Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Choose the Railway Station to Say Goodbye

Saying goodbye is the hardest thing to do. Yet at times it is inevitable and the environs in which it is set plays a crucial role in alleviating the process. That’s why I felt strange waiting at the ‘Departure’ of an airport. There was something impersonal about waving to a person goodbye as she walked through security guards into a large airport.

The airport is not a good place to bid goodbye. It does not make the heartbeat palpable and lacks the personal and emotional tinge a seeing off at a railway station platform offers. The airport has a formal, a very English and a stiff upper lip corporate overbearing that stops the finer emotions at the gates and says ‘not here’.

A railway station offers the ultimate setting to bid goodbye. It has a very Indian feel to it — Indian because it’s filled with emotions, it allows a requisite sprinkling of drama and to add to the milieu there are just about the right amount of sound effects.

If the train is running late there’s always a bench waiting to be warmed or the ‘last’ coffee can be at the railway ‘Light Refreshment Stall’. The blood starts to rush in through the veins into the heart causing an intangible pain as the train pulls in by the platform. After placing the luggage it is customary to return to the compartment door for the ‘final’ goodbye. By now there’s considerable tension in the air and words are few and far between. The awkward wall of silence that suddenly builds up between the two is broken by the huffing and puffing of the train. It’s almost as though the train is jostling the two into speaking.

With the train whistle the ‘goodbye drama’ reaches its crescendo. The train chugs at such an incredibly slow pace it is as almost as the train is enjoying separating the two. It’s a sadistic pleasure the train enjoys while saying ‘I’m giving you one more chance....forgot to say something?’ The last act before the lights blur is the ‘waving goodbye’. One gets to wave till the other reduces to a dot and merges with the horizon. These are bittersweet pleasures missing at an airport.

Perhaps it is for this that Indian cinema has countless number of farewell scenes at railway stations. The airport, with security guards, multiple checking points and glass doors that enclose the other on a ‘safer’ inside is dead and does not exuberate the spirit of separating. It is railway stations, and not airports, that are the temples of parting.

While I wait at the departure lounge of the airport wondering whether to feel sad and risk being the odd one out, I receive an SMS: ‘Guess who’s on the plane: Ranbir Kapoor!!!’ Soon her facebook and twitter profiles are updated. While leaving the airport the mind offers an a la carte of emotions: I pick confusion. One thing, however, is sure — railway stations are better places to bid goodbye.
(This appeared in The New Indian Express on November 6)