It is only by the kindness of strangers that I have been to able to affix so many stamps in my passport and return to tell my story. Another of my standard rants about India is that nothing is free and nothing is given away easily. I cannot blame people for trying to scam me since I usually have this absurdly stupid look, my normal standby face, on display. Today I would be witness to a rare kink in the rule of profit over compassion. A very kind woman who had been unlucky enough to witness my exasperated rant tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a very old and very small lock with two keys. Holy fucking fuck. In the six broken Hindi words that I knew I scraped together the kindest expression I could think to say. As the words spilled from my mouth like Hindi word scrabble, she smiled, said, “You’re welcome,” and walked away. The only way to repay these simple kindnesses is to be mindful of your surroundings and bestow the same generosity on the next down-on-their-luck traveler that you meet. I am still looking for someone who looked nearly as pathetic as I did at that point.
For fear of loosing myself in Delhi by means of missing my train or becoming lost in the maze of ancient buildings I arrived a convenient six hours ahead of time. Even with six hours of spare time I never did get a snack from that counter, but I managed a veggie burger, not very good, from McDonald’s and a couple of bottles of water. The good thought of packing extra food for a thirteen hour train ride had not been left somewhere with my lock and somehow missed my to-do list. On a walk around the surrounding neighborhood of Old Delhi Railway Station I found about four-hundred locks, food, a bakery, more garbage than anyone could ever want, and a guy carrying bolts of cloth on his head. He was so excited to meet me that he stopped working, did not take the cloth down, and started to dance. It was a good day. An hour after my train was scheduled to arrive I finally began boarding my car. My instincts told me that the conductor would only slow just enough for passengers to jump on. Merchants, who must have spilled through some trans-dimensional wormhole, appeared the moment that the train reached a standstill and began jockeying for space on the train. I had forgotten to bring water so they were helpful enough for me to not get upset that I had been cutoff on my way to my train car, but I was not going to get left behind or slowed down. A couple of hours standing near areas where people openly defecate and a constant fear of being left by your train at Old Delhi Station will put some pep in your step. Somewhere in my travel journal I had scribbled the phrase, “It’s a bit lonely here and someone who speaks English would sure would be a nice change of pace.” I got my wish on the train. Riding in AC2 on Indian trains means that you have four bunks that are enclosed by either a door or a curtain and you are assigned one of the four bunks. I and been given one of the top bunks. This is good since you are less likely to be bumped or bothered by people walking through the aisle. Being that I am at least four to five inches taller than most people in India my legs or arms could also hang off the side. This is an added bonus if you enjoy your hands and legs falling asleep before your brain. I do not. Before the train had even pulled out of the station I was in a conversation with an investment banker who had recently returned from London to care for his parents. I introduced myself as an NGO photographer who was traveling through India and Nepal in aid of a few groups in the child welfare sector. I mentioned that I don’t make much and I’m just trying to enjoy my little bit of leisure time while working. For what seemed like hours of brutal punishment I was fed story after glorious story about his banking success, out of this world client conversaion percentages, reckless spending, and the his overall ooze amazingness from the guy sitting across from me. My wish for someone who spoke English had come true while down the train people who had next to nothing slept or attempting to sleep despite his best intentions to voice his success for all to hear. The profit percentages were Boiler Room like, party stories that sound more like rap videos were plentiful and a general screw the world style of this guy, who was now riding in the exact same shitty train rolling through the same depressing countryside as I was, had become so out of t his world that I had to just laugh them off. I cannot imagine that anyone would outright quit a successful career as an investment banker in London to return home to help his parents in India. Especially if his parents have a twenty room complex set on a gazillion acres in a gorgeous corner of India. It all started to smell like bullshit, and I had smelled enough bullshit the past few days, and I was so tired of being fed bullshit stories in India. I maintained a bobble-headed posture for the majority of the conversation and eventually I just gave up and started asking questions and prodded for specific answers. My questions were not fielded well by the banker and I got the sense that he was picking up that I was no longer impressed by his lavish lifestyle. After making my bed for five minutes -after 27 years of practice this task usually takes thirty seconds, but I was trying to drive home a point- my cabin mate finally acquiesced and bid me a good evening. My hands, danging off of the child-sized bunk, fell asleep before I did, but I managed to get some rest as the train rolled through the dark Indian countryside. I did not know it yet, but the morning had plenty of surprises waiting for me.
- A panorama of Kathmandu from the top of Monkey Temple.