An ongoing and occasional series on a 3-month trip I took to India in 1982. I was 25, and traveled by train across the country alone, writing an article on the then-unknown Indian film industry and combating the anxieties of youth and solo travel. Often includes references to what I wore. You can find the previous posts here. Today’s post follows on last Thursday’s far more immediately than usual because it is so much a part of the same story.
We went back to the hotel. I wrote,
“Sitting in the lobby, who do I find but my friend, Mr. K.K. Thali. He tells me that he was devastated to hear that no buses will go tomorrow morning, he has thought only of me, and he has come up with an alternative.”
I was to be driven to a town called something like, but not exactly, Brnisa, where I could catch a bus for Jhansi at midnight. However, there were tigers, so we had to be careful. I wrote,
“K.K. Thali rustles up a ‘conveyance’ belonging to the administrator of Khajuraho. Off we go, me, K.K. Thali, the administrator’s son, and the driver.”
The conveyance turned out to be a jeep with padded seats, red interior light, and an 8-track cassette deck. If I recall, they played the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever.
It was darker than ever outside. We drove to Brnisa. Mr. K.K. Thali attempted to squeeze me rather a lot. We stopped. We got out. They waited with me by the roadside. After all, there were tigers. At midnight precisely, a bus pulled up. On I got, goodbyes all around.
The conductor asked me if I wanted making the love, using a very recognizable hand gesture. ‘No thank you,’ I said. He smiled, and shook his head in the Indian nod. I slept. We arrived in Jhansi at 3am. I exited the bus, precipitously, leaving behind my red down vest. I took a tonga to the train station. I found my bunk, and lay down to sleep, wishing I still had my down vest to use as a pillow.
I was reassured by the presence of an elderly gentleman, sitting on the berth below me, reading. I dozed off. I wrote,
“I am awakened by said gentleman asking me a question. I don’t understand. I put my head down to sleep again. He caresses my head and I speak out in surprise. He shakes his head, as though I needn’t worry. I lie down once more to sleep. Slowly he reaches over and touches my face as though I were insubstantial, transparent. Very gently he rests his hand on my forehead, my cheeks, my shoulder, my head again. He scratches my head, as though I were a child. I think it must be a religious ritual until I feel him raise himself up on the lower berth. I open my eyes to see him bending down to kiss me. ‘Please, no,’ I say. He nods, and sits back down on the lower berth.
Really? Just how much was I supposed to put up with? Clearly, at 25, alone in India, I wasn’t sure.
When the train arrived in Sanchi, I hurried through the crowd of people getting off the train. I grabbed hold of three tall Austrian men and made them walk me to where I would be staying the night. I can make no excuse for my cultural bias. They looked familiar, and safe.
I always tell this series of events as a funny story.
The next morning I went to visit Sanchi’s Buddhist stupa. It’s old and massive. I woke up early and saw the sunrise on my way. I felt I’d been there in a previous life. The sky was blue and so bright I couldn’t quite open my eyes. Things that weren’t white appeared so anyway.
Then I walked through the town marketplace, where a man gladly sold me several inches of blue glass bangles. Bangle sellers have to squeeze your bones a certain way to get the things on. Pinky knuckle, thumb knuckle, wrist, wrist.
He held my hand and moved my bones just so. I wore the bangles until I had to break them off in business school. Too much jangle for note-taking.
They all expand when clicked