Monday, August 18, 2008


Again during Friday's led primary series class I nearly fell asleep in some poses. Sthira sukham asanam indeed.

I got in a 20 minute nap before the trip to Bangalore. It was not long enough.

Because it was a double holiday (Indian Independence Day plus a puja day for Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth), it was not easy to find a rickshaw to take me to the railway station. I walked some time with the heavy bags before I finding one. Along the way I saw this in the middle of the street:

Also there was special rangouli or kollam (sand drawings) in front of most doors.

It turns out that the seats in second class have more in common with those of third class.

In other words, it's the same as riding in the cattle car on a hard bench that seats three and faces another bench of three - except that you have a reserved seat and there will only be two people next to you, three across (vs a dozen or more in the unreserved carriage).

Nonetheless there was an older gentleman in my window seat.

He grudgingly moved to the window seat next to his wife and proceeded to read Reader's Digest and ignore me for the next 2.5 hours.

Across from me were some lively AYRI students, also on their way to Bangalore.

I'd been hoping for a nap. It did not happen. Not in that uncomfortable seat. Not with all of that noise. I resolved to switch to the AC chair car for the long ride home on Sunday. That car is relatively quiet and empty - and one can tilt back the chair.

The saving grace of second class was the open window, which provided fresh air and a stunning view of the countryside.

At Majestic station in Bangalore I inquired at the "Current Reservation / Cancellation" window about changing classes for the ride home. I figured it would be as simple as showing the current ticket and paying a fee.

I was wrong.

It meant finding the reservation counter in the next building while carrying the heavy bags.

It meant waiting in the line at the Ladies / Credit Card" counter.

It meant pushing a man aside and saying "Ladies" and shoving my way past him.

Finally, at the front of the line, the clerk in the sari told me to fill out two forms: one for the cancellation. One for the reservation.

I filled them out. I got back into the line. Some Tibetan girls were in front of me.

Suddenly, the clerk in the sari thrust a sign in the window: CLOSED.
What? I asked.

"15 minutes closing."

It was 2PM.

The mind considered leaving. I looked around and saw a sign: break from 2-2:15. I turned back around and saw the clerk in the sari complete a transaction with the Tibetan girls.

I stuck my head in. "Train is leaving. Can you do one more?"

"15 minutes closing."

It seems that the words "Bangalore sucks" came out of the mouth.

I decided to wait it out. Maybe 15 minutes really would be 15 minutes.

I barricaded the body at the front of the line, putting the heavy bags on either side of me on counter and thrusting out the elbows. The I had some chikki (peanuts and jaggery) and drank some water. Perhaps that'll improve the mood, I thought.

At 2:15 the clerk in the sari returned. But she did not remove the "CLOSED" sign.

Instead, she proceeded to talk to her coworkers. To take a call on her cell phone. To play with the dot matrix ticket printer. To check her text messages. To grab some forms off a co-worker's desk. To make a personal phone call.

Finally, the "CLOSED" sign was removed. Others still tried to cut in front of me. Their efforts were fruitless.

Twice the clerk in the sari thrust the forms back to me, demanding I fill in the date in yet another section.

I asked for a window seat. She gave me an aisle seat. But I only found that out later.

Finally, there was a new ticket. The difference in price was Rs 150, or about $3.50.

I grabbed the heavy bags (full of tofu, tahini and Special Mysore Pak, a wonderfully decadent ghee and jaggery-based fudgelike sweet) and made my way to Platform 5, for the commuter train to my friend's suburb.

But the sign where it should have said which train was on the platform was covered in cardboard. I looked down at the bottom of the steps, and could not see how to get to Platform 5, which looked deserted. I asked a man which platform for my train: 5.

I went down and finally find my way to Platform 5 (which required walking behind what seemed to be a police office). The train was not yet there. And it was break-time (between 2 and 4PM), which mean that the Coffee Day Express kiosk was closed. Too bad: the senses could have used a caffeine boost.

The ancient train finally pulled up. I followed a woman on board. We took seats next to each other. The floor was covered in peanut shells. A sweeper woman came through and cleaned up most of them.

The train took off. The doors remained open, slamming into each other. Some boys sat down at the entrance, their feet dangling over the edge.

At each stop, more people got on. One or two got off.

Finally, we got to White Field.

Some people pointed me towards the exit. On the way out I bought Sunday's commuter ticket from White Field to Bangalore, for Rs 5 or 7 cents.

I did not see Suresh and the gang in the parking lot, and figured they were on the street. I saw a bakery and ordered a chai. E. called and said they were on the other side, and would send the driver to fetch me.

My stay with them was wonderful. Very quiet and relaxing, eating at The Club and what not. On Saturday Suresh drove me to Banaswadi to see Jammu, who has spent 8 of the past 10 months in Bangalore and Mysore, trying to adopt a baby girl. She was leaving to Delhi the next day for the final phase of paperwork. It was wonderful to see her and meet the sisters at the orphanage that's been helping her out and vice-versa. She also gave me some wonderful gifts (including the premiere issue of TimeOut Bengalru). I hope her days in Delhi are short and fruitful, and she finally gets to take Sachi home soon. (There's actually a special are with a little roof in front of the orphanage where people leave babies, by the way).

On Saturday night H went to see Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (who has an ashram in Bangalore) while QE, the baby and I walked to the corner for ice cream. This was the first time I've eaten ice cream in India - I've avoided it because of the melting-during-load-shedding-and-then-re-freezing-problem, but figured it was OK on these posh premises, plus it was a Baskin Robbins. We spent the rest of the evening talking.

The body slept like a log in their quiet home with the comfortable bed and lovely cats. In the morning we had French Toast and chai on the veranda (one of Jammu's parting gifts was a nearly-full bottle of Trader Joe's maple syrup, which found a new home in QE's fridge), watching the baby and reading the Sunday Times of India. What a wonderful experience .

Later we went to the club, where the husband and baby had a swim and then we all played some badminton (which is fun, but can be rough on the lower back). Then we ate at the club trough, er, buffet, which had everything from avocado salad and a pasta bar to Pav Bhaji and Jal Jeera, or cumin water, which is good for digestion.

Then it was back to reality on the commuter train from White Field to Bangalore.

The train was late. And when it finally pulled in, there were men spilling out of the doors, hanging off the sides.


I followed another woman onto the full carriage (when traveling here, one always attaches oneself to a family or woman or elderly couple, for safety). We had to wait as some people (mostly men; it is mostly men everywhere here) were spat out. Then, somehow, we squeezed in. This time, I had three bags (one from Jammu). We were squeezed in like sardines. But, just like in Chicago, the people in the middle of the train, not near the doors, could move about freely. Just like in Chicago, no one moved into those areas to make more space near the doors, where we sardines were standing. Unlike Chicago, there was a man in a mustache trying to work his way upstream, selling samosas.

The goal was to keep ahold of the bags and wallet, and to remember to breathe.

Partway through the looooooong (one hour) ride, I realized that the crotch of the man behind me was jammed into my backside. At least he wasn’t thrusting. But there was definitely some unnatural pressure.

I turned the head and looked at him. "Sir! Sir! Please do not jam your crotch into my ass."

It worked. He stopped. For awhile.

Then it started again.

Again, I turned my head and looked at him and said, rather loudly.

"No dry humping."

He stopped. For good this time.

Later, when some people got out, another man pointed towards the back of the car. "Go to that side," he said. I did - and spent the rest of the journey squatting next to the window with a couple of families. After that, the trip was a breeze (more or less).

* * *

This time, on the platform in Bangalore, the Cafe Coffee Day Express was open.

This time, the senses had some coffee (not good like the one in the store) and cardamom tea (surprisingly good despite being instant).

When I was carrying my many bags to the Chamundi Express to Mysore (AC chair car), a young boy touched my arm and said,

"Coolie, madam?"

He was about 10. My arms were twice as thick of his.

"No, thank you," I said.

* * *

When I finally made it home, around 10PM, the body itched all over and I had to take a cold bath.

Then I blew the nose. What came out was black.

And then I realized I'd gotten ladies holiday, and rejoiced in the fact that I wouldn't have to get up at 3AM and practice....

until I realized that if I'd known about LH ahead of time, I could have stayed in Bangalore and spent the next two days resting with friends, where it was quiet, near the pool.

Ah, India.


  1. I would have knocked that 'clerks' teeth right out of her head, but that is why I don't go to India.

    So, back to the USA, Irish Fest in Milwaukee this last Thur-Sun was spectacular!

    Stayed at the Hilton city center this time, and the entire 4 days were beyond fantastic!

  2. ah, yes....those lovely Indian trains! the longest ride I ever took was from Rameswaram to Chennai, 17 hours....

    cara, let me know about the dharma mittra workshop out in sycamore! when will you be back home?

  3. I stumble upon your blog! I'm from Bangalore and I feel bad you didn’t really enjoy it here! Looks like you’re more adventurous than me :) I would never dare to get in a crowed train with soo many men. Try taking the flight when every you can.. But then you might be delayed 3-4 hours.. Damn there is a catch everywhere :D
    Basic rule is the more expensive your mode of travel is, more unlikely it is for you to meet jerks (like the one in the train) well at least I hope. Has worked for me so far..