Ok, I’m back. Briefly. I want to get everything down–although that, I know, will never really happen, because there is just SO much. I’ve broken the past few days up into parts. The first part, starts on Friday, going on that train I was so excited about.
I have to admit something I am more than a little bit embarrassed about. I have always assumed that all trains in India are like the ones from Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling Limited or any other picturesque Hollywood depiction of magical Indian sleeper trains from the 1900s–I hadn’t even thought about the fact that it is no longer 1905, but 2012. I thought, naturally, that I would be riding on a sort of Indian-themed Hogwarts Express. Now, I’m sure that there are those trains out there (they probably cost more than $6 though. And, just for the record, I am not a muggle; my Hogwarts letter simple got lost in the OWL post years ago), but I am quite the fool for assuming that ALL trains in India were like that. Let me tell you something–in case you haven’t put this together: the train I was on was nothing at all like the Hogwarts Express. It felt, in all honesty, sort of like a jail or a hospital. The entire thing painted that nauseating robin’s-egg blue, one teeny window with bars on it in each row. And rows, upon rows of metal bunks with thin plastic pinstriped mats. People, so many people–mostly young rowdy men–hung out of the bunks, playing cards, laughing, staring, unblinkingly and unabashedly, for hours on end at the quiet white girl reading in the corner. Every so often, I would peek out from the little scarf-tent that I had created and find a new set of eyes just looking. I’ve never been a minority before–not like that–and I didn’t like it.
In the dark of night, those eyes seemed mighty menacing, cruel, hungry. So many horrible what-if scenarios tromped around my body they left me shivering. (It may also have been the cold.) The sounds of hacking, wet, bronchial coughing and wheezing hit me from all directions. Despite my anxiety and discomfort, I survived the night and as the morning light started to shine through that tiny, dirty window, and the train began to empty, a guilty feeling replaced the fear. The unfairness of the situation became clearer to me. How many people in this world have had countless nights of discomfort, have never had a mat to sleep on? Have never had medicine to cure their hacking coughs? Have been the minority their entire lives?
The guilt grew worse because those eyes were kind and helpful in the light of day. As the boys helped me with my giant, unwieldy suite case, they were curious:
“Hey, USA, what’s that funny thing you had in your hand all night? A book?”
“My e-reader…” Oh. No wondering they were staring. I had my shiny new NOOK latched in my shiverin’ hands all night. “It’s got books in it…Here look.”
“Ohhh,” They all look. “Wow. Like a big cell phone library.”
“More or less.”
The guilt settled. Most of those eyes were just curious. Not menacing. Not hungry. Curious. (Ah, maybe some were a little hungry, or sort of menacing, but put a bunch of dudes on a train with a girl. Looks will be exchanged.)
You know, there’s a really fine line between being totally paranoid and mistrusting , and being wary and having your wits about you. I’m pretty sure I fell on the wrong side that night.