So far, I’ve borrowed two pairs of earphones that don’t work from my neighbour on the train. We’ve decided to call a truce and have a conversation instead. He tells me this is the second time in his life that he’s travelling by train. It’s easy to tell how much he hates it.
He’s going back home after a year. Home to Kashmir, after finishing two of the four years of civil engineering from a well-known university in Chennai.
“So how do you like Chennai?”
This is my idea of making pleasant conversation.
“I hate it.”
His idea of making polite conversation. “And where are you from?”
“Chennai,” I tell him apologetically.
I offer him the samosas I brought from home and he grimaces. “Chennai ki khushboo.”
He apologises for hating Chennai so much. I’m not sure how to reassure. In my head, I’m annoyed with all these North Indians who hate the South.
Then he tells me stories of how he and his friends are pulled up by cops all the time and checked because they’re Kashmiri, of how hostels are careful about giving them place to stay because they’re Kashmiri, of how everyone here treats them with so much caution because they’re Kashmiri, and he doesn’t understand why.
“It’s as if people here actually think all Kashmiris are terrorists,” A fake smile, “But there are good people here, of course.”
I throw the samosas away.