I have always loved trains, particularly Indian trains, because they lend themselves so easily to metaphor: for life, for crossing over, for overcoming. One of my earliest memories involves a train journey to Delhi with my next-door neighbour. I was four-years-old and I had never been away from my family before. I remember feeling very afraid because my sister was being sent off at the same time to relatives in Bombay.
It's not what you think. My parents weren't trying to swap us for other kids; they were just trying to deal with the latest arrival in our family - my brother, who was born with three holes in his heart and needed to undergo open-heart surgery. While they dealt with that situation, my sister and I made our separate ways across the length and breadth of this great peninsula, and all I remember is how fear was slowly replaced by wonder. One month later I returned to a miracle brother with a patched-up heart, but also with the first seeds of travel planted firmly within me.
That sense of wonder is something I still reserve for train journeys, and over the years I've managed to rack up quite a few. I remember going up with my family to the hills for summer vacations and having only three minutes to get 13 pieces of luggage out on to the railway platform. I remember school excursions with broods of giggling girls, and solitary ventures across India on uncomfortable wooden seats. In particular, I remember a journey I made with my late dance teacher, Chandralekha, to Gujarat, where our train was delayed by 33 hours. "It will be a picnic," Chandra had said of our journey, before climbing aboard the train, and in a sense it was. Despite the fact that we couldn't bathe for two days and she sent me out at every stop to do jumping jacks, it was one of the most magical journeys of my life.
Last night's journey from Bangalore to Madras wasn't quite so magical, but it was something. I've only missed a train once in my life (the taxi driver's fault), but that's nothing compared to the humiliation of getting on the wrong train. I'm not sure if I was sleep-deprived or generally disoriented, but I clambered on to the first train to Madras without checking the train number, not realising there were two more trains to follow. Of course, when I got to my berth there was already someone happily stretched out in it. Normally, if it's 11 at night and there's a strange man in my bed, the first response would be to freak out. But I must have had some premonition that it was my fault, because I waited patiently for the ticket conductor to come and sort things out. The TC offered me two options: get off at the next stop and try to catch the right train, or pay a penalty and stay put. I stayed put.
There's a part of me that's looking forward to the end result in this cricket journey: not just who will finally lift that trophy, but also to see how my real life will resume once it's done
When I finally lay down to sleep, I couldn't, because the man above me was snoring so loudly, he was drowning out Hari Prasad Chaurasia on my iPod and the sound of the wheels clacking against the rails. So I lay awake and I thought.
I thought about the past month, about all the cricket-watching and cricket-writing, about how all systems will have to be recalibrated once the final is over. This whole column has been an interesting experiment for me, and like most decisions in my life, I fell into it not because I sought it out, but because it was offered to me and I didn't say no. There have been some important revelations along the way: that it's hard to do something every day; that no matter how difficult it is to get out of your comfort zone, it has to be done from time to time.
The real kicker, though, has been the response. As a poet you're not generally used to getting much feedback, so it has been mildly depressing to realise exactly how low in the popularity scales something like poetry ranks against something like cricket. But it's been validating as well, to get ideas and encouragement from random strangers, and it will probably be a bit of a struggle to get used to the silence once this column is done.
It has also been an overly intense month, though, and in that sense it was good to have a couple of days in Bangalore to not have to think about cricket or write about it. I did go into the Cricinfo office to meet everyone who worked there, and to get a sense of a day in the life of a real cricket journalist, but other than that, it was downtime. I stocked up on second-hand books, camped out at Koshy's, swam in a derelict swimming pool, went to a few mad parties, and occasionally caught a glimpse of a match. But mainly it was breathing time, to mark the movement from one phase to another.
Because we are moving into the next phase of this tournament: the final four. All the past weeks' whittling down has taken its toll on me. It's been cruel, almost like one of those reality TV shows where you spend weeks getting to know people as characters and competitors and then have to vote them out, or eliminate them, or just let them go. This has been something like that. There's a part of me that's looking forward to the end result in this cricket journey: not just who will finally lift that trophy, but also to see how my real life will resume once it's done. For the moment, though, I'm still riding that train, still letting wonder replace the fear, hoping for as many adventures as possible between now and the final destination.
Tishani Doshi is a writer and dancer based in Chennai