Sometime last year, while boarding a train with a friend, he requested me to spare the ‘right’ seat for him. I couldn’t understand what he meant but since he pointed to the seat I was about to hop on to, I obliged to let him have it and sat opposite. Few minutes later, when we had settled down; our backs relieved of the bags, coats hanging by the pins and the train picked up speed, I felt it’s time for me to clear my doubts. So I asked him what he meant by the right side? And if where he sits now is the right side, does it mean I am on the wrong side?
He laughed, I think, at my ignorance and the innocence of my question. And then replied that he has motion sickness and that he feels dizzy if he sits facing the direction opposite to the train’s motion. I was surprised, because I have never felt any degree of discomfort while sitting on either side. It makes no difference to me whether, so to say, I move with the train or against it. I blamed my ignorance at my perfect normality, the absence of a symptom and of discomfiture. And I was quite happy about it. Meanwhile, almost a year has passed since this happened. These days, I travel in trains more than ever in my life because back in India, public transport is synonymous with chaos and is avoided as far as possible. Today was just another workday; perhaps a tad bit gloomier than usual on account of being a Monday. I clambered up the few steps that led me to the upper deck of the compartment. After a couple of stations as the train moves away from the outskirts of Zurich, it usually gets comfortably empty. Everyone gets their own bunk and there is no one sitting opposite, which means legs stretched, arms relaxed and bags away from laps. So today morning, I was sitting comfortably, working on editing my paper for a conference due this Friday, occasionally sipping warm coffee from my Kiosk paper cup. A happy cozy couple perched in the next seat, enjoying their morning cuddle before work separates them for the whole day. The guy was reading the fresh edition of ‘20 Minuten’, the famous free newspaper of Zurich, whose name is derived from the fact that it takes 20 minutes to read it cover to cover. Well, at least for those who don’t read German atsnail pace, the way I do. I remembered the Sunday afternoon, when once proud of my B1 certificate for German language, I decided to read through the paper and evaluate myself. It took no longer than 2 hours and 15 minutes to read it cover-to-cover, and I ended up being not a bit wiser. Later, my Swiss friend lets me know that every edition of those tabloids are full of juicy gossip meant for enjoying a relaxed time in the train, because otherwise things get awkward when people start staring at each other blankly.
Nevertheless, let’s get back to my cozy, sleepy, almost dreamy Monday morning train ride to work. After going through a couple of pages in the paper, marking and jotting comments from time-to-time, I casually looked out the window. I could see forests, villages and trees covering hills; all lying behind a translucent film of mist which seemed to engulf everything. There were many droplets of water on the window glass, which for a moment I thought were due to the mist, later realizing it was rain. Suddenly, a thought struck my mind. I am sitting on the wrong side, I realized. I remembered the year-old encounter with the wrong side concept while travelling with my friend. All of a sudden, my comfortable ride so far
started becoming uncomfortable. I couldn’t figure out what’s wrong in the wrong side, but just the thought that I am sitting on the wrong side bothered me. I scanned the people around me and they all seemed to be sitting on the right side. On the pretext of hanging my coat to the pin, I stood up and quickly glanced around. And as suspected, every person, barring me, as far as I could see was sitting on the right side. I felt a bit restless about my normality, wondering whether the absence of a symptom was actually a symptom in itself. Quietly, I slipped back to my wrong-side seat.
For the remaining 10 minutes of my journey, rather than changing my side from wrong to right, I decided to ponder over aspects other than motion sickness which could drive a majority of people (in the curious case of my compartment as a sample space, all of them) to sit on the right side. To investigate the matter, I looked outside the window again. I tried to empty my mind of the restlessness that had momentarily taken hold of me, so that I could think clear and unbiased.
While sitting in the wrong side, I realized, it could be possible for me to feel a bit sad and melancholic. There is always this inexplicable gloom of leaving things behind while I see people, houses, fields and cars zooming past faster and farther than me. Sitting in the wrong side gives me a glance at the things I am leaving behind while I move to some place else.
Whereas if I sit on the right side, I would be embracing those people, houses, fields and cars while they come racing towards me, as if ready to be accepted and welcomed by me. I feel the world opens me to new things at all times and I see them coming to me. So I feel like I receive a warm welcome and I look forward to new places where I might zoom in to with my train.
Sitting in the wrong side leaves me at the complete mercy of the train; I can’t see where I am headed to. I could feel dragged by the train, perhaps unwillingly, to my destination.
In the right side, however, I feel I can control because I can see where I am going to and I feel that it was I who desired to go to these places.
After evaluating these possible feelings, I focused on the way I felt at that moment. And I realized that I am actually enjoying sitting in the wrong side. It gives me the opportunity to look at things in a different perspective. It makes me hungry because I feel I didn’t have enough time to look at that house with a weird green roof or that crazy graffiti on the wall, I feel I just missed it. Only if I had some more time to understand whether the green was paint or was it an overgrowth; I wish I could have made out what that bold, beautiful, yet insane graffiti suggested. I understand the value of the moment; of present and of this instant and my wrong-side seat in the train is a constant reminder of what I lose every instant. Ironically, it also reminds me the importance of letting things go, without which, I believe, moving forward would be impossible. It teaches me the ephemerality of all that matters, that travelling towards the goal is important and the things we lose on the way not.
In the end, I conclude that I am in my rightfully wrong seat.