Have you ever been alone—truly alone?
Have you ever been in a place that was massive, cold, kind of whitish, calm and serene
with a tranquillizing ambience? Lacking human presence, completely enclosed and thereby
administering a strong dosage of claustrophobia in you right away?
Have you ever been subjected to the cold embrace of loneliness?
Do you know what it means to be secluded?
Have you ever smelled isolation?
Is this going to be one hundred years of solitude for me? As such thoughts slowly start to
take over me, I see her standing there, probably waiting for me, her lips parted slowly to
flash that magnetic smile!
‘As your friend, I’ll have to tell you that you’re never going to get married, my dear Arun!
The kind of girl you are looking for probably doesn’t exist, never existed and will never
exist. Even if someone like that exists, why in hell would she choose you? You are greedy
and your superiority complex is going to keep you single for eternity! Listen to our advice.
Stop looking for something ideal and accept a girl that will work out for your family and get
settled!’ Thus shouted my friend before alighting the train when it arrived at the station.
Most of his advice had anyway been swallowed up by the screech of the arriving train.
The girl he’d suggested sometime back—I’d conversed with her the previous day for ten
minutes. She was faltering throughout because of her inability to answer any of my questions
coherently. General conversation between me and the so-called prospective brides would
go something like this:
‘What does it mean?’
‘Father kept it/Mother kept it/It’s my grandmother’s name/It’s fashionable/It’s the name of
‘Whatever, it should mean something?’
‘Do you read books?’
‘Yes,’ I would hear a feeble voice.
‘Good! What kind of books do you read?’
After few moments of hesitation, ‘Cookery, self-help books and some Tamil magazines.’
Some of them would mention some commercial English authors and some of them Paulo
Coelho. But when questions are asked about the novels themselves, mainly theme and plot,
there would be an incoherent, unintelligible response.
‘What do you think about Indo-US nuclear deal?’
‘Well, er …’
‘Do you think we should go for it, given the fact that we will be bound by the 123
‘US is a bad country. We shouldn’t go for it.’
‘Do you think we should sign the NPT?’
‘Favourite book or author?’
‘Thirukkural.’ Some of them will say this, as it seems like a safe and smart answer.
‘Your favourite paal, rather, section?’
No response, most of the times. Some people would gather courage to mention the
sections Aram (Virtue) or Porul (Realities of Life).
‘Your favourite kural (couplet) and its meaning?’
‘Thank you,’ I would say and hang up the receiver.
Almost the same happened yesterday with the girl my friend suggested. Neither did she
answer any of my questions coherently nor did she say anything that intrigued me. It seemed
that all she had done until then was to get herself ready for marriage by learning to cook, do
house chores and other such stuff. When I asked her if she had read John Skelton, she got
scared and hung up. She’d informed her parents later that I was asking her about skeletons
and black magic. Her parents had admonished my friend and, obviously, he was getting back
at me with his advice.
When I was naive, I insisted upon having a girl who was beautiful, with at least the
ninety-fifth percentile or higher on a standardized, supervised intelligence test. Later, I
slowly relaxed and agreed to compromise on the looks of the girl who should still be
intelligent enough to converse with me on a wide range of subjects. This relaxation
probably tricked people into believing that I would slowly become as regular in my
preferences as any other guy; but I stuck firmly to my ideals, like dried-up glue on one’s
fingers. This infuriated them.
I never went to people voluntarily and requested them to find a suitable partner for me.
It’s they who came to me and asked me about my expectations; and whenever I expressed
what I wanted, it angered them. They felt that I was being a snob, a prig, a haughty
egomaniac who never understood the importance of a girl capable of running a family. I’ve
never felt superior to girls who are trained for marriage. It’s just that I felt I wouldn’t be
compatible with those kind of girls. But nobody seemed to understand this.
I was fed up with these beaten-to-death, clichéd bits of advice. Not that the offensive
statements hidden (or sometimes explicit) in the advice hurt me any more. I was clearly far
beyond getting hurt by silly statements. But, increasingly, their sheer frequency and
repetitiveness bothered me. I requested them—my friends, colleagues, family and ‘whydon’t-you-marry?’ interrogators—not to repeat the same thing again and again. I asked them
not to worry about my marriage or my life. But such requests only made them rephrase the
same age-old advice—and that’s all they did. The content almost remained the same. I
sincerely hoped they would understand that I couldn’t let myself fall in love with or marry
‘just another girl’. However, over time, I found that I was growing weak in the face of this
repetitive advice. I was afraid that I would give in at some point, owing to the pressure.
I decided not to discuss my marriage with anybody any more. As they had started chanting
in news channels, ‘Enough is enough!’ But thanks to all the brainwashing of my friends and
well-wishers, I had started to get that deep, hidden, uncomfortable feeling in me. Pain? No,
pain is too big a word. Fear? Yes, I was starting to get afraid that what these people said—
that I may never get married—was destined to happen. Were they words from God thrown
indirectly through some random strangers selected as messengers? I started contemplating
the idea of spending the rest of my life without a girl. Would it be really bad? It couldn’t be
worse than what it would be if I were to marry someone who didn’t match my tastes, I
concluded. I cursed myself for having wasted time by forcing myself into a vicious cycle of
depressive thoughts—this always ended up giving me only a heavy measure of negative
I pulled out a medicine strip, pushed the tablet gently as it slowly tore the plastic sheet
and came out. I swallowed the tablet at once. I was used to popping pills without water.
I opened The Castle, the novel that seemed to be getting increasingly difficult with each
page, probably due to the fact that I was getting exponentially depressed as my thoughts took
over. But before focusing on the novel, I looked around the compartment and understood that
I was alone. It was not something new, considering my office timings. Starting at 7 a.m., my
office operated until 2 p.m., enabling me to catch that empty train at 2.30 p.m.
As I prepared myself to spend the next one-hour journey alone, a girl entered the
compartment and sat down beside the window on the extreme right side. My only other
companion in the compartment. Clad in a white dress, she was reading a book by Eco, one
hand covering the book’s title (although it didn’t take much time for me to guess it was The
Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco’s magnum opus) while the other adjusted the strands of her
hair that were longing to kiss her face. Something attracted me to her. I mustered some
courage, shifted myself and comfortably settled opposite her.
She didn’t bother to look at me. She was lost in the book. I gathered myself, cleared my
throat and said, ‘Hello!’
She slowly lowered her book, smiled warmly and said, ‘Hello.’
She was very pretty. There was this air of nobility about; I would sound like a crazy man
if I told you that I could even see a thin halo behind her. Her supernatural aura cast a spell
‘It’s boring being alone, especially when you know the next one hour is going to be like
this!’ I said, trying to strike up a conversation—and attempting to make it sound as sensible
‘Is it? One hour?’ Her voice was just more than a whisper. Any hypnotist would die to
become the owner of that voice.
‘This is an odd timing. Nobody will board the train at this time. I am used to travelling
alone at this hour. By the way, my name is Arun—Arun Selvam. It’s a pleasure meeting you!’
I said and offered my hand.
‘You seem to have no respect whatsoever for Edward Lorenz, Mr Arun Selvam,’she said
casually and reciprocated the gesture.
‘Excuse me, what …?’ At first I didn’t get it, then it suddenly struck me what she’d meant.
My prediction that nobody would board the train at that time was obviously disrespecting
Lorenz’s ‘Chaos Theory’. I didn’t bother to continue my question. I just smiled.
She continued, ‘Arun means brilliant, Selvam means wealth. Are you the repository of all
the intelligence and brilliance in the world?’ She smiled. It was a perfect smile. It was like
she couldn’t overdo it even if she wanted to.
‘My name is Nila.’
‘You mean “moon”?’
She threw me an odd look, probably for having asked something that was so very
‘Yeah, “moon” in Tamil, “Nile river” in Latin and “champion”—’
‘In Irish,’ I completed. This probably earned me some respect.
I continued, ‘Where are you getting down, Nila?’
‘A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.’
‘Lao Tzu,’ I said at once.
‘Yeah, even I firmly believe that “No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he
comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow”’
‘Lin Yutang,’she said immediately.
I held her book in my hand and said, ‘You know there’s a theory that William of Ockham
got inspired by this book and came up with Ockham’s razor.’
‘Interesting! Are you an atheist?’ She asked me without delay.
‘Yes! How did you know?’
‘People who talk about lex parsimoniae and Ockham’s razor are generally atheists!’
‘Are you an atheist?’
‘No! No! I am a theist. I was convinced by Kurt Godel by his ontological proof,’she said
and flashed that killer smile again.
There I was sitting and ogling a girl shamelessly like never before. What was with her
that attracted me instantaneously? I realized, with each passing second, I was slowly but
surely becoming her slave.
‘You are native?’ I asked.
‘Yadhum oore yaavarum kaelir (All the world is my world, all humanity is my
fraternity),’she quoted the Sangam poet Kaniyan Poongundranar as she stretched her hands
above her head and continued. ‘Have you read Sangam works?’
‘Yes, thanks to Dr Kamil Zvelebil. If not for him I wouldn’t have even touched Sangam
‘Your favourite Sangam work?’ I inquired.
It seemed a rather odd choice.
‘Oh,’ I didn’t know what to say.
‘Have you read this song by Korikorran in Kurunthokai—Panai thot kurumnagal paavai
thaiyum?’ Her diction astonished me.
‘Yes, I have. It’s the one about the hero’s blackmail, isn’t it?’ I asked and started to watch
her again, deciding to maintain silence for some time.
‘Good! By the way, why do you go to some dream world every now and then? Don’t
expect me to do an interpretation. I am not Freud!’ She winked.
How would I let her know that I can exchange anything I possess for that wink?
‘Do you believe that Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams still holds good?’ I queried her.
‘Don’t ask me anything about Freud. You will only get a biased opinion. I firmly believe
that whatever he said holds good till date. These modern psychoanalysts—they did nothing
but just reinterpret whatever he said in their own way. Concealing the source smartly, then
called it their own theory, and as if that was not enough, they rubbished some of Freud’s
‘But his Oedipus complex was indeed nonsense!’ I was quick to retort.
‘Maybe. That’s the reason why a group of people started opposing whatever he said.’ The
sadness in her voice was not well concealed. She was silent for the next two minutes.
‘Who is your favourite philosopher?’ I asked, trying to break the uncomfortable silence.
‘Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche,’she intoned, without finding the
‘They laid the groundwork for existentialism long back. Didn’t they?’
‘But, what is so special about existentialism? Again, it says like all other theories that
“Life is meaningless”. Isn’t it?’
‘Yes. But it at least gives some importance to the human subject. It’s good that somebody
at last said, “Stop looking at the thinking subject. Concentrate on the human subject.”’
It was already evident that I’d fallen for her. Now, when do I let her know that?
We were then silent for some time—a long time, in fact.
‘If life is meaningless, why do you think we all should live?’ I asked in an honest attempt
to conquer the silence.
She took an eternity to answer.
‘Enlightenment,’she finally said and stopped for a moment as if examining something.
The medicine strip in my pocket had caught her attention.
‘What’s that? You are not feeling well?’ There was genuine concern in her voice.
‘No, nothing! Just some mild anti-depressants.’ There was an awkward pause. ‘By the
way, you were saying something about enlightenment?’
‘Yes, of course. What do you know about enlightenment?’
I spat out the definition without further ado: ‘Enlightenment is man’s release from his
self-conferred tutelage. Tutelage is the incapacity to use one’s own understanding without
the guidance of another. Such tutelage is self-imposed if its cause is not lack of intelligence,
but rather a lack of determination and courage to use one’s intelligence without being guided
‘Don’t tell me what Immanuel Kant said.’she reprimanded. ‘Tell me what you feel about
‘It’s the ultimate goal of every man.’
‘Have you tried it?’
‘No! I must say I didn’t give it much thought.’
‘Have you ever tried jumping off a running train?’
I wasn’t sure if I heard her right.
‘Do you want to taste enlightenment?’
‘I don’t get you!’
‘Have you read the Katha Upanishad?’
‘Do you want to attain enlightenment the same way Nachiketa did? Have you heard of the
‘Yes. The fire-sacrifice for three-fold knowledge, the fire that is burning inside each one
of us, named after the boy who confronted Lord Yama himself!’
‘Don’t you think you have to meet somebody like how Nachiketa met the lord of death?’
She held my hand and led me to the door. Then, smiling, she let my hand go and slowly
whispered in my ears, ‘Only when you get to meet him, will you be able attain the ultimate
goal. After all, what’s life without trying to achieve the ultimate goal?’
I just stood there, frozen, trying to comprehend. She blinked for couple of seconds and
continued, ‘You don’t believe me, do you?’
Then she suddenly jumped off the train.
All my senses went numb. When I regained my composure somewhat, I slowly peeped
out of the train to see where she’d fallen. She was nowhere to be found.
I understood that she had gone to the same place where Nachiketa went in the Katha
Upanishad—to seek enlightenment, to achieve the ultimate goal, to meet her almighty.
As the realization dawned upon me, I stood at the edge and prepared to take a leap.
Cameras and reporters were seen everywhere. There were probably a thousand flashes, all
at once, with reporters grilling the RPF Deputy Superintendent of Police. Constables were
finding it difficult to control the huge crowd gathered there.
‘Is it true that the TTE threw this young man Arun Selvam out from a running train for
ticketless travel?’ It was the millionth time the question was asked.
‘See, please understand it’s only a rumour. Someone has spread this lie with malicious
intent. Mr Selvam certainly had a ticket. We got this from his shirt pocket and the TTE never
examined tickets during that time.’
‘How did he die then?’
‘We have with us here a senior physician, Dr Shankar. He will give you an explanation.’
Dr Shankar adjusted his spectacles as he addressed the media, ‘The Police have
recovered strips of Clozapine from the victim. Strong dosage—i.e., close to 500 mg—
suggests positively that he could have had severe visual, auditory and olfactory
hallucinations. The victim could have also suffered from paranoid and bizarre delusions.
So, undoubtedly, this is a case of “Sui caedere”.’
Reporters left the place, content with the explanation from Dr Shankar.
‘Thanks, doctor. We could never have convinced them.’ The DSP shook hands with the
doctor, and thanked him with all his heart.
Is this going to be one hundred years of solitude for me?
As such thoughts slowly start to take over me, I see her standing there, probably waiting
for me, her lips parted slowly to flash that magnetic smile!
That was a smile that can belong only to her.
I go near her, labouring hard in the process. Holding her hands, I say, ‘You didn’t think I
would come. Did you?’
She doesn’t answer. She just smiles, holding me in her gaze.
Holding me for eternity.
‘Did I tell you something?’ I ask her, not expecting an answer.
‘Hmm …’she whispers softly.
I feel the magnificence of the anticipation that filled the air.
‘I love you!’
I can hear wild explosions. I hug her gently, push some of the hair that covers her face
aside and plant a soft kiss on her cheeks!
Have you ever been alone—truly alone?