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chapter 16-the paschim express
Date Posted: Apr 5th, 2017 at 21:49 Comments (2)
this is the first time in seven years that i have been on an indian train. i would say they have changed somewhat, from the viewpoint of the sleeper car, but not a whole lot.

it is a long, long train and a long, long route. when i got on at ratlam, i wasnt able to count all the shoes on the floor, or see who may have been on the top sleeping, but there were already at least six people in the ‘cabin’ where i belonged. they were all young people, except one middle aged woman on the lower berth across from mine. it was 10 pm, but they didnt look like they were thinking of going to sleep anywhere in the near future. when i first got on, the woman seemed to be sleeping, but somehow got caught up with one of the young fellows and was going through the routine information that has to be established before a conversation could begin.

ultimately they ran out of talking, and put up the middle berths and i could lay down. during the whole night i wasnt able to find a comfortable position, though i moved two pieces of my luggage everywhich way as well as i did myself, and the third piece being used as a pillow, while keeping an eye and one hand on my purse and shoes. i always bring a plastic bag to put my shoes into and keep them next to me when i sleep to avoid having to rummage around on the floor trying to find them when i need them. i never did find any way to sleep. people were stirring about 6 am, and i assumed they were going to wake up, so i got my hair back together and sat for awhile on the lower berth with my back doubled over. the woman seemed to be getting ready to get off the train and then disappeared, but after some time i realized that indeed i was the only one awake.

however, i was able to have my tea and coffee, and eventually they did get up. i noticed the woman was certainly gone. there were still more than six people, but some had paired off and doubled up. ahem. eventually, once everyone decided it was time to start the day, i realized there were three couples and a couple of leftovers. they were nice and liked to sing, which entertained me for some time. i began talking to one of the boys and didnt mind explaining why i was in india and why i left america. they asked me something about trump, and i said ...well i made some gestures, a major thumbs down, and i said, ‘now india and america are in the same position politically’. one of the boys thought about that a little and then started laughing a lot. we also exchanged some thoughts on the culture, value and lifestyle difference. having them there made the time pass a lot more quickly.

as i was coming back from the restroom, one of the couples was sitting where i had been and was eating, and said they would only be five minutes, but i said if no one minds i would like to go up on the top berth and sleep, so they were happy to take their things down and put mine up and said they would wake me up when we got to chandigarh. it was about noon then, and i was half awake and half asleep for awhile, and i heard one of the boys answer another, ‘no, not american-indian.’ and i fell asleep happy, hoping he was meaning me. i dont remember a thing until i woke up and saw it was four pm, when we were supposed to be there. a boy smiled when he saw me awake, and i asked if we were there and he said the train was late. i noticed how all the girls had rearranged their hair and clothes and looked as though they were going to be joined by their parents, and even sat upright and apart from their respective partners. it was cute, actually.

we arrived about an hour and a half late, but by now i felt totally refreshed, and managed my luggage easily and got off the train. a porter came to get my things, we were near the exit of the station, and a minute later another man asked if i wanted an auto. i liked his looks and i asked ‘autorickshaw?’ and he said ‘yes’. i said, ‘how much’? he said, ‘300 rs’. i laughed and said, ‘my friends said i could get a taxi for that’, and he smiled, but i said i would take it. i dont like taxis-i dont like sitting inside a metal box, i like looking out and seeing everything, but not feeling like i will fall over or off of it like one does on a motorcycle-that is a little too close for me. and he was a nice older gentleman, distinguished looking. i ask myself why should a taxi driver get more than he does? so the three of us went together to his auto.

we drove for a long time, first to the city, then through the city and out of the city. he didnt know where the place was, but did an expert job of finding it. we never had to backtrack even once, and it turned out to be a huge ‘society’, which i guess would be called condominiums in english. it was so huge that i found out later they call parts of it ‘pockets’ and they have their separate community affairs like americans used to have block parties and all. even if i lived there myself i would never be able to find my own place. fortunately there was a splendid landmark by my friends’ flat, a huge world’s fair looking water tank, which was the best thing about the whole place, complete with a guard sitting at the base of it.

by the time we finally reached the right building, i was feeling bad about the fare and gave him 400 because i dont think he had any idea it was so far away, and he would have to drive quite a ways to reach a neighborhood where he could find another fare. he didnt ask for more and he didnt smile either. maybe he led a very sad life.

the rooms are huge and airy, full of light. the bathrooms are real size and it was not a very dusty environment like i am used to. i could see the himalyas but not able to get a good picture because of the mist making the view indistinct, but it was awesome to think i could see them at all.

the kitchen was roomy and bright, next to that was the master bedroom where i stayed, and the third room was one of two other bedrooms. the master bedroom has its own bathroom, and there is a connecting bathroom between the other two. along the back of these three rooms is a balcony and another along the front of the building with entrances to each room. the hall is about 22 feet long if i remember right, and somewhat l-shaped providing plenty of room for dining.

i didnt get to see the village, but they took me to see a rose garden which i guess is famous, but other than that i was in the flat with nirmla and her charming and ever so cute daughter. the two of us liked to watch doraemon, and i borrowed from her bookshelf and must have read about a dozen books while i was there. am now familiar with two indian authors. i went to a kirtan and tried to follow along in the book and managed to do so well that when nirmla lost her place (she had forgotten to bring her glasses) i was able to show her where we were. the following week the kirtan was at her house and i was making improvements enough reading from the book before, that i could sing at least the two last words of every line. luckily there is a lot of repetition. i saw about three of the other flats during my stay and some interesting decorating.

the buildings consist of three floors, three vertical units side by side, with stairs going up the middle. i have no idea how many total buildings there will be, many more are presently under construction and work is ongoing. there is a lot of greenery which has been added to land that was most likely totally cleared so that there will be a sense of pattern and planning to the gardening. various pieces of outdoor sculpture, more or less abstract figures, have been used. additionally there are many small square pavilions set up that as well as being decorative are functional for small get togethers. there are a number of security guards and entrance gates that are sometimes locked and manned by guards as well. one small market has been built near an exit road which is about half restaurants or snack places, a beauty parlor, a couple of food and household supply shops, i dont remember what else. but plans are already laid out for a huge mall in the nearby future.

this was one of the partly constructed buildings going up behind the one next to us. you can see the ground dug out for the foundation of another building that will be built between that row and ours. the roads run down the front of the buildings which are in rows of two, back to back.

the weather was quite comfortable, it never went above 25 degrees and the minimum at night was about 13. there were clouds every day and some light rain maybe three or four days within the two weeks i was there. there was sun, but nothing like in ratlam, which had been running about 35 degrees and not a cloud anywhere before i left.

also i saw an album of the interior of the home my friend built in the village, and it was really spectacular. when i asked, his wife said he designed it all, even down to the plumbing and wiring. it was three floors, the lower built into the side of a mountain and partially underground like a basement. not sure what it was for, but i think that would be used as needed, maybe parking and storage. the next floor up was the home of my friend’s brother, and a guestroom off to the side. above that is my friends’ living space, with guestroom to the side as on the floor beneath. and there is an extra suite built above, a partial fourth floor for their son when he marries. the family lived there for three years but a year ago shifted to chandigarh, and the brother’s family live happily in delhi and dont seem to have any interest in living a village life at all. so currently the house is empty. the access road hasnt yet been built and there is about two kilometres of rough terrain before you reach a road from the house. in this part of the village, there are four houses and only two of them are occupied, but some distance from the road there are other clusters of houses. they told me it is a large village, but now i am not sure if that reflects the area or the population.

when i was leaving, nirmla and i made plans for me to come once a year to visit them, wherever they are, and that sounds good to me. it will fit in very well with my new lifestyle change plans.

return trip-

there was no one available to take me to the station, so nirmla called a taxi for me. all i could think of was ‘uber’ (yeeeeeeeuck!) but this was a government company, and there was no other choice. so i thought, well now i can see what the fare would really be, anyway, and if there is any advantage in a car. i dont feel the cabs are safer, because people dont seem to believe they will ever get caught, and even if they are fingerprinted and photographed, etc., they will not be deterred. at least in an auto i would be visible by the traffic and able to scream bloody murder and be heard, although maybe no one would stop to intervene. it is a big city after all. but an auto is open and i could jump out, whereas a taxi probably has a master control lock for all the doors and windows, and a victim would be trapped.

the fare was 530 rs. it was no trick to find the railway station, and we got there in half an hour, an hour early for my train. but that was good, the station had a sort of large platform connected to the entrance with a roof overhead for shade, it wasnt crowded and there were plenty of benches. they were the hi-fi kind that prevent any more than a certain number of people from sitting on one, and made of metal without any nails sticking out to tear your clothes, but not very comfortable. i used the time to watch everything and see what i could learn.

no anxiety yet, thank you duloxetine! i learned my train was on platform 5 and it was not delayed. i ate some of the snack food i had bought for the trip and before long it was time to try and find out where is platform 5. i asked one of the news stand shop keepers and he said it was up the stairs. there was a sort of sign i remembered from bhopal in the old days, showing me it was the right way. but oh my, what a lot of steps. no way. so i stood at the bottom of the steps and turned around to see if i could see any porters. there was one following another, coming my way, and i didnt know if he was engaged or not, but he looked at me a couple times and i pointed up the steps, so he came over immediately. i told him which train and off we went. he was an older fellow, a little scruffy looking but ok with me. when we reached the spot where my bogie would be stopping, i wasnt sure how much money he would want, but i gave him 100 rs, as i had given the man who helped me when i arrived, and assumed he would leave. in the meantime, i was looking around and noticed a sign that said the charge for a porter for twenty minutes and under 40 kg of luggage is 30 rs, extra waiting is 30 rs for each 20 minutes, and the charge for over 40 kg is 40 rs for twenty minutes. he had disappeared, but when the train came in he was there to pick up my luggage and take it and me to my seat. he could have left, but he didnt. i felt happy i chose nice blokes so far. i have no idea what my luggage weighs.

as i arranged my things under the seat opposite me-can you believe it, there was room!-i thought my fellow travelers seemed a little disapproving. there was a man next to the window on my right, the oldest though i would guess less than 50, slim, his brown hair thinning, barefoot, who was wearing a white shirt without undershirt and plain trousers without a belt. another fellow in the aisle seat to my left, whose face i couldnt see without being conspicuous, seemed to be taller than me and more of a heavyweight, but not fat-just babyfat you might say. i would guess by his sitting quietly that he was not with the others, and maybe 30.

across from me was a young man/boy (anywhere from 20-30) who was nice looking and had a rather serious expression, though not gruff. then there was an older, fortyish sort of professional looking fellow at the window opposite, who was dressed yet more western in style, very mature and sombre. in between these two was a handsome young man/boy in a blue shirt, who seemed to lean against the man at the window a lot.

at first i was trying to offer to change with whoever had an upper berth, but didnt get much of a reaction. later i learned that they all loved the upper berths. in fact, besides the five of us there were two more fellows sleeping up top, and it was impossible to tell who really belonged there. i didnt pursue the issue, and was mentally open to the possibility that i would somehow survive 10-12 hours in a sitting position, and felt that they were more at ease with me being there after some time. then i got the idea; they would exchange places throughout the trip to give each other opportunities to sleep now and then. just my luck to be in a cabin where everyone wanted the top.

as i sat there i noticed a very handsome young man across from us in a side berth, who i am convinced was on his way to stardom-he was every bit as wonderful as shahid kapoor if not more, sort of like a george michael with black hair, and most of the time he was listening to one of those big telephones with an earphone. but the look on his face was as wonderful as the face itself. i mean his hair was stylish but unique, his nose was absolutely perfect, he was wearing an earring and sunglasses and his eyes were shut while he sang nearly silently but enough for me to know he was right on key, which is hard to do with headphones. and meanwhile, his feet and knees were moving as though he was rehearsing dance steps and his hands were moving along. but the most amazing thing about him, and what made me realize what it is that attracts me to a certain person, is the attitude. attitude is everything.

until only recently, amitabh bachaan was by far over and above any other bollywood star for me, and he is a great actor and dancer in my opinion. but what makes him so different is his attitude. i am not sure i can even describe it in words...of course he has stage presence; once he walks into a scene he is the focal point, no doubt in part due to the charisma, the grace, and the sheer height of the man, but attitude is something else. it is what he is thinking while he is acting or dancing-and why he does it. most necessary, the person has to really love what he is doing regardless of how much money he makes for doing it. if he is in a team effort, he has to be aware of the others in the scene or dance and interact with them in a way that makes them as well as the observers able to recognize the respect he gives them. but he clearly knows he is the top banana. there is more, but how to say?

not long ago, well it was the doggie song that did it, i became hooked on shahid kapoor. there is no one like him, and i think he has more fun working than anyone else in the business. i see him doing steps that no one else has done, and i dont know if it is because he made them up or because no one else can do it, but it is just the cutest thing. that too and he has such an innocent sort of naughty boy look about him that makes him suitable for a role model for parents who dont want to see their sons growing up to be strippers. he is actually dancing and i think it is because of his attitude that there is nothing vulgar about it. a true technician as well as an artist.

again, for instance, take shakira. i seldom want to see or hear any ladies, but this is one i really like. you can also see in her face that she is having a great time, but not showing off or trying to tease or arouse anyone. it is as though she knows she has something good and she wants to share it. i am talking about her dancing and her body now in a platonic way. she does not attract shame to the female gender or suggest any kind of stigma, the body is simply a fact in the total artistic composite of the music, the costume and the dance. she is not selling her ‘self’. i think she is truly a lady, and in fact the most beautiful woman in the world that i have seen so far.

but to get back to my boy on the train, i would sneak a peak at him every now and then whenever his voice raised up a little, and he always made me smile. i also noticed that whenever anything seemed to be going on in the aisle, he would stop what he was doing and lean over the edge to follow the action. he seemed very amused at everything, and friendly enough to have made quite a few acquaintances, so he began to sometimes sit here and there when he wasnt singing. i was sure he must be going to mumbai either to audition or was already a performer. no doubt, for sure he was a performer...

we also had a visit from a hijra, and someone gave out money, and i also did, which i think opened up the opportunity for the two across from me and next to the window to do the same. s/he was still trying to get more out of the people who had so far refused, but eventually left happy enough without feeling rejected.

when the boy in the aisle seat across from me got up and left, along comes two very large women. one sits down in the lower side seat under where the performer was, even though there was no room because her partner had surreptitiously set down a load of luggage. the partner one stood around and wandered back and forth a few times, then the first one got up and sat in the seat across from me next to the two friendly men, taking up about half of the seat and the partner took her place on the side berth. it seems there were some males attached to these women who were still surveying or reconnoitering the area. one of them decides to sit next to the woman across from me, and she made a little spot for him to sort of sideways halfsit, and since she was resting her arm on his thigh, i assumed this was her husband. she was very dominant. eventually, another man, older, comes and is commanded to take the first one’s place, maybe he was the husband and the first was the son? the big woman is going to lie down and she needs his thigh for a pillow.

in the meantime, the serious looking boy comes back to his seat and, totally nonplussed, squishes himself in between the fat woman’s knees and the handsome boy. the fat woman has covered her face with her sari, and i might add a very nice sari. she had about 24 bangles on each arm, sparkling in contrast with the deep purple mehendi drawn in phantasmagorical designs from her dark red fingertips to her elbows. but apparently, after some time, she has been made unconmfortable and, having had enough of that and giving up the idea of having a nap, she sits up looking unhappy, but not yet ruffled. now and then two younger boys, one pre and one post puberty, come to speak to the interlopers, and at one point my partner on the left got up and the youngest sat down there.

now is when it gets interesting, and the performer is also a spectator. the TI comes and asks for tickets, and the man, sitting next to his overpowering wife, meekly gives up a small crumpled piece of paper. this is not acceptable to the TI, and he is telling the interlopers that they need to come up with something to back up their story. the man in exasperation says something to the lady and futilely tries to push the blame off on her for not having got it together, but by now the TI is telling them they have to leave. they start to stand up and mill around awhile, looking very upright and pious, the entire party being perhaps two women, two men and two boys, but eventually all sit down again once the TI is out of sight.

we spectators are sneaking looks at each other and smirking, all verifying that we have the same idea in mind, and perfectly no respect for the richest among us to have tried to board without paying. but this was not the end at all. after a decent length of time to allow them to have picked up their things and vacated, the TI comes back, this time much more stern. even though he was a very wimpy looking older man with a slight build, he was willing to take all of them on at once. we spectators are egging him on with smiles and body language, and the performer as well is smiling broadly. the TI is encouraged now, and starts looking back at us while he is reprimanding the losers to see we are mentally cheering him on, and starts to say things that i assume must sound something like ‘you only paid for a general ticket and that is where you are going to have to sit. these people paid for their seats and you dont belong here’. though all i actually heard was the word general, i think i got the gist of it all.

so they finally admit defeat, and make their way to the baggage cum cattle car, but the boy sitting on the aisle seat next to me sits back down again. the large lady comes back in a few minutes, gets yet another bag of hers from our seats, and goes back towards the other car. and coming from the other side is the TI telling the boy he can go right along with her, which he did. the woman was still trying to argue, and the TI said something about chappals, which i take to mean that she was only coming back to find her chappals, and he must have said ‘if you cant take care of your things you deserve to be barefoot’, because he stood in her way and that was the last we saw of any of them.

and of course all of the spectators looked at each other and even the TI stopped awhile, looking quite pleased with himself and said a thing or two and we all agreed and had a happy ending.

somewhere along the line, most of the people who had been occupying our berth got off, maybe it was delhi, i didnt really see. yes, i think it was-anyway, that is where the family from hell got on, and they had the proper paperwork and sat with us. by now, only me and the fellow who had been sitting between me and the window were left. there was a rather husky fellow talking to the family and arranging for which berths they would occupy, though i dont even think he was with them. he was one of those who had been sleeping in the upper berth when i got on i thought, but i had seen so many people by now i can hardly remember.

the family from hell was composed of a young man, a thin, nice looking lady dressed in a fancy saree, almost looked like a bride, but she had an infant with her and a little girl sleeping, who was just at the age of walking and screaming but not speaking. everything was going fine until she woke up, which wasnt long, and then they had to bring out every little goodie they had brought to try and close her mouth, but she would have none of it. then the mummy mixed up a bottle of dried milk and water, but that wouldnt do, papa gave her the bottle of mineral water, but that wouldnt do, he poured some into a glass, and that occupied her for a little while, but not long. then she decided to put a handful of potato chips into the steel glass, and at least she was quiet while she broke them into little pieces and crumbs and threw them on the floor.

i had asked the man across from me if he was going to ratlam, and he said ‘mumbai’. i am always worried how shall i find the stop when it is night time, but usually all the passengers who get off at a common stop are seated together. now i am thinking everyone is going to mumbai.

it seemed to me that we were not going to be able to sleep early, so i had more tea-coffee never showed up again on this train for some reason. this is something else i dont understand. how come on the first train the tea was 5 rupees and the coffee was 5 rupees, but on this train the tea is 10 rs and the coffee is 20? anyway, i took out the last of my snack food, offered some to the mumbaikar, who had eaten only three or four oranges all day, but he refused. after some time, he got out a tiffin and ate-he got good home cooking! he was ready to sleep then, it was about 8:30, and asked the father what about putting up the second berth so he could lie down, who didnt want to oblige, and the husky man in the red shirt came to say it wouldnt be long, they had to eat yet, blah blah blah. who was that man, anyway? their bouncer?

so mumbaikar, who originally was smiling on the little girl’s antics but soon lost patience when she peed all over the seat next to him, decides to try and lay down with his knees bent on his side, and his head is cramped up against the window ledge with his arm trying to cushion it. there was no one else but the father sitting there with the little girl in his arms, who was still making a mess and a racket at the same time, and off and on the baby would wake up and also scream. then, the man with the red shirt comes and sits down next to the father, (he didnt know the seat wasnt cleaned properly), cramping up the mumbaikar even more.

rather than being redundant, let’s just say somehow we got through it all, after more of the same, until they finally decided to put down the middle berths. mumbaikar quickly scrambles up onto the middle one, probably because it was clean, and just as i decided i would be able to see out the window, hopefully so i would know when to get off the train, they inform me that i am also to have the middle berth. well, whatever.

now this time, after all my previous efforts, i could only think of one more way of arranging my luggage so that i might be comfortable, and it worked like a charm. the train was running late, and it must be nearing midnight, i still had time for four hours sleep. you think so? no.....all through the night, one or the other of those children would wake up and cry. now i dont blame the parents, dont get me wrong. this is the way life is. they did what they could, the father kept taking the girl away and then coming back and she would be quiet-for awhile. so at times like these, i usually console myself to think that they are not my children and i will never see them again. the unfortunate couple has to live with them for a real long time. it is only when parents begin acting like children and start screaming and beating them that i lose my composure.

so i contented myself with looking at my printed out list of stops. there were many stops, from 10-30 minutes apart, and each for only 2 minutes. however there were other stops too while we waited for other trains to go by or who knows why, so it would be useless to try and count them. but my luck was with me, because, after all, what is more important on a train than knowing when to get off? after all those little stops there would be about two hours without any, and then nagda. after nagda, in one hour, comes ratlam. so i should be able to see something, a small part of the window extends a little higher than the middle berth. and when the time came, i saw the nagda sign-in fact, someone even asked what station is this, and i heard the answer confirming it.

that is great, because ratlam is a twenty minute stop, lots of time for me to get up and be sure that is where i am, lots of time to get my luggage together and get off. naturally i didnt try to sleep again, and before i knew it the time had come to get off. i had to crawl over several bodies that lay sleeping in the aisle, some lengthwise and some crosswise, and when i got to the nearest door, there were about four men crammed together fast asleep. i looked back down the aisle and thought it was worth trying that side, so off i went again with my purse and a big sort of duffle bag over the left shoulder, the smaller bag that had been my pillow in my left hand, and the bigger bag that held most of my clothes, and there was my escape-back in ratlam at last!

again i was worried a little about how far was the exit from the station, but found i was quite near. a young man, who was with a friend, asked if i wanted an auto, i bought some bottles of water since i would have nothing at home when i got there, and off we went. the first man who had spoken appeared to be teaching his friend how to drive an auto. they charged 50 rupees-good old ratlam. i didnt expect them to carry my bags upstairs for that price, so i took all but the big one with me, which i left on the landlord’s porch, planning to get it after it was light out.

it is notable i think that there were no porters around in the station when i arrived, and that i was the only person who got off the train in ratlam. i didnt even feel tired and decided first to take a bath and as it turned out i never did sleep that day either. once the sun came up it was hot, but by the next day i was used to it and ever so glad to be back home again.

so this is not the end yet...i will see the village and get some idea of something, i will be closer to an idea of what it is i am looking for. and where it is!

the plan now is for me to go back to chandigarh or delhi or wherever my friends may be on may 23rd. i am making a new luggage plan already

truly i feel there is a new beginning waiting for me. it must be nearing the last chapter of my life, and i dont want to miss out on any opportunities. this is not the time to allow rain, floods, trains or mudslides to discourage me!

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