More pictures here: Nona in Rajasthan
The 1233 for Luton left from the spanking new St Pancras International where I took the Eurostar to Paris a few weeks ago. It is a sort of extension right at the end of the building and I had to dodge people with bags and trolleys as I was going against the flow to catch my train. I wasn’t fussy about where I sat as it wasn’t going to be a long journey and I reckoned that the half an hour journey would take me through a few more chapters of Preeta Samarasan’s “Evening Is the Whole Day”. I really wanted to know the goings on in the big house in Kingfisher Lane after Chellam’s unceremonious departure.
The seats on the First Capital Connect were quite comfortable, and minutes after it pulled out of the platform, we buried our heads in our reading materials. The young teenager opposite me was devouring the pictures in Heat magazine while the gentleman on my right concentrated on The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
It took awhile for me to realise that I was staring for a good five minutes on page 44 with not a word sinking in. My mind was making its own journey and so I looked out of the window to see how the suburbs of London was being treated in the last few days of summer. Hedges were already neatly trimmed and shrubs cut in preparation for autumn, but there were a few optimists with their BBQ sets still outside their conservatories, hoping for one more sunny day to return.
According to the BBC weather forecast, we were in for a long wet and windy spell and true enough rain began pelting on the windows and I was thankful when we disappeared under a tunnel.
As we emerged from the tunnel, I blinked a few times. Right before me were clusters of huts with zinc roofs dotting fields that looked barren and dry with nothing to offer skinny cows and even skinnier goats roaming aimlessly in search of food and water. Pot bellied children clung on to their mothers’ faded sarees, as they walked gracefully balancing pots of water precariously on their heads. A few turned to wave at us without spilling a drop of water.
I turned to look at my travelling companions to see whether they were witnessing what I was witnessing. The girl with the Heat magazine was no longer there but in her seat was a fat woman trying to calm her baby by suffocating him with her ample breast. The gentleman with The Reluctant Fundamentalist too had disappeared and next to me was a skinny old man in his dhoti snoring loudly and plainly oblivious to both screaming child and ample breast. In fact the whole carriage was a scene of pandemonium. There were fans whirring from the ceiling of the carriage and there were people, sitting on the floor, being trampled on by a couple of cross dressers in their bright coloured sarees, making their way to the next coach. They ignored hurls of insults and lewd jokes, pulling their tongues out from chilli bright lips, which served to excite their teasers even more.
Looking out of the window again, slums with dilapidated houses in various stages of neglect and repair whizzed past and billboards displaying the latest that Bollywood can offer had the handsome Shahrukh Khan staring unsmiling at me. And as if on cue, a melodious and haunting sound of the sittar pierced the midday air, followed by the beat of the tabla, prompting the passengers on the floor, the cross dressers with their tongue sticking out, and the fat lady with baby at her breast to jump on their feet and break into one of the most syncronised Bollywood dance I ever saw.
Even the snore of skinny man next to me sounded melodious and he suddenly opened his eyes and broke into a Mohamad Rafii number.
I would have joined in the fun if not for the announcement that the train was approaching Luton and a reminder for us to take all our belongings. Like a dream rudely interrupted, coach C of the First Capital Connect returned to its normal albeit boring calmness as it pulled into Luton station.
I stepped onto the platform into wet and soggy Luton, annoyed that my dream of India was interrupted. I put it down to the puasa as well as the many sms’es and reports that I received from Nona about her train journeys since arriving in Mumbai. After a subtitleless Bollywood movie in Mumbai, she and her cousin took a train to Ahmadabad, before going to Udaipur where, hot on her heels was a very enthusiastic young man with chat up lines, that will make you roll on the floor laughing.
Example of chat up lines :
Did it hurt you when you fell from heaven?
Which country is suffering now that you are not there?
(And I thought the best dialogues come from India!!)
Anyway, Nona and my niece and friend are having a wonderful time in India. Right now they are in the picturesque mountain resort of Manali, after a 15 hour car ride from Delhi. A punctured tyre, stops for mutter paneer to break their fast, they arrived in pitch dark Manali at about midnight.
“Its like Geneva, mama,” she gushed on the phone to me from the balcony of her hostel when morning unveiled Manali’s beauty with the snowcapped Himalayas in the background.
That is indeed a stark contrast to the experience camping in the heat of the Thar Desert of Jaisalmer, where they started their first day of Ramadan. If I could expel the nagging feeling, I think waking up for sahur, in the early morning before the sun rose in the Thar Desert, being served with boiled eggs by two male guides, has a romantic touch befitting any Bollywood movie.
Well, her journey had taken me on my own journey of India via google and blogs published on travels in India. I made the same train rides from Mumbai to Ahmadabab to Udaipur, where among the ruins of a palace she was surrounded by locals who touched and stared at her. Sleeping in the trains during the nights seemed to be the norm, a cheap way of travelling without having to stay in hostels. From Jaipur they left for Jaisalmer in the soaring heat that I could almost feel from cold and wet London. I prayed for their safe journey to Agra where they feasted their eyes on the Taj Mahal before moving yet again to Delhi.
I caught up with them in time at a travel agent where they booked a car and a driver that had taken them to Manali, then to Shimla and back to Delhi.
The next few days will see them making the tracks to Sikkim in the west and then a two day train ride to Bangalore. After that, I think, I should be able to rest (my fingers) after crisscrossing the Indian continent, thanks to Google.
Other train journeys:
Tales From The Tracks
On the 1302 from Kings Cross with Tunku Halim
Training My Thoughts
As I Was Munching Muruku
A Malay Experience in Roman Exeter
Train of Thoughts
A Story Untold