December 13th, 2013
I sleep fitfully the first night, disturbed by the constant jerking movements of the train in the conductor’s apparent attempt to reach light speed in his haste. On the lower bunk, I feel like I am slowly suffocating from the lack of circulating air. I look around the cabin, the dim light creeping in through the gaps around the doorframe. Is it possible to suffocate in here? Surely the three of us breathing would have used up the oxygen contained within this box. I feel like breaking the window to let the cool night air rush in, and instead climb out of bed and attempt to adjust the airflow. Like I suspected, the knob doesn’t do much, and I lay facing toward the empty space, concentrating on deep breaths.
At 3 a.m. I walk Bubby up and down the narrow hallway of the coach, amused by his attempts to stay upright against the shuddering movements and pee at the same time. There is nobody around; the hard florescent lights emphasize the stark black outside the hallway’s windows. It feels like I am on a ghost train, forever destined to move along endless rails. I go back to my coupe and shortly thereafter, I am back underneath the bleached sheet I use as a buffer between the prickly woolen blanket, and myself, sleep still evading me. I roll over onto my stomach and pull the curtain open to see stars glowing brightly against the black night. I haven’t seen stars like this in months with the constant light and air pollution of the city. I watch the moonlit scenery in the middle of nowhere go by, trees and fields, and imagine that I am looking out a window in Michigan. I feel a sharp pang of guilt thinking about Little Pup and his distress at us leaving him with strangers. Quite suddenly, I realize how much I love him and his constant company.
Once the sadness abates, I finally drift off to sleep for a couple of hours, waking to seek the sun’s warm rays bringing the world to life outside my window. It is really quite fascinating to witness India’s mornings from the window of a train. Men stand around brushing their teeth from the sides of the tracks or on their apartment rooftops or balconies. Auto drivers smoke their morning beadis and wipe the grime away from their autos with rags. It’s difficult to tell that I am in Andhra Pradesh because it looks a lot like Bangalore. Telugu (the state language) uses the same script as Kannada. It is in fact the different color of the autos (yellow and black instead of yellow and green) that informs me we must have passed into Andhra Pradesh.
The experience of watching India from a train is much like walking its streets, sobering, only fast paced. Some sights are so beautiful. We pass by a lake, smooth like a mirror and I watch a flock of stark white egrets fly up in unison and toward the deep orange morning sun. Moments later, I am presented with the perturbing sights of makeshift slums housing the poorest of the poor, shacks haphazardly built next to trash dumps or rivers and ponds that have turned into open sewers. Sites that serve as safe havens for the poor because they border on the fringes of undesirable environments where no one else would ever want to live.
Mid morning has led us away from small cities and into the more remote areas where nature reigns. We pass by farmland, currently dry from winter’s weather, but undoubtedly bright green and full of life during the monsoons. Mountains with smooth faces line the horizon, hazy from mist in the distance. There is hardly a human soul about, a rare occurrence living in cosmopolitan India. Those I do see are farmers tending to their crops or their cows, lone figures standing on a stretch of earth that seems to go on forever. We pass a group of women and children gather around a small pond in the middle of a field to wash their clothes and bathe. I feel a sudden urge to be out there with them, to feel the sun on my face and smell the air rich with the scents of the country. Other than the clip clop of the tracks, and the periodic scuffle of feet outside my door, it is quiet – the perfect morning to stare out into a remote world, and reflect on one’s thoughts.