Inside Indira: Train Life


After ten hours of a delay, the train has finally arrived. Everyone is crowding platform 3 and she grabs her suitcase and travel bag and begins chasing the train cart labeled S9. 

She enters her cabin. A small compartment with two benches face each other, two ladders on either side leading to the upper bunks, while another bunk bench lies perpendicular from the two, and a small walk way separates the three bench formation. Her seat number is the bottom bunk, but she grabs her suit case, stuffs t under the seat, and proceeds to climb the ladder to the top bunk. Here, she can relax. Here, she can see everything below her and around her. Here, she is safe. 

By the time they all boarded it was late night. She tries to fall asleep but vaguely remembers dreams of giant trees, secret family duelings and her feet freezing. Early in the morning, the train is rocking and everyone is up and about, making all kinds of noise. She looks to her left, her nieghbor bunk mates are three Russians. Two women and a man with only facial hair and not a smile to crack. Typical, she tells herself. They’re all still asleep, she looks at her watch and it reads 7:32, too early. She rolls back and covers her face, more sleep. 

When she finally wakes up again, it is about 10 and one of the Russian girls are still sleeping. She grabs her bathroom toiletries, climbs down her ladder and heads to the washroom. As she passes the other compartments, she’s met with many stares and many men. It doesn’t frighten her, just annoys her. Have they never seen a women before? Four small bathrooms face each other, one of them is western with an actual toilet. She ops for the squatter. Inside she begins brushing her teeth, washing her face and combing her hair. Three days without a shower is nothing for a girl who’s lived in Morocco. Clean she tells herself. No cold water to refresh her soul. 

She gets out of the bathroom and walks down the path of stares to her bunk. She throws her toiletries down, and grabs her passport and cell phone. After tucking it into her waist, she peeks at her bunk mates, one Russian still asleep, the others are sitting, and the Indians below her bunk are up and talking. They all had their formalities last night and continue to talk this morning. She wants nothing of it. After spending three weeks working in the Clinic, being surronded by people, and living with house mates, she wants anything but to talk to people. She doesn’t understand it. Are people naturally inclined to talk to each other? 

Just because conversation isn’t immediate and friendships aren’t established, doesn’t mean it must be. I leave the mates and head towards the back of the train. Compartment by compartment, cart by cart, I see families dotted here and there, suitcases stashed in every nook and cranny, feet bare and naked and stares. Always the stares. She decides not to play this time. Too many to focus on just one. Between each train cart are the entrances and exits, one open metal door revealing the fast fleeting scenery outside. Mountains, trees, grasslands and plains. The doorway is obscured by someone either standing or sitting. I continue down the carts until I can find an empty one where I can sit and let my feet dangle. 

Images. Images of barren fields absorbed of their nutrients and images of rich, lucisous, green life. Images of sun kissed, black bodies bent over plants picking endlessly. Images of women wrapped in garments from head to toe, balancing bunches of branches on their single small head. They walk and they work. Images of cattle, both cows and goats and dogs, working as well. Various fields lie adjacent to each other. Some squares of land contain plants sprouting in water, while other lands show rows of seedlings growing tall not yet strong though. These are the farmers. These are our farmers. Theese are the fruits and vegetables labeled “imported from India” that stock the supermarkets in first world countries. These are the farmers that work endlessly, feeding nations yet making just enough to feed their own families. I sit and I watch the fields grow what will stock my pantry at home. How much profit will this farmer receive for his life’s work? How much profit do companies make off small family farmers like himself? I look at the fields and the farmers and the hot sun and the green lucisous fields, endless with life yet dying from exploitation. I understand. 

Hours pass and more hours can pass but I decide to get up and continue my journey throughout the back of the train. Today I will explore the back, tomorrow I will explore the front. After looping through obstacles of feet, bodies, suitcases, tight spaces and many more stares, I make it to the back. Nothing but a locked door and a panel with lights. Turning back, I head back to my bunk, navigating once again as seamlessly as before. It’s about 1700 at this point, dinner time calls. Several of the train attendants pass back and forth, yelling out their offerings of chai and coffee, Momsa and chapti, lunches and dinners. I stop one of them and ask for a lunch. He hands me tray of rice, potatoes, chapti, Dal, and a spicy lentil curry. After nearly swallowing half of the meal, I save the other half for later that night. I open my wallet and count the few bills I have left in my wallet, 360 Rupees.  With each meal being about 100, I decide to make this last. The plastic money in the pocket of my wallet is useless and the American cash hiding in my bag will do no good. My destination is Kerala yet the exact place is unknown. No reserved hotel, no Andreas to call a Tuk-Tuk, just Kerala. Without wifi or anyway to search for information, I send out messages for help. What some would consider God, or a higher power, I call the Universe. The universe hears me and somehow, someone will help me. The people around me are out here for a reason. One of them will help me and I will figure out exactly what to do. Turning over, I slump to my side and figure the task for later hoping my stomachs won’t hate me too much. 


Inside Indira: Normal

She gets up from the bench and looks at her watch. 14:00.. It’s been one hour since she last checked and three hours since her train should have arrived. “7pm, Kerala Express” “7 pm?!, you mean in 10 hours??” 9 hours, 7pm he repeats. 

A 9 hour delay, normal. After reading for a few hours she looks at the man next to her. He’s been sitting there since the morning too. Can she trust him? She’d been watching him for a bit. He held dark skin and a bushy mustache with a somewhat familiar face. Really needing to use the bathroom, she continues to watch him, contemplating whether her suitcase would be safe here. A school of children pass by all dressed in orange and holding two bags each. A lady trails in the back and as she walks, a plastic bottle is kicked behind her legs, landing by the man’s feet. He looks at her and grabs the bottle, setting it aside. He looks about and spots a trash can a few feet away. Standing up, he grabs he bottle and throws it in the bin. Abnormal. She grabs her suitcase and moves it closer to the next bench over where he is sitting. When he sits back down, he looks at her and she nods her head in a plea to safe guard her things. He nods and smiles. 

People are lined down the tracks, piled in clusters of families. Suitcases filled of belongings, blankets in cases, food in hands, the station is packed.  There are 16 platforms, each with its own destination. She walks down platform 3 in search of a bathroom. To her left are the tracks and a man holding a very young boy, pantsless in a squatting position. Normal. As she ventures for a the sanction of privacy, this family settles for urgency. Normal. 

Platform 1. She enters the washroom and the first stall has a western style toilet. Clogged and full of shit, she moves on to the second. A squatter also clogged. Next, a squatter with no light and a floor that’s soaked. With what? She prefers not to know. She enters and shuts the door behind her. Turning on her flashlight she looks for a dry spot to place her bag. The back left corner. She puts it down and looks for a tampon and wet wipes, her life. Pulling her pants down and settling into a squat, she releases her bowels. Relief. She looks at her wipes and then looks at the water tap to her left. Do you wash a window with just paper or with water too? Deciding to try this forgein technique, she opens the faucet and fills a cut open gallon in front of her. Once filled, she brings her left hand to her bottom and begins pouring the water. Water splashes everywhere but her target. Again. She fills the gallon and repositions her hand. Spllllassshhhh down her legs and shirt, everything but her target. Again. She refills the gallon, turns her torso, and widens her squat. This time, she gets it. And washing away all kinds of feces, she understands how something so primitive still exists. Normal. 

Walking back to platform 3, she strides feeling clean, refreshed and ready. To her right are the tracks and a man holding a very young boy pantsless in a squatting position. The same boy except he now has feces smothered all over his ass, the back of his thighs and in between his legs. Did he roll around in his shit? Normal. His father encourages him to keep trying and the boy sits laughing. She stares, not wondering whether it is in disbelief or disgust. She walks over to her bench and nods to the man who sits in the next bench over. Thank you, her eyes implore. She turns back to the little boy and his dad who now has the mother standing by with a liter water bottle ready in hand. Normal she decides. She stares at the normalcy around her. 

Indira: Not Thailand


She sits on an open bus headed to Rishikesh. The yogi ashram. A paradise for hiking, meditation, rafting, yoga and all things mystic. She heads there in hopes of….

Nothing. No hopes no expectations, just ride. I sit midway on the bus where the entrance is a folding door that won’t stay shut. It creaks open with every road bump and men stream in and out at every red light. I watch and observe, knowing this is well normal. The bus rocks down the road and its like riding in scrapes of metal soldering together. The air is humid but as the sun begins to set, wind chills breeze throughout the cracked windows. The A/C bus was taking off at 21:30 and with a five hour ride ahead, I’d rather risk it on this bus than arrive in Rishikesh in the early hours of the morning. 

The fog is thick today. The smell and feel of India compresses against my body. With a long bus ride ahead, I come prepared. Two half sandwiches and a bottle of water sit on my lap. My fusia colored back pack also sits on my lap. It has everything I could possibly need. Unless I’m sleeping, I never lose sight of it. Tissues, wipes, tooth brush, toiletries, lap top, camera, document copies, passport, wallet, spoon and fork, shit ton of cash, and most importantly, tampons. Scenarios of escape thrillers rush through my mind and I can only imagine surviving with this back pack. Prepared. I am always prepared, and if it really comes down to it, my brain is the only survival kit I really need. 


Hours into the ride and I’ve been reminiscing on past adventures. Pai, Thailand. A beautiful town in the high mountains, full of wonders. The best adventures I’ve had. Renting scooters and riding three hours to giant caves and hot springs and enjoying the freshest, juiciest, red strawberries I’ve ever known to exist. On our way up we passed maybe 15 other scooters and the way we raced around those curved mountains, close to the edge, reminded me of my entire childhood playing Mario Racecarts. It was freezing up there. We sped down the mountain trying to make it home to change into dry clothes and sip on a few buckets of alcohol, Thailand’s special buckets. 

A young blonde American stands with his friend at the hostel bar. He’s wearing his sunglasses and a stuck up attitude. Americans. I’m rolling with my Australian mate and two Dutch friends we picked up along the way. We order our buckets and Alice and I head into her dorm to change. The planning begins. We’ve heard of a place where we can find some green goods and it lies not far from here. A herd of people walk into the dorms and they’re talking loudly about their recent adventures. “I think we passed you guys on the way up there.”  The blonde from the bar talks to Alice. She smiles and continues the conversation. “We’re going to this bar, Sunset Bar, if you’d like to come.” He looks at his friend and they contemplate the details, who’s driving, when to go, what to do after. I stare at Alice and roll my eyes inside. Great, more small talk to entertain.

The beeping outside of my windows wakes me from my mind dreams. This is India not Thailand. The desolate scenery outside is changing. More bright lights are present and we seem to be driving on well paved roads. Still, there is at least an hour left and it is hard to keep my mind from wondering into places it desires. 

We each take our own scooters. Alice, Australia, Dutch boy, the American and his friend and then I. It’s dark out and when we arrive at the bar, we are the only ones there. An empty bamboo porch with neon lights, two pool tables and a bar selling juice. Juice? Yeah, the alcohol is at the bar next door. No wonder this I empty, I thought. No matter, we were there for one reason only, the green goods. From traveler to traveler we had asked around and it was told that we had to ask the owner of the bar. Australia, with not a fuck in the world, asks for the owner. After 5 min, a tall skinny tanned fellow walks out and up the back stairs. The bamboo porch is wide and underneath a straw roof. The stairs in the back lead to a higher dirt path where no light shines. Australia looks at me and nods. With all the power and the cash, I put my drink down and follow him to the back. I meet his offer at the top of the stairs with rolled up 500 Thai baht. Two seconds of a switch and we’re done. Mission accomplished. 

The blonde American sits against the wall. It’s dark and his sunglasses are glued to his face. So where are you from? And the small talk begins…

It’s freezing outside. Sleeping bags are scattered on the rooftop hangout above the dorms. After a night of drinking, card playing, and international bonding, stray travelers have passed out. Myself included, I lie underneath the star filled sky on a thin mattress with just a bed cover. No, not just a bed cover. I’ve awoken from the cold and lie shivering. I grab the covers and hug it tighter to my body. I grab his arms, and hug him tighter to my body. Body warnth, I tell myself. Bullshit I tell myself, as I sink in his scent. I look up and feel his bare chest against my own, his eyes are closed shut but he’s not resting. Skin against skin and I can feel the current of energy flowing within him. He is not resting. Tense. Fast. Uncontrolled. I feel it before I see it. He is not resting. Do not move… The energy is too much and my body slightly inches to find some way to comfort him. Snap. His arms tighten around my ribs, my head which was lying on his chest is now straining to look up. His body is shaking and as I squeeze from underneath his grip, I prop up to look into his awakened blue eyes. Blue eyes. Naked, Raw, Vulnerable. 


I snap out of my dreams again. This is India, not Thailand. We should be arriving soon. The bus has emptied a fair amount and we seem to be heading intown. A delux Twin Private, two bottles of alcohol, and an Australian mate awaits the arrival of Avi and I.