The Train Will Always Be Late

Drafted 18 April 2011

I had a difficult time finding a train from Pushkar to Delhi that was not wait listed or scheduled to get in after the last metro train out to Faridabad. Difficult as in, I really only had one option available to me, AC3 class (I usually get sleeper as it is dirt cheap and perfectly acceptable) at 2:10 PM from Ajmer1, to get into Old Delhi at 10:00 PM.

I spent most of the public bus ride from Pushkar to Ajmer chatting with a retired gentleman.
Did you know there are many people from Ajmer living in the United States? Do I happen to know [Name of doctor], [Name of Engineer], [Name of Professor]? Was I married? Did I have any brothers? (Note that he did not ask me about my sister, but I told him I had one anyway.) Did I vote for Obama? Obama is a good man2. He plans on retiring to Pushkar and I should buy a house there because apparently real estate is cheap.

On the train, AC3 is almost exactly the same as sleeper only there is AC (I was shivering and sneezing the whole time) and they provide blankets. It’s a bit cleaner as well and I saw more Indians in nice clothes playing with electronics. One of the men in my berth was very smartly dressed and turned out to either work the Indian Parliament or be a member of the Indian Parliament. (I saw his ID card, but I don’t remember which.)
We chatted about rule of law. No, really. The book I am reading presently is Rule of Law by Tom Bingham. He was impressed with my choice and said that all that applied to India, too. I refrained from vocalizing the thoughts I’ve been forming on whether a government as corrupt as India could actually be said to have a rule of law.3 (See? I can totally be diplomatic.) And then there’s the added question of: can you be a democracy, regardless of being the “largest democracy,” without rule of law?

My train ended up being an hour late. I bolted from the train to the metro station, knowing that I was cutting it really close. I passed three touts who tried to tell me (incorrectly) that the metro was closed. When I got to the ticket counter, a middle aged Indian man ran into me, apologized for running into me, and then proceeded to shove in front of me to get his ticket first. I actually held my own pretty well in the shoving and pushing of that last minute queue, at least I did until the man behind the counter denied my ticket and rapidly said something in Hindi to me. It was a frustrating statement because I understood the what (no ticket) but not the why, which happens to me a lot when I’m trying to understand Hindi. But what made it so frustrating is that I probably could have understood it if he hadn’t said it so bloody fast and then immediately moved on to another person.
A boy a little younger than me translated it for me. Turns out they cut the violet line in half at 10:40pm (which, at this point, was ten minutes ago) and I would end up at a station/area I didn’t know at almost midnight having to deal with a rickshaw/cab to Faridabad. This guy was some sort of Indian equivalent of an Eagle Scout. I mean, not literally, but he kind of reminded me of that kid in Up who wanted desperately to be helpful and earn his merit badge in helping the Foreign Girl Deal With Late Night Situations. He dug his phone out and was ready to call someone for me, wanted to wait with me until I had sorted things out… and all of this was done in a more Victorian-era Gentleman manner than the sleeze vibe that oozes from probably 60% of the Indian men I encounter4. It took me several tries to assure him that I had a plan B (I assumed the train would be late before I took the ticket) and that I was very much okay with just heading to Paharganj (the backpacker’s ghetto) and taking a room for the night. I figured from previous experience that a cab would cost me more than 1,000 rupees ($235) to get to Faridabad from Old Delhi and that I could grab a room for 500 rupees or less. I’m cheap, and 1,000 rupees goes pretty far here.

I entered Paharganj at a little after 11.
It was filled with drunk Indian men and the first half of the street was mostly unlit and unpopulated except for the darker shadows, where the drunk Indian men were being even more affectionate than usual. I caught up to a male backpacker I saw ahead of me and made conversation through this bit (Turns out he’s from Roanoke, the city where I went to university and he was on some sort of mission trip. I have a sixth sense for these Gentlemen Goody Two Shoes men. This has probably developed due to my penchant for dating ass holes and a need to eliminate the nice ones early in the game) until I left him to search for a room.

There have been times when I have traveled that I hit a sort of stride. Where I am tired and exhausted and whatever Self I’ve developed in this country just takes over without my Old Self second guessing things. And that’s very much what this situation was like. I haggled in Hindi/English with four different hotel owners with an aggression that would make an Indian housewife proud (I got one owner to take a 1300/night room down to 800, which was still more than I was willing to pay but definitely the nicest of the four hotels I went to and the most polite manager). And I made the manager of the hotel I eventually stayed at show me basically every room he had available. The first room (400 rupees) was adequate, but I knew he had a 300 rupee room and I wanted to see it. “But it’s upstairs.” He whined. In response, I just cocked my sweaty, dirty, travel-worn head and asked him if he’d take 300 for this room if he didn’t want to show me the others.

He wouldn’t. And the 300 room was the second sketchiest room I’ve stayed in (by my Asian backpacker standards), but it was a place to stay for six or seven hours until the metro opened again. I flipped the sheets over (the right side was grimy), ignored the large colony of ants and cockroaches the size of my pointer finger, cocooned myself in my sleep sack and slept like a rock.

In the morning, after treating myself to “American” pancakes (they got points for trying) and a trip to the bookstore I headed home and found myself still in the same “stride” as I argued with the autorickshaw drivers about me riding in a public autorickshaw (private = 100 rupees. public = 10 rupees). My Hindi is so much better when I’m in this mental space, because I was pulling vocabulary out that I didn’t know I had and getting my point across effectively. I think I’m going to miss attempting to speak this language.

8 days left in India.
I’m going to miss all of it. Especially all the adventures I get into just getting from point A to point B. Which, in this country, is usually done via point Z.

1 Ajmer is the nearest city to Pushkar and about 30 minutes away by bus. Pushkar is holy to the Hindus because of its association with Brama, while Ajmer is holy to the Muslims for some reason I’m unsure of.

2 In stark contrast to traveling under George W. Bush, I get this from almost everyone I meet. Europeans usually don’t think he’s going far enough (Europeans are obnoxiously opinionated about American politics) and the British are not terribly happy with the US at all right now, but for the most part it’s a lot easier to travel as an American. At the very least, I don’t get pelted with the conversational equivalent of rotten tomatoes every time I say I’m from the States.

3 Not that the US is perfect. Guantanamo Bay comes to mind.

4 94.5% of all percentages are made up on the spot.

5 $23 might not sound like a lot, but for perspective, in Pushkar I lived on less than 500 rupees ($11) a day. That’s three meals (drink + dish), an afternoon chai, and my room for the night.

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