I have this waking dream of living in a single, sparingly furnished room on the upper floor of a two-storey building in some small town in India. There’s a bed along the right-hand wall, a modest wooden writing desk and chair by the window, and a cupboard on the left (it is, in fact, a wardrobe, but we call them cupboards, almirahs, or bureaus in India, so that’s how I think of it). The walls are aged distemper white, and the floor is tiled with large, cool, grey flagstones. By the foot of the bed, there’s a bookshelf inset in the wall, with a wooden shelf making two rows, half-filled with worn books.
I am posted for work in this mofussil outback that’s on a railway line, hours away from any large city. Next to its small station, my building is on the other side of a road across the tracks. I can see the stationmaster’s cabin and the level-crossing from the open window when I sit at the table. The level crossing’s bell peals insistently, signalling an approaching train, and the express blares its horn arrogantly ascending and receding as it rushes past the intersection and my window, familiar interjections in my slow days. I sense them before time, reliable and comforting, stolid in their Indian unpunctuality.
The place in the plains is dry and hot. But it makes it clean, for anything dead desiccates into nothingness. A manservant keeps the few things and the floor dusted every day. Time passes slowly. I feel I am waiting for something or someone. But I work well, with few distractions. My contacts are few, and I can’t discuss my reading, writing or thoughts with them. They move in a different plane from mine, their intersection a sliver.
I am alone but never bored. I have my thoughts and many problems to solve in my mind. Time is a friend, provided to me by the spare life.
I do my undefined work diligently and steadily like an atonement for past truancies, eat my meals alone in my room, read my books, and write. Dusk is when I get my best thoughts, as the scattered white homes beyond the railway line turn into dim glimmering lights in the gloaming.
I draw myself out of this false memory once more. I add or remove something tiny from the scene every time, careful not to affect its stoic restraint.
Sometimes I ask myself what’s wrong with a life like that — plain, uncomplicated, unrushed. Reality replies that if there were a family and children, I would not be satisfied with it. I would want more for them, and they would like more for themselves. Comforts would sidle in. Luxuries would soon complicate life.
But for a time in anyone’s life, we could live simply.
We could be content, even happy.
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