Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. –Mahatma Gandhi.
The plane landed in Chennai, India on October 1. As the disembarkation began, I said goodbye to Paul, a friendly middle-aged Indian man who offered to call a hostel at which he was a frequent guest and arrange for a discount on my behalf, just as soon as we both passed through customs.
To make a long, boring story short, the foreigners’ line at customs took a ridiculously long time—by the time I was on the other side, it was after 11:00 pm, and Paul was long gone. I taxied to nearby Hotel Mars and fell asleep immediately.
The next day was my true introduction to India. From Hotel Mars I took an ‘auto,’ (a three-wheeled vehicle large enough to fit two or three passengers. In Thailand autos are called tuk-tuks, which means they go everywhere) toward Thiruvanmiyur bus station to meet my cousin Coby. The auto ran out of gas in the middle of the highway, and the driver hopped out to finagle various tubing to attach to a reserve tank.
When Coby arrived, we had eight hours to kill before our 33-hour ride on the Tamil Nadu Express (northbound train from Chennai to Delhi). We visited the local beach and I dipped my feet in the Bay of Bengal. The beach was significantly more crowded than beaches I’m used to, but as you’ve no doubt heard about India, everything there is crowded. At the beach we met a local fisherman/pearl diver, who gave us chai (masala) tea and showed off a collection of pearl necklaces he made with the fruits of his labors.
That night, after dinner and a brief conversation with our grandparents, we boarded the Tamil Nadu Express! We were in sleeper car 11, which thanks to the direction the train was travelling, was practically the front. We had a whole compartment to ourselves—for about 10 minutes. Then we were joined by a group of jolly firemen on their way to Delhi for a conference.
The compartment had eight beds. Six were on one side of the walking aisle (stacked three high), two on the other. I slept in the middle berth of one of the sets of three.
But before sleep, we got to know our firemen companions. Unfortunately, I cannot now remember any of their names. But there is one very interesting thing to note about the group. Among their member was a man in his mid-thirties. He claimed that thanks to occasional meditation (no more than once or twice a week), he had lost the physical need for sleep! Coby and I made it our goal for the train ride to catch him in this lie, and it proved a task more difficult than I’d have thought…but also easier than this man would probably have liked…
I found it difficult to sleep for more than a couple hours at a time on the train. Whenever I awoke, I’d check on the Man Who Never Sleeps—his berth was one below mine and across the aisle. Every time I awoke during the night, he would indeed be awake! Sometimes he’d catch me checking and smile or chuckle to himself.
But the second day I awoke from a brief midafternoon nap. And there he was, sound asleep. He awoke a few minutes later.
There was no malicious intent behind his lie. He was playing a joke on us, or fabricating a story. He wasn’t a bad person, but he had an excellent poker face. Coby and I spent a lot of time needling him for details about how he could achieve such a feat, or what he did during all his spare time! Many people would go to great lengths to acquire eight extra hours to work or play each day! He always answered our questions diligently and with a straight face, and meanwhile we could barely keep from cracking up as we asked them. It was great fun.
Anyways, the Tamil Nadu Express chugged along. Apart from the aforementioned social entertainment, there wasn’t a whole lot to do on the train. There was decent food and a surplus of chai tea (an attendant carrying a kettle of the stuff went up the aisle every ten or fifteen minutes).
I occupied my time reading (check out my list of ‘books read’ at the bottom of the page. You’ll notice it grew significantly in the past few weeks), walking up and down the length of the train (apart from air conditioning, the first class cars really weren’t much more luxurious than the sleeper cars), and taking photographs.
The latter was fun. If you’re at all worried about my safety, don’t read the following paragraph.
I would spend hours leaning out of the train doors to get photos. The train wasn’t so fast that this felt unsafe, although I’m sure nothing good would have come of falling out. The wind felt nice in my face, and I had fun trying to capture both the landscape and the train itself.
Thirty-three hours later, the train finally pulled into Delhi, and the adventure continued from there.
NOTICE: This with the first in a four-post series about my trip to India. The following posts will be generally, but not strictly chronological. They will be as follows:
- India Part 2: Aavishkaar
- India Part 3: Does the Dalai Lama Eat Banana Pancakes?
- India Part 4: Delhi
Expect them within the next week.