Friday, July 29, 2005

Packing, Birla house, and a ride on the Sleeper Cab (Day 20)

Upon waking up on the couches at the guest house, we were informed that we did indeed rent rooms at the Jaipur Inn. Since we were paying for them anyway, I headed over to take a shower. When I returned, I realized that Mary, Lee and Tony had ditched me to go to Catholic mass. Since I had some spare time, I repacked some of my stuff, including a duffel bag full of souvenirs. Maria came down and started packing as well.

When Mary returned, she, Maria and I headed to the Defence Colony market to get some Subway. Maria and I both got a falafel and hummus sandwich for Rs 70 (a little under $2). I made a quick trip to the ATM, then we headed back.

My intention was to hit up a few spots in Delhi that friends had recommended. Mary decided she was tired and didn’t want to come, but Lee and Maria did, so we headed out looking for a rickshaw. We found one who would go for Rs 70 , but a guy pulled up right behind him that said he would go for 60 (you negotiate even the rides, of course), so we got in his rickshaw. What we began to realize, as the ride went on, was that our driver a) didn’t know where the Birla house was, and/because b) our driver didn’t speak a lick of English. I think he stopped to ask for directions (not out of the ordinary) 6 times (that was when we began to worry). Eventually, we passed a sign, and I pointed out the direction of the Gandhi museum. I’m fairly convinced that we came across that sign by nothing but coincidence. I gave our driver Rs 61 and sent him on his way.

The Birla house, which is where Gandhi was shot, was fascinating. It had been transformed into a museum that included a nice yard marking his final steps, a room full of clay figurines depicting important moments in his life, and a room full of his writings and other materials. Maria got ahead of us, but Lee and I spent a lot of time taking in the site. At the end of the day, we found out that if you go upstairs, there are all sorts of multimedia that we had missed out on, so we pledged to return. Nonetheless, the site was incredible and humbling.

Our rickshaw driver on the way home made up for the last one. He spoke English well, and even knew where Hawaii was (an ongoing joke for us). He played along when we told him that women take multiple husbands there, and men pay dowries. He told us a few things that we hadn’t heard expressed about Indian weddings elsewhere, and I won’t bother to defoul this blog with them. Suffice it to say, this hombre was quite a joker. We had him drop Maria off at the market to get some masala dosas while Lee and I headed back to pack the car – we had to make it to our train!

At 6pm, we were en route to the train station. We got there in time, and the AIIS staffers that brought us delivered us to our part of the track. They even decided to wait with us until our 7:30pm train. In the mean time, Maria and I headed up to the walkover. From there, one could see the families of rats moving in and out of the elaborate tunnel systems they had dug through the feces-covered tracks. The train stations have a charm all their own that eclipses the rats, the smell, the stray dogs, and the homeless people. Anyway, I held on to that thought for a while until we found out that our train would be 2 hours late, at which point I started to think a bit otherwise. Maria and I ate our Dosas right there in the station, along with some Manaqqa. This set the stage for some wonderful conversation with a group of Punjabis who sat down next to us. They were all joining the Indian army, and though most of them had mastered some simple broken English, one of the boys had studied in school and was fairly fluent. We ended up playing Pictionary, taking turns drawing pictures of men and women from each other’s culture. I let the kid wearing a “Cali” hat listen to a little Tupac Shakur (he didn’t like it). Lee touched a dog that was limping around the station, but this was nothing new for Lee.

Eventually, our train arrived. Or so we thought. One of the AIIS staffers had departed, leaving the older man who didn’t speak much English to help us. When someone told us our train would be coming on different tracks, things started to get iffy. We ended up getting help from a number of people, including a 6’6’’ black guy who, when I began to fold my hands to thank him, stop me to say, “No no no my friend. I am Jose Christian!” Sorry friend, my mistake!

In due time, we found a place to sit. I went and grabbed 4 Limcas, which we quickly downed. Then Tony went and got more Limcas, which we again downed. We sat on the ground next to a group of attractive Indian women. I managed to create a seat between Lee and Maria, who were sitting at a slight diagonal. We rocked out to some tunes, and Lee let that same dog lick his face when it returned. Finally, our train arrived and we found our cabin.

On our walk to it, we witnessed a robbery. To be exact, it happened right behind me, and had I realized what was going on just a few moments earlier, I could have dropped a mean clothesline across the small Indian man’s face and floored him. Instead, the Chinese girl he pilfered from yelled as he ran off. But wouldn’t you know it, thirty feet up, a tall Japanese guy was escorting the thief back the other way, and as we passed I tapped him and said “good job,” to which he smiled.

So then we got on our train. Sleeper cabs are COOL. We were on a second class, so there were only two beds per stack, which gave each berth about 4 feet of clearance. I was in an upper birth opposite from Lee, and Maria was on the single bed on the other side of the aisle from us. Tony was in the bunk below her. The beds and the chains that hold the upper birth beds up are wrapped in this bright blue pleather, like gymm class mats. After eating some sunflower seeds and edamame I had brought, Lee and I had a really bad, but really cheap meal. Chai was 4 rupees, and bread was 10. The little bags of water that came with the meal were UV radiated, and presumably safe to drink thus(?). Eventually, I drifted off to what ended up being a terrible night of sleep. Might I suggest, to anyone with allergy problems, that you try to get a bed that isn't under a vent...

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