Eyes Locked for a Second: Strangers, Trains, and Travel

Kuasha on the train window

Kuasha on the train window in Bangladesh

The young Asian-American poet Shinji Moon once wrote, “You will fall in love with train rides and sooner or later nowhere will feel like home anymore.”

How much do strangers matter, especially when we are on the move? Why is it that we are more likely to speak with strangers we travel with, but not those we see every day. I have had several memorable train rides, particularly when I’ve been open to conversation. Of course, some are better left forgotten, like that one time that a man was staring at me until I found out he had upgraded himself on a lower class ticket, and sent him packing to where he came back from. But those are extreme circumstances, and I often find that I have had a longing for trains in a manner that is most baffling, as they have often caused me to miss connections.

Most of us will never meet anyone famous, and perhaps, we will never even reach fame, but we reference them daily, whether through paying homage to music, to art, to politics. In fact, to be true to our lives and our art, we must allow ourselves to reflect on the realities that strangers bring to our lives.

Strangers define us  and they influence our thought processes, because their methods of communicating can become the tools in which we understand our lives, because we feel as though we share a closeness with others even if we do not know anything about them. Strangeness is even appealing, particularly because when we are out of our element, we begin to shape who we are. While reading Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, I came across these words I had underlined, and as if this was not enough emphasis, had also highlighted:

“…the people who move through the streets are all strangers. At each encounter, they imagine a thousand things about one another; meetings which could take place between them, conversations, surprises, caresses, bites. But no one greets anyone; eyes lock for a second, then dart away, seeking other eyes, never stopping…something runs among them, an exchange of glances like lines that connect one figure with another and draw arrows, stars, triangles, until all combinations are used up in a moment, and other characters come on to the scene… ”
― Italo Calvino, “Invisible Cities”

Calvino’s suggestions are manifold: temporality guards the means through which we are inspired, influenced, or inspired. The million possibilities that can be showcased in a day, and even by a minute, the same possibilities that we begin to grasp, are narrowed by how much we focus on, and by the speed in which our thoughts change, the way in which they are influenced.

I’m a big fan of train rides. They have inspired in me my only moments of nationalistic pride, of epiphanies of love, of longing for understanding, of kindness, and of the strength of passerby and strangers in the night. Here are four memorable rides, told in various forms, through the Wonder Sonder site.

1. The train ride from Pali Hill to Churchgate in Mumbai.

2.The Italian Man and the Indian Woman: An Unusual Love Story

3. Come Again?! What Exactly Happened on the Trains between Florence and Nice?

4. Voices in Transit: For the Very First and Very Last Time


3 thoughts on “Eyes Locked for a Second: Strangers, Trains, and Travel

  1. I adore trains. And for me the most favoured of all are the Bangladeshi ones – dirty and long though they may be. Your picture of the kuasha just brought it all back to me. I miss the Bangla fog :-/

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