He had brought a book to his farewell party and stayed immersed in it deeply, until the party ended.

It was when his parents called him for going home, that I heard the voice of glass. She looked not a day older than 16. Her red bangles jingled against each other causing a tiny pandemonium around her hand. She was apparently, unaware of this sound that had caused me to leave Unaccustomed Earth. A young girl held her hand behind her, perhaps her sister. They were looking for a seat in the empty wagon. The station was noisy and I was peacefully reading; her bangles disturbed my concentration. She sat in front of me with her bag on her lap, the young girl still clinging to her hand. I stole curious glances to observe her wondering why she had chosen that place. She was in traditional Tamil attire - a conservatively draped saree, with a broad golden border. It was a fine work of golden thread, an art the name of which I will not remember even after a life time. The saree was peach coloured with designs in black and red alongside. The blouse was carefully kept out of view for any observation. Her hair was parted in the middle, marked by a spot of vermillion that was neither too thick, nor too thin. In one hand she had worn red noisy bangles and the other was adorned by a golden watch. She had worn a mangalsutra around her neck alongside one glittering golden necklace. They both giggled giving me an impression as if she had read my mind and had chosen the place only to disturb me. Yet her smile was disarming, giving her an aura of carelessness. Playfully, she kept fidgeting with her necklace, twirling it along the length. I wanted to go and bang her head with my book and cry in her ear – don’t you know, they have trapped you for life and concealed your way to a dark tunnel at the end of which is the same end for everyone. How could she be married and yet so happy, when I quiver even by the thought of something that is still far away. That mangalsutra should have strangled her crushing her breaths that would eventually stop. Her bangles were not making her opulent for anyone except her husband who was given freedom to do anything and yet her hands were stringed to an invisible remote. I knew, at that moment that I hated her not for her smile, not for her carefree laughter that filled the compartment of the train, not for the chocolaty henna on her pale palms but for her very existence, that she had entered my thoughts perforating them to the last layer. I felt my cheeks go red, burning with unexplainable bout of jealousy and I returned to the book, determined not to look up. With the passing stations, I felt my frustration slowly getting fluid – to sympathy for my own being. A new surge of anger was building within me for being indecisive on my feelings, absence of focussed anger; I wanted it so much. I kept stealing glances once in a while, observing the movement of her hands as she smoothed her hair, straightened her pallu, much to my chagrin. She knew that I was watching, I could feel her gaze from the corner of her eyes. The stations went by, time did not. The monotony of the movement – halt of the train was broken when they stepped in the compartment. Three boys, laughing, drunk in the elixir of youth

trampled their way over an old woman hawker’s crate of ground nuts. The seats were still vacant while they chose to search for them. One of the boys, saw the girls and ribbed the others pointing. They came near me, and sat down. They reeked of alcohol, and the girls were repulsed by the stench. I, of course, stayed unmoved; any signs of unwanted behaviour would fetch ungodly activities on me in this state. The one who sat near me stared at the young bride unabashedly. The girls were looking down, out of the window and the laughter, smiles had disappeared. The boys were in playful mood, one stared at my Unaccustomed Earth and asked, “Yenna book, sir? Plus 2aaaa?” He added extra ‘aaa’ syllable in Tamil vernacular to clarify that he was actually asking a question to me. “Ille”, I replied, “Novel irke”, amazed at myself; could I still pass for a 12th class student. Just before I started congratulating myself I realized that he must have thought of me as a young teacher, preparing his lecture for the day so that boys don’t ridicule him in mid class, jeering. I realized it was just a ploy to incline more towards the girls. They were using complex Tamil, way beyond my comprehension now. I decided not to pay any attention not wanting to tell them that I was a Hindi speaker although I was sure to have given away already by my accent. Their laughter was shrill, piercing my ears, my concentration already bungled. I was staring blankly at the black printing turning pages when one of them tried to make a move towards the bride. I caught the hand in the middle, surprised at my own boldness. The other one tried to get up and I pushed him back by my other hand. He almost went tumbling down from the seat. I got up to handle the other two if they tried to get up, my book fell down. A hawker cried something about his cookies at a distance and I realized that they were laughing, all three. My book was lying on the floor, I looked up only to find the guys indifferent joking amongst themselves. My valour was wasted; the girls were busy giggling busy in their small world. One of the boys offered me a cookie, from the hawker. I declined politely, shaking my head and getting up. My station had come.