Salaam says he is 11. He looks 6.

Salaam says he sniffs cloth only sometimes. How many times, I ask? He says once. A day, I ask? Or twice, he says.

But I don’t like it, he says, as he wolfs down the pav bhaji I have bought him. It makes me want to sit in one place and not move, and I don’t like that. But sometimes, he says, when there are too many thoughts in your head, and there is no money, and you are hungry, there is too much tension, then .. it makes you forget you are hungry, he says.

A little child, I think, should not be having so many thoughts, so much tension in his head, but what do I know?

Later in the train, I watch a woman fill up little boxes in a notebook with the name ‘Ram’. It seems to work for her because in a compartment filled with tired women, her smile comes most easily. The woman sitting next to me fiddles with her cell phone, it goes beep, beep, beep, beep.

My mother sits before the TV almost all the time she is awake, sometimes even when there is only blank noise on it. Like all daughters, I wonder what will become of me when, if I become like my mother.

I think, perhaps it is the city. There is not enough space for any of us in it, leave alone our griefs, our tensions. There is not enough space to let our pain dry out naturally like sweat in cool air.

We all need to sniff a solvent of one kind or the other, I think, noise, music, films, more noise, books, more noise, to burn up our thoughts on the spot, for there’s no space to let them go.

Whatever works, I think.

Sniffing cloth: A quick, cheap high, sniffing cloth dipped in thinner.