tearing me the new one. You had to keep up with her train of thought. More like a missile, really.

What could she possibly be missing in her life? Her writing career has never been better. Her dance students were going international. Our kids have her looks, and our brains. I’d like to think that must be making at least half of Cabbagetown envious. It has to be something else. Could it be that I don’t spend enough time with her, and express the hell out of myself, like all those fluff pieces keep spouting? No, It couldn’t be that simple. Who leaves the house for that? What do those hacks know about my marriage? Didn’t they also peddle the “women are more spiritually evolved than men” crap?

Wait! What am I thinking? Talking has never cut it for me, and I am already double-down. I need to dazzle her, sweep her off her feet, and stop thinking in clichés. Jewelry is out. Of all the stereotypes about women, Kausi had to defy the one most amenable to gifts. She has way too many sarees⁑, for my contribution to count. So, it comes down to the thing I hate the most—a vacation. Why do people feel the insufferable need to travel? Well, I guess I could take her to Florida. Yeah right! She’ll probably amp up the alimony and use it to have me killed—once she stuffs her 401K with it—if I took her from Atlanta to Florida. It’ll have to be international; European maybe. Some pretentious sounding place like Venice or Greece.

I could push the tender meeting to next week. The kids could stay at the Raghavans’, their creepy teenage son notwithstanding. Kausi’s students could wait a week to become the next Mallika Sarabhai. Wow! I’ve really outdone myself this time. A weeklong trip in Venice is at least quality time raised to ten. I can’t wait to see Kausi’s almond eyes split wider open with joy, when I surprise her with the tickets tomorrow.

Unless time isn’t the mother lode of my mess. What if it’s one of those global problems, gnawing away at the marriage, going hitherto unnoticed. What if she’s gone past the point of no return? And, just like that, I feel my marriage closing shut on me again, this time, pushing my ten thousand dollar vacation wedge mercilessly out of the way. Kausi stirs beside me; she has never looked more peaceful. Her peace added to my turmoil. She probably found an answer—an answer this peaceful can’t be good news. How am I going to live without her? Who is going to stop me from stepping out in a maroon shirt and grey pants?

But, whatever happens I am keeping the cuter child; she can handle the teenager.

The little one woke me up from my sleep—patchy at best—by doing the trampoline on my belly. The scene before my eyes shoots my morning crankiness in the eye—

Kausi is busy packing. Her stuff. The kids’ stuff. It doesn’t make any sense. Why would she leave without talking? I don’t hit her. I didn’t cheat on her. Heck! I don’t even smoke. I am a loving father. That’s it—

“Where do you think you are going?”

“I am taking the kids to Raghavans’ place. We can talk after that.”

“No! I want to talk right now. You can’t just leave me. Why are you doing this to me? What about the kids? I am not signing any papers.”

The kids look like they saw a unicorn grow fangs. I don’t care.

Kausi gives me a bewildered glance, her first this morning, while dragging the luggage out—“Papers? What papers? Why are your eyes so red? Look I don’t want to—

“You know what! Fine! You want to talk; let’s talk. I am glad you finally discovered you could piece words together. But, you can regale me on the way to the airport. I was sick of not being able to spend time with you; sick of complaining to my friends about you; sick of waiting for your ‘aha!’ moment. So, I booked us a trip to Venice. And, no, you don’t have a choice. I am prepared to kidnap you if it comes to that.” Her eyes shift guiltily towards the kids, but she’s quick enough to resume the bone-piercing look at me—like only a dancer can.

Is it my turn to speak? I venture, nonetheless.

“But, the kid told me-that’s the reason why-Oh! I get it now-I don’t know what to-should I pack my-what time did you say was the flight?”

The kids don’t look away as Kausi envelopes me in a kiss so raucous that I taste blood in my mouth.

I am so glad my tickets are refundable.

( * : Mother; ⁑ : Indian garment)

I am an Amtrak girl!


Amtrak has a culture of its own. It’s not flashy or flamboyant, like a ramp-walk model. It’s sweet and subtle, like a cutie next door. It has a je ne sais quoi, that doesn’t reveal itself the first time you step in. But, you know you are close, when you begin to discern the boundaries of AmtrakLand: There’s the outside world festered with problems tracing furrows on your forehead. There’s the train station, luring you in, promising a respite.  And then, there’s Amtrak. Once you enter it, you forget you had a life outside.

I remember being skeptical of my first Amtrak trip from Toledo to DC—the burden of a really long trip without wifi connectivity pasted onto my face. But, it didn’t take too long to get over my ‘I-need-to-check-my-mail-every-minute‘ self and begin to enjoy the journey. It was perhaps due to my impassioned love for trains, as a kid. The idea that a train took ten times longer to reach a place doesn’t seem tedious as much as exciting when you have just been introduced to math. For one, it meant a longer vacation. The planning for the travel introduced a whole new element into the vacation: Home-packed lunches, ice coolers, a pack of playing cards, and tons of books to read. Plus, you could look ‘outside’ any time, all the time. As a child born before the internet boom, there wasn’t much more you could have wanted.

Triangle girl is Amtrak girl!

You may ask me—what is this special thing about Amtrak you need to use a french expression for?—to which I can only say, I don’t know. But, I do know this: To this day, it brings out the same effervescence I had as a child sitting on a train. It is familiar; it is comfortable. It rarely disappoints me. It doesn’t have the irksome, clumsy security check we all love to hate. It doesn’t have baggage fees the size of the baggage—it’s free for the first two checked-in bags per passenger. If a family of four traveled, they could actually carry their house.

But is that really it? Not even close. To truly appreciate the Amtrak experience, one must look closely at how it fares in some of the key aspects of any journey:

1. Sights and sounds

Whether you are inside a car, or an airplane, looking outside is probably the first thing you do, right? Unless it’s pitch dark, in which case, you look at the people around you, you are engrossed looking outside the first thirty minutes of the trip. Trees are an inextricable part of journeys. Something about them sets off the metaphor centers in the brain— they play out as a darting landscape with seemingly endless depth. It’s a sublime feeling.

Amtrak is spot on in this department. It might be a corporation seething with losses, but they don’t take it out on the size of the windows. There’s a sprawling viewing gallery with comfortable seats and tables, where you could just stare outside. If William H. Davies could see this, it would give him goosebumps.

Life is a river…..Oh! Shut up, will you?

2. The Grub

Amtrak has two dining options: the cafe car, and the dining car—the former being the hotspot for all the coffee and sundry junk food that makes out heart melt, and the latter offering a more sophisticated sit-down meal, tablecloth and all. The viewing gallery is right next to the cafe, which is convenient for gazers like me. But, I prefer to take my lunches and dinners sit-down style. It has the whole ‘going-out-to-eat’ feel of a restaurant. Reservations are made, even if not honored entirely. Tables are set out with fresh smelling linen. Menus are handed out by overworked, yet genial waiters. If you are lucky enough to travel alone, you are seated alongside fellow-alone passengers. Now, this could go either way, but I have always had the most effusive conversations with people while dining. When there is a lot of time to kill, and people have no option but to talk, it’s amazing what we are capable of. And what’s comforting is that the talks rarely get too political or divisive. It’s probably the vacation mood, but no one wants to debate the size of the government or talk about their views on religious freedom onboard. So be it. Does every discussion need to be intellectual? Should mindless babbling be reserved for drunken nights?  Amtrak made me ask these questions after a long time.

J’ai faim

3. Slumber

Just when you think you have nothing to complain, so you’d rather sleep, it hits you—the Arctic freeze that is commonplace on the Amtrak. It’s probably the relative inactivity but, you don’t realize how cold it is until you shut your eyes. Sleeping can be a real bummer on the train, if you are not equipped with the right gear. Especially when the person next to you is busy disengaging fart bombs in their sleep. Which brings me to the most important variable in any Amtrak ride—

What to wear on an Amtrak

4. The awkward-arm partner 

Nothing changes on the Amtrak except your partner. Unless there is a train-wreck.  Some don’t talk at all, which I prefer. Some restrict themselves to the stilted “Where are you from?” and “Is that the dining car?”, which is fine too. Some are outright annoying, and leave you with a bad taste of the whole journey. They ramble on about how mundane their jobs are. Worse, they make you explain what you do. Now, I don’t care if it sounds conceited, but I resent having to dumb down my research in neuroscience so that lay-men can understand. I don’t bug you with queries about radiator hose clamps for my car. So, shouldn’t you google ischemia if you don’t get it the first time?

There are some wise ones though, who hit the perfect balance between talking and not talking; between sense and nonsense. I am one of them.

I know I am the one who pushed for this surgical dissection of the travel experience, but in reality, Amtrak is more than the sum of its parts. It lets you enjoy life’s cliches—people, nature, warmth (the intangible kind), food—without a moment of guilt or haste. It’s a naughty mistress who amps you up for the vacation, and, a caring wife, who nurses the blues on the way back.

This account may sound bloated—coming from a broke graduate student who believes there will be time for everything—it most likely is. But, I leave just enough space to accept that, tomorrow I might not have the time to sit and stare. I might not like the idea of spending fifteen hours cooped up without wi-fi, and just endless shrubbery as company. Until then, this is the Amtrak girl signing off!

Photo creds:

trekearth.com

visitphilly.com

subdude-site.com

nymag.com