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Hinterland

I hate travelling. But don’t confuse that with going to new places and meeting new people. I don’t mind that. What I dislike is catching a train or a flight and mingling with other people on the move, in train stations and airports, while waiting for cabs and on the way to wherever I’m going. It’s not that I don’t like people – I do, but I’d rather see them in certain settings instead of everywhichwhere. However, I’m willing to concede one exception, at least as far as the supposed pleasure of traveling is concerned, not the people part.

Flying back from Delhi to Bangalore on Saturday, the plane I was in experienced some tremendously beautiful weather – perhaps not for the pilots. I blame my luck on international flights, on which I’ve never managed to check-in online soon enough to land a window seat. It’s only on domestic flights that I’ve been able to do that, and after a long time – almost two years – I got the chance to climb into one. I prefer to sit by a window because I love clouds. Who wouldn’t when they could see them from above?

The skies above Delhi were like Delhi itself. Clouds seared by such heat that they were each isolated streaks forbidden from coalescing. It was a forlorn empyrean, dotted with suspensions that summer’s patronizing forbearance had reflected and refracted through to a toasty, flaxen hue, some pitiably even speckled with rashes of dust. Winds were absent, too. I hoped they would dissolve in dusk’s indigo ink and fall off, decay into the night and return once more to the shadows they came from. Oh, but fly an hour’s worth outward from Delhi and you’ll see such clouds…

… like cotton fluffs resting on a never-ending sheet of glass, casually suspended on the shoulders of warm currents. Some were wise old men of the sky, wandering in the shadows of behemoth coalitions that only storms could move. Some were flattened reeds like seraphic asylums that only the truculent vaporescence aspired for. The heavens had a hinterland, too, an Arrakeen meta-paradise of self-contained worlds turning gently on axes above and below where I flew. Only cold and wayward spirits of inspissation could smuggle water between them.

There were ridges beading a distant horizon, sententious altocumuli, immense lenticular disks that stretched like an infinite folio over us. There were inchoate memories of wetness that swam over and under the plane’s wings, slovenly masses that wept saintly tears on my window’s glass, frozen crystals locked in a bipolar feud over dew points like disavowed madmen over obscure theologies. Some minutes, we’d fly through strongly disputed space, clouds roiling in mile-wide moshpits propeled by capricious winds. Just as suddenly, we’d fly through an ethereal terra nullius filled with clean air. But through it all, it was hardly a reckless world.

That there was anything to see was because of light that had become trapped in this microcosm of wind and water. Light-year-old shafts were reduced to Brownian zig-zags through this benign maelstrom. There was something very deterministic about it all, a very spiritual and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful sights I’d seen in years. The sun would occasionally shine through haloes around dulcet cumulonimbuses, enlightening the havens with a self-effacing, colorless glow. And just as suddenly, the plane banked and the sky was stolen from my window. I lost myself in the slipstream, and slept.

I knew enough to not hope the lands below would ever match any of my pelagic fantasies, or that walking them would kindle anything resembling the splendor of elysian waterworlds. I do long to return to the skies again.


I wrote this on the flight from Delhi to Bangalore on July 12, 2014. Featured image: vladstudio.com