The Unanticipated India

Munnar Hills
Munnar Hills
Taj Mahal at Sunrise
Taj Mahal at Sunrise
Varanasi Train Station
Varanasi Train Station
Dharavi Slums , Mumbai
Dharavi Slums , Mumbai

We had secured a passage on the North- East Express at the final hour. My initial hesitation to lie on the shabby, rigid vinyl of the bunker bed was consumed by the distraction of a dozen emaciated coolies struggling to lug fifty pound suitcases onto the train whilst battling the internal agony of possible conjunctivitis. The brutal squeal of a whistle tolled as we departed our boarding station, dreading the unanticipated thirty hour train ride ahead.I was retained to the top bunker of a 3rd Class compartment. My attempt to resist the squalor of a confined room with six other Bengali men was inevitable and after the eleventh stop in Kanpur it had come to my attention that it was a habitual ‘specialty’ of the train to stop only every ten minutes or so. Seven hours and buried somewhere in the middle of Nepal and India, I grew an unlikely fixation to scenery of rural inlands as my perception towards Indian forestry was unknowingly mounting as a blissful escape. More so was my admiration for the laboring farmers budding a vast landscape of Sugarcane crops followed by a sea of Mustard Plants. My body crawled back onto the ropes of despair as we arrived at the scarcely urban Allahabad. With a few short minutes of pause a mass of young Nepali and Bengali girls flocked towards our cabin clothed in faded churidars and sarees to rid the floors of any discarded food they could salvage in order to sustain their gaunt little bodies. So abruptly, even my bag of dried lentils seemed more plentiful as it numbed my growling stomach reminding my more appreciative self that even I could go on for two days with handful of chickpeas and no complaints. Concurrently, a rather hefty family of three boarded our compartment consuming most of the oxygen in the space with their vacuous chitchat of ‘reality bites’ and frequent admonishing of their son. After passing many an agricultural land, I resolved to studying the commune of the forthcoming shanty towns Gaya and Dhanbad to occupy my thoughts. The distant noises of children playing badminton with poorly constructed rackets engulfed my heart in a river of association with the Indian heritage I had much neglected on my prior visits. My newly found serenity left my soul journeying amongst the Bay of Bengal as we headed further West nearing our final destination. Three hours into staring at the vast wilderness of greenery, I was brusquely transported back into the claustrophobic constraints of our dodgy compartment, the scenery outside transformed into a platform shadowed by dirty , dark buildings and a boldly imprinted sign, Siliguri. Home.

Lakshmi Krishnan

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