The air hung heavy with a mild flavor of coconut oil floating no doubt from people’s skin, and hair (and probably their food, too). Despite my exhaustion over the past 2 hours of standing on a roller coaster of a train ride, I couldn’t help but stole occasional glances to the mother and son on the left. The slender, tanned looking lady in plain orange sari next to me was hand-feeding her seven-year-old son a mixture of cooked rice and something smelling suspiciously like curry. I observed the way her fingers moved to collect stubbornly scattering pieces of rice, and made soft contact with her son’s luscious lips. Where were these two heading to, I wonder, on a Saturday morning no less. Were they travelling to see the father and husband who was probably slaving away in a distant province just so she could prepare homemade curry rice for her young son on a train where most people would rather buy lunch from the loudly, yet strangely melodically, yelling sellers instead? There seemed to be a certain degree of understanding between the mother and the son. The way his mouth opened, in sync with his mother rhythmic fingers.
Swirl, rice, pork, swirl, pat, feed.
Chew, open, chew.
Surrounded by such familiarity, by such synchronicity, one couldn’t help but felt, rather acutely of just how much of a foreigner one was.
Yes, I was racially foreigner, and alienated appearance-wise- the only slant-eyed Chinese looking Asian in this sea of wide-eyed, heavy-lipped, Indian looking people. But there seemed to be another factor of difference, bubbling from deep within. These people had their own rhythm of traversing and conversing. Me? I was still largely lost, both metaphorically and literally. I was lost as to what I would like to do with my life after the trip, and lost as to what station I should leave the train owing to the absolutely unhelpful English announcement from the train radio which sounded neither Sri Lankan, nor English.
Having caught a slightly uncomfortable shift in the eyes of the busy mother, I knew she must have caught me staring. How rude of me. To avoid further embarrassing the unsuspecting mother and child, I averted my gaze to the square box of scenery, running indifferently at the son’s left instead. Green, brown, blue and white shapes mashed together, barely distinguishable from one another. I recalled the brilliantly lit jungle of Anuradhapura with occasional bands of wide eyed monkeys and white birds circling never faraway from me yesterday. This was the famous land of Lanka, with its rich jungle, and richer inhabitants. This was where Ravana, the demon king, lived and cried, and fought. This was the land where Sita spent a large potion of her life being imprisoned, waiting for her husband, Rama to rescue her. And at that instance, I realized,
I was Rama, full of hopes and dreams, cocky to a certain limit, seeking something (happiness? fulfillment? love?) in the vast island of Lanka.
I was also Sita, abducted, lonely and lost, full of regrets for past foolish mistakes, waiting for a redemption, a salvation from the current episode of nightmare.
I was both lost and seeking at the same time, depressed, and hopeless and headstrong and hopeful.
I was Rama and Sita was me.