Friday, September 08, 2006

Day Two on the Rajhdani Express

One really doesn’t sleep on a train; it’s more like dozing on and off the length of the journey. When the train stops at a station I am aware we’re not moving. I get up to use the toilet at 3 a.m. and it doesn’t make any difference if it’s the Indian or Western style, it all is a direct shot to the tracks below. It’s just matter if you want to squat or sit to make a deposit. Back on my bunk my head is cramped, my back is sore, but at least I don’t have to climb to the upper birth to resettle.

At 6 a.m. a guy pokes his head into my berth and ask if I want coffee or chai. “Nay,” I tell him plainly as I role over to get another twenty winks. At 7:30 breakfast is served. I ordered the night before a non-veg. breakfast meaning an omelet. As I unfurled the foil from the tiny container, along with my egg are English peas and four French fries; the allies are with me, neither of which are much help. Scraping off the peas, I place my omelet between the two dry pieces of bread that is a part of my dining pleasure. Not bad. The tea was good.

I decided to travel by train on this trip because I wanted to see the Indian countryside. I could have flown and the trip would have only been two hours instead of the nearly twenty-four by Rahjdani Express. Living in the capital city is wonderful as it is progressive and, in some places, modern. In the bubble of the city, however, I forget that most of the population still lives in the villages or smaller cities. As I look out the dirty window from my coach I am reminded of the India I met fourteen years ago.

Because it is the monsoon season the landscape is lush green with fields of rice, sugarcane, wheat and assortment of vegetables. The goat’s meander in the fields looking for grass, boys sit on top of their water buffalo’s all day long as they guide them to pasture. Women carry water in round pots on their heads or hips, but these days the vessels are more likely to be plastic than copper. Their sari’s and head coverings have the flavor of village life in the time of Jesus in Palestine rather than modern India.

Of course it’s not paradise. Trash litters the tracks. As the train passes through villages the houses by the tracks are the slum dwellers, landless people who erect any covering of stick and plastic just to have a place to sleep. Kids play near stagnate water, where the pigs and garbage are mixed. The sunrise squatters, as I call them, bear their back end, oblivious to the passengers on the train. Without latrines the best they can hope for would be a bush to conceal their morning ritual, but privacy is not a part of their worldview so an open field seems to be work just fine.

How different these villagers are to those who share my coach. Most of the men have a brief case and cell phones. I notice a lady two sectors down wearing blue jeans with a stylish top. Young people wear shorts, T-shirts that read, “Trouble Is On It’s Way,” and little kids play with their electronic games with their continuous and irritating beeps. The language around me is mostly Hindi, but there is a good mixture of English and local languages as well. I am not looked upon as odd or out of place, just another traveler from a different part of the world.

At 6:45 p.m. we slowly pull into the Secunderabad station. I gather my things and head for the door. This train will continue on another twelve hours to Bangalore so the young girl may have claimed my berth as I stepped from the coach. On the platform a man with a sign of the school I will be teaching is waiting for me. Just one more hour of traveling and I will lie down on a bed that doesn’t move.