36 minutes - North Acton to King’s Cross St. Pancras
by Niyoshi Shah


A mad argument, a drunk message, bouts of giggles, monologues, a sarcastic retort, laughing on a joke that isn’t a joke, ranting, quick wit, apologies, extempore poetry - words that spill, spontaneous and honest, making sense in retrospect. That’s somewhat the nature of this column.

These stories/text - I’ve not thought what - are written on the tube, with the duration of commute being the only constraint; and once the main ideas are on paper, they are sized, and strung into shape. Basically: these ‘things’ just start, find their way and meanings are discovered after.

So, read these as they are written: without much thought; and travel where they take you. They are little thoughts that may open up instantly or settle as vague memories, which you can revisit at a vacant time - perhaps on your next commute?



The girl next to me, she’s writing in her diary too. And the man opposite has a small suitcase tucked between his legs. It’s by a brand called ‘Tripp’ that I’ve never heard of. He’s also holding a spiral-bound book with the page open to ‘Valves of the Heart’. It seems to be printed from a PowerPoint presentation; because the text is divided into bullet points, chambered to the left, with labelled diagrams to the right.


We are just pulling into Marble Arch now, and I remember my friend telling me that cooked prawns leave no odour because they are heart-less creatures. She had followed this up with some insight on human relationships, of how the fickle ticker is a troublemaker. Of course, both observations are inaccurate.  Love, emotions, and all that is a complex choreography of chemicals, directed through sensory organs, neurotransmitters, the amygdala, and other parts of the brain. And decapod crustaceans do have a heart – maybe, just not in the expected place. It’s in their head, below the thorax. (There’s still the question why certain seafood doesn’t smell fishy, but I’ll leave that for later.)


On another day, life was playing free association, and this same friend shared the image of a whale’s heart. It is big and feels foreign. In the picture, it hung like a beautifully grotesque stage prop for a play on slaughterhouses. Watching it felt absurd, as if one were walking on muscles lathered with blood – barefoot; somehow, feeling both:  warmth and lifelessness. It had an odd presence that made me wonder about Purpose and the taste of flesh. It’s a strange mix of wonder, envy, affection and melancholy these magnanimous creatures evoke. Big hearts of the open oceans…Like my brother…who passed away a month ago...due to a cardiac arrest. I think this while walking from one part of the station to another, at Oxford Circus.


I recently learned that heart attacks are different from cardiac arrests. In the former condition, blood supply to the heart gets blocked due to a clot or choked veins. The latter is sudden. It is a situation where the heart stops pumping blood due to an electrical malfunction. Simply put, one is a clogged pipe and the other a short circuit; but what very few know is that cardiac arrests can be prevented.


One voice thinks these things, while another imagines an elephant collapsing; and separately, how large is its brain? This is probably because the gentle giants are my favourite or because of Laxmi.


This time: my mind plays free association. For an upcoming project, I read  an article where a veterinarian tried to explain the dire state of animal care in India. She recollected the case of Laxmi who was rushed to the hospital, in an emergency. Because the building didn’t have a proper elevator – one that could carry the weight of an elephant – she was tied by her legs and pulled up by a crane. The clinic also didn’t have proper diagnostic equipment – and Laxmi died. Another short circuit, avoidable but not avoided. And we, made spectators.





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