Prologue: The Anticipation
The sun was out and that made the ordeal at least bearable, if not altogether pleasant. I checked my mobile again to see if I was on time. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to get a different result each time. I was doing something similar – hoping that each time I checked time, i would somehow stop being late.
Six minutes before the scheduled departure of the train, however, I reached the railway station. I found my companions who were waiting for me with slightly sullen faces. I gave them a half hearted smile and played with the possibility of making a snide joke about my delay, but decided not to push my luck. I deduced from their expressions that no one wanted to bark at me on the very first lap of our journey together. There will be more such opportunities – I guess thats what they had all figured. Three minutes later, we were on the platform searching for our respective coaches.
On the dot of its scheduled time, as the train left the station, some of last night’s excitement finally started coming back to me. As the train sped out of the city, the monsters of concrete and steel receded while the giants of wood and stone slowly filled the view. My heart beamed with joy at the realization that I was indeed sitting on a train that was, with each passing second, inching closer and closer to the fabled city of Paris. The city that has been the heart of a million stories and an inspiration to a million more. A city that has treasured in its heart, for hundreds of years now, the deepest and darkest secrets of a thousand generations. And knowing that in a few hours time I would be a part of that unsurpassed glory of that magnificent city made me smile with joy.
I leaned back and closed my eyes trying to savor this glorifying moment, and instantly drifted to sleep…
Chapter 1: The Rain
Woody Alan is of the belief that Paris is never more beautiful than at midnight, and magnificently so if it is raining. We realized just how true his words are today.
We reached Paris just as the sun was getting comfortable in the company of the dark clouds on the western horizon. We had explicit directions for reaching our lodgings, so it wasn’t very difficult finding our way home. We kept our luggage in our room (taking care not to be too messy, at the same time preserving our masculine sensibilities, if you know what I mean) and were out in a jiffy, looking for a cheap restaurant. As we walked the lesser known streets of Paris, the clouds in the distant horizon rumbled a moody growl, as though deciding whether they should quietly go to sleep or come pouring down. We knew we could do not do much to influence their decision and so we stuck to our game plan of finding a place to eat. And by the time we had found one, ordered and were finished with our food, it was already dark. And cold.
But our hopes were not easily dampened. There were still a couple of hours left for the midnight and didn’t want to go back to our room so early. We agreed that we should explore the surroundings on foot, as that would also help us in easing our stomachs that were overflowing with Chinese food. And so it was that on a cold February night, one could see us four friends making our way through the semi dark alleys of central Paris. We walked whither our steps lead us, unsure and uncaring of our destination and when the time finally came for us to evaluate our location, we found that we on the other side of the river. We had left the narrow streets behind and were now surrounded by mammoth edifices that we had no clue about. And then, as easily and unexpectedly as good luck, it started to rain.
At first it was just a slight drizzle. A few drops of water falling lightly that left shimmering stars on our woolen clothes. But they made the clothes damp. That, along with the wind made the temperature go down a couple degrees more. For some time it was oddly comfortable, but soon the chill got to our skins. Our voices quivered ever so slightly and there was a jumpy, trotting feel to our steps. And with the warmth of our lavish dinner finally fading from our stomachs, we started having second thoughts about this nightly detour of ours. We were still debating turning back and heading home when the heavens came pouring down.
The rain was free, uninhibited by anything man made or otherwise. It fell in sheets – silky in ease, and wavy by the wind. It seemed to be churning the hitherto calm Seine into a giant snake that twisted and withered, unable to escape the barriers of its banks. On the facades of the mighty stone buildings, the rain fell with a vengeance, and the splattering sound of water on stone was like the clashing of wood and metal on a war-field. In the battle that followed between water and stone, the edifices stood their ground, like they had had for so many years now. On the concrete and tar below, the rain came down with a force only the Gods can muster. And with every Metro that whizzed beneath us, the ground under our feet shuddered – quite literally.
But through all this supposed massacre and war, Paris glowed as a city. She shimmered in the reflections of the unresting river; she twinkled in the little drops of water that settled on the edges of everything; she flashed the colors of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche on the stretches of black concrete; and in the eyes of a mute beholder such as myself, she glowed like a Goddess draped in gold. The sounds and blur of colors made the whole landscape look like the courtroom of some extravagant palace, where a wistful damsel danced, ridding everyone who watched her of the suffering of their heart …