"Do you like my India?"
Trip Start Jan 22, 2010
27Trip End Feb 14, 2010
About half the compartments on our car have curtains drawn aside by the time we leave 45 minutes later. The setup is not unlike the sleeper car in Some Like It Hot, with Emma and I on an upper and lower berth on one side of the aisle with another 4 berths across from us. This repeats 3 times down the car, so about 20 people sleep in this section. Later when we are again stopped in the middle of the dessert for no perceivable reason -- I assume we're at a junction waiting for another train to clear the line -- I lean out the car door and see that the train stretches a long way either side of us. There must be 50 cars at least, and most of those will container a lot more people than these expensive berths.
Last night I fell asleep to the sounds of the mother in the berths across from us singing to her children, and later reached towards consciousnees a few times when the young boy cried out, thinking fleetingly that it was Jonathan. When I became fully conscious, the clock at a little station we passed said 1am, so I got 4 straight hours sleep, a record on the trip so far.
This is an express train, which means most of these small stations pass in a blink, although almost all of them have a figure out on the lit platform watching us go by -- I assume the station master. I dozed for most of the night with the curtain pulled back, taking in the strange lunar landscape and using the slow descent of the almost full moon as a crude chronometer.
We had a pretty interesting departure in Delhi yesterday. After finding our departing platform in the vast Old Delhi station, we moved up the boardwalk away from the giant cesspool on the tracks in which stray dogs were swimming, and sat and waited.
Some of Emma's trains have been delayed up to 20 hours, so it was something of a miracle when a train marked Jaisalmer arrived only half an hour later. Trouble was, it was on the wrong side of the platform (platform 5 not 6) and had the wrong train number. Emma got invovled in a great deal of discussions with Indians, tourists and vendors about whether this was or was not the Jaisalmer Express. Eventually we just opted to get on the thing, assuming that if it actually was going to Jaisalmer, even if it was the wrong train we'd eventually get there. Our ticket had no car or berth listings, so we just plopped down in a car of the right class and waited.
In the end, a conductor came through and confirmed this was the right train, and sometime later after we'd had time to order and eat a meal, told us to move to another car for our berths, about the time the train began leaving an hour late.
We briefly thought we'd been moved to a tourist car, which was almost too weirdly clean and big, but ended up here, surrounded by professional-class Indians and their families. Emma and I sat across the two seats of my berth, which later converted to my bed, watching Delhi pass endlessly out the window, and caught up on some of her adventures.
I wish I'd had a tape recorder because everything she said seemed like a fairy tale. On her first 32-hour train trip from Mumbai to Kerala: "I didn't read a book, I didn't play cards. I just sat there and watched out the window. People woud come by and talk to me, then go back to their seats. I discovered later that various passengers took it in turns to watch over me. It was like the train adopted me." On becoming an Indian soul: "I've been eating with my hands so long, I've forgotten how to use a fork." It was such a delightful way to spend my birthday.
This morning while she was still sleeping -- Emma isn't exactly an early bird -- I had some lovely discussions with fellow passengers. A middle-aged woman asked if I'd had chai, and we got off the train and stood at the chai stand, blowing steam off the top of the little plastic cups, and watching the sun catch the station roof. "Do you like my India?" she asked.