In The Mouth of Madness

I had once watched a movie named In The Mouth of Madness. It is a horror movie with a theme of apocalypse, fantasy – reality blurring, insanity and flashback and flash forwards. Despite being a tribute to the seminal horror writer H. P. Lovecraft the only impression the movie cultivated in me was one of insanity. I abhor horror flicks. They are all insane. One of the scenes in the movie depicted protagonist Sam Neil (who also antagonized me in that utterly horrible flick, Event Horizon) trying to escape from a lunatic, possessed town in a car in the dead of the night. The town is where insanity has unleashed. All the townsfolk and Neil’s partner have turned into mad and Devil-possessed zombies and are zeroing on Neil. As he drives away from them, he hits the highway and runs over a cyclist and into a tunnel. When he exits the tunnel, he finds himself in the same spot where he had gotten into the car….right in the middle of the town he has just escaped. He drives out again, runs over the same cyclist in the same replay of events and enters the tunnel only to find that he is in an endless loop of the same event. The movie then moved into an abstract narration of events and apocalypse and I lost track. But this scene was shot quite well despite my misgivings about the movie. In fact I could not sleep after watching it. The endless loop of the same events caught my imagination just too intensely and remained a model of psychic patterns of the paranormal in my mind.

One of the main reasons I travel on trains is to check out the Great Indian Outdoors. I love to watch the changing terrain through the windows, the hues and colors that play out and the diverse vegetation. The diversity of the Indian landscape can best be understood on train. But I have my rants too. Consider ghat sections. I have done the Mettupalaiyam-Ooty line, the Kalka Simla line, the Kothavalasa Kirandul line, The Subrahmanya Road – Sakleshpur section and the Punalur Tenkasi line. All of these lines boast of some great vistas, thick vegetation, undulating curves, deep gorges, wonderful bridges and amazing tunnels.

Subrahmanya-Sakleshpur section was my last ‘ghat trip’. It was not any different from the other railway ghat trips I had done except that I had done this one at the odd hour of night while traveling between Mangalore and Bangalore. I could not savour the vistas but the bridges, tunnels and curves were quite discernable even at 11 PM. An hour into the run on the ghats and I was suddenly squirming in my perch at the door of my Sleeper class coach. All the excitement was over. What was unfolding outside was a bad case of event replay. The amazing ghat route suddenly seemed to replicate itself. We were negotiating the same bridges, same curves as we did till then. Those dank and dark tunnels were all seemingly of the same length and shape. Each appeared immediately after a curved bridge and smelt the same inside. The darkness connected well to horror for I felt like I was in the mouth of madness every time the train entered a tunnel. Soon the frequency of curves, bridges and tunnels intensified playing like a bad dream of repeating events. Lovecroft had exorcised me and I suddenly longed for barren flat lands. Even the forest outside connived to drive me paranormal. The tree line remained constant with the same kind of trees (I could make them out thanks to the neon light at the door of the coach). The only solace I found was when the train passed through the infrequent ghat stations that had no lights or people but with a generous clearing.

If you thought the darkness and the thick forest exorcised me, I had the same uneasy feelings in the daytime ghat trips too. Tunnels drive you mad believe me. The Kalka Simla route had more than 100 of them all looking same. It was a torture by the time we crossed number 50. The KK line also had its share of 38 or so tunnels and the indistinguishable curves, bridges and gorges. It had something else too. Every station had a long iron ore rake waiting with three WAG 5 electric locomotives at their head. To make things worse, these iron ore trains (thanks to the standard wagon design for the only goods transported) and their triple WAG power also looked same all along. The locomotives were entirely from the same shed and hence the same livery. They kept replaying in my mind like a bad case of deja vu! In 4 hours, I had seen more than 50 WAG5 locos of the same livery while passing through similar tunnels and curves. It was only when the train reached Araku that the ghat terrain gave way to some barren flat lands. Bharath Moro then had remarked that he found dry flatlands interesting. I agree with him. Also, I found them reassuring. Even a small rock on the horizon would change the scene dramatically. The lack of detail ironically acts as a major differentiator. The feature rich ghats remind me of Sam Neil’s ridiculous replays

In contrast, one of my most exciting railway journeys was on Metre Gauge during monsoon between Madurai and Bodinayakkanur. The branch line was not a ghat route but had hills at generous intervals. The route was interspersed with paddy fields, fruit orchards, coconut plantation, dry and barren land, shrubbery, little villages, small towns, large ponds and a few wonderful curves. The vegetation changed its nature in just 60 km as the train headed towards the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The line spared me the deja vu of ghats by terminating at Bodi at the foot of the Cardamom Hills. Bodi station stood in the shadow of two great peaks amidst greenery and uncanny silence.

The ghats exorcised the Sam Neil movie, but the coastal route in Kerala at sea level still left me despondent. Do not get me wrong. Kerala is blessed with some amazing greenery and natural wealth. It is a treat to watch the unending orchards broken only by quaint bungalows with their red tiles and teak pillars. The backwaters and serene rivers dotted thickly with coconut only add to the excitement. But after sometime, they too start replaying all over. The Shoranur- Cannanore section had the ubiquitous and pervasive coconut trees, the ramrod straight areca tree plantations that are plain boring and inanimate, the same jackfruit and teak trees programmed into a loop, the other plantations that beat nature by being laid in a predictable pattern which seemed to make all plantations similar, the rivers that seem to reappear again and again and the towns though bereft of the clamour and overgrowth of towns in other states nevertheless taxing the mind by being indistinguishable from one another. An hour into real Kerala and I am surprised at the state’s ability to remain the same from end to end. I must say I really enjoyed the beautiful state’s bounty when I travelled on the Shoranur- Cannanore, the Shoranur-Quilon and the Shoranur – Nilambur Road sections. But frankly, it was tad too green, too thick and too monotonous for me after a while. I still longed for open spaces.

But open spaces remind me of some other cracko movies…ones that depict post-Armageddon barbarian Earth. I have seen a couple of them and they impacted my mind as badly as In the Mouth of Madness. The railway between Raipur and Bilaspur in the height of summer exorcised scenes from such movies with its fallow, dusty and almost Martian lands bereft of the will to live.

I have not yet been through the deserts of Rajasthan which is a contrast to Kerala but equally touristy. Maybe I need to watch Resident Evil II and trouble my mind a little more before I allow another terrain to exorcise me!

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