Watch the world go by

Free as well as fascinating, it is a pleasure to watch the world go by while traveling.

I was on my way to Bangalore and walking down the railway platform with  my daughter who had come to see me off.

When we came to the bookstall, she stopped and offered to buy me a couple of magazines to while away my time in the train. I told her  that this was not necessary, as I would have plenty to occupy myself with. She gave me a quizzical look, but left it at that.
For as long as I can remember, one of my greatest pleasures has been ‘looking out’. When I was a child, there were very few opportunities for girls to go out  unaccompanied. We had though in our house what one could call a room with a view. It had on three sides beautifully arched openings, which overlooked the road. Whenever the urge  took me, I stood there drinking in the scene below. Heavy carts yoked to straining bullocks  made their slow way down the road. There were hawkers who, in musical or strident notes, proclaimed their wares. They could be bangles, pots and pans and even homemade sweets.

The tank adjoining the house attracted athletic swimmers. I would watch with awe, boys with bronzed bodies, somersaulting in the air with Olympic agility and then plunging into the green and turgid waters with mighty splashes.

The pleasure of watching increased many times over when travelling by train. The engine run on coals seemed like a fire-breathing dragon. Sitting in a window seat, was to invite the acute discomfort of allowing stray particles of soot into the eyes. But this did not deter me from looking out and the rewards were plentiful. One could cast a bird’s eye over a never-ending and moving panorama. After the dust and heat of the town, it was soothing to see vast fields of paddy stretching out in velvety green.

Women in reds and oranges, bent over in work, lent bright spots of colour. There birds aplenty, snowy white egrets flying in wide arcs and green bee-eaters in lengthy lines on the wires. The hills we passed were not the bald outcroppings that they often are now. Thickly forested, they seemed to harbour many secret lives and mysteries. At night, the wayside bushes were transformed into Christmas trees, lit up gorgeously by hundreds of whirling fireflies.

Stations were invariably hubs of excitement. People trailed by laden porters thronged, talking in loud voices. Where and why were they travelling? I did not have to know!  
Travel of course is not the same today. As historian, Arnold Toynbee, forecast many years ago, forested areas have shrunk, fields and birdlife are disappearing and garbage and fetid waters have taken the place of pristine vegetation. However, whatever the changes, wherever you are, watching is a game you can play endlessly.

Perhaps what is most intriguing is the fact that you can watch people move naturally and without self-consciousness. Even more, you get to see Nature first-hand, with all it has to offer. Free as well as fascinating, what a pleasure it is to watch the world go by!

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