My hotel is a small hotel conveniently located near the bus station. I’m not sure if it’s because the bar of soap they gave me is so small, or if it’s because I am so dirty, but in order to feel clean, I used almost the entire bar in one washing.. It seems to be a clean hotel and the people are really nice, but I think I’ll keep my suitcase closed the whole time just in case.
Settling in quickly, I immediately take a walk around the bustling city. Even at 10:00 at night, the streets are packed. I end up buying myself a bottle of beer to enjoy in my room, and I my way back, stop for a quick masala dosa at the vegetarian restaurant connected to my hotel.
The trip here has been incredible! For me, it’s been a perfect example of why I love India.
The 11-hour train ride from Fort Cochin to Bangalore travels through fields of rice paddies and fields of ancient woods. Kerala is a part of India that is mostly green; beautiful fields growing cashews and coconuts and spices of all kinds pass by from my window. Occasional groups of small mountains are in the distance. Without a map, I’m not sure which mountains they are. These periods of green are sporadically interrupted by villages of multi coloured rooftops and simple cement homes.
For much of the ride, I stand on the shaky platform connecting two cars. Open to the passing scenery, I hang on to both side sand let the strong winds hold me back. I feel a little bit like Kate Winslet flying from the bow of the Titanic. I wonder why, in Canada the cars are closed off, preventing us from experiencing these simple joys of train travel.
The people around me on the train are what really make me love India! Across from me is a family of mother, father and 4-year-old son. Our conversation begins with “Where you from, madam? What country?” That’s a typical ‘pick up’ line for most communication starters. I end up spending lots of good time with the son. We colour together with the markers I have in my bag. He is thrilled when I pull out my monster puppet from my suitcase. I even have a container of play doh that keeps us busy for a long time. But the real gift we shared was this:
During the duration of the trip, it is a treat to purchase the foods that are sold on the trains. Passengers are regularly buying cups of sweet coffee or chai from the men walking up and down the aisles, yelling “Cofi, Cofi”. Or “Biryani biryani... veg, egg or chicken biryani” “Chali Chali (that’s chai). I buy enough coffee for everyone presented in paper cups. Typically, people throw empty cups and any form of garbage out of windows. Of course, that would be a ridiculous thing for me to do. Without garbage cans any where in the train, I take my empty plastic water bottle and I twist my cup to squeeze it into the spout. There I collect my garbage throughout the trip.
As the little boy begins to throw his cup out the window, I offer him my bottle to do the same. He is pleased especially when we share a friendly ‘high five’. The conversation with his parents is about keeping the country beautiful. By the end of the trip everyone in our area of the train are squeezing their garbage into the bottle! There is talk about ‘habit’ and how difficult it is to change. The understanding that the little boy will be forming other habits was definitely realized!
One man, a doctor of forensic science asks me,” What do you like about India?” I like that question. It makes me think. Finally, I answer, “I like the simplicity of India. The gentle spirit of the people allows me to feel safe and accepted. There is no need to be other than what I am. I like that. It’s just simple.”
Later on the same man asks, “In Canada are the trains the same?” I hesitate to answer. I don’t want to insult him. He has no idea how different things are in Canada!
“Yes”, I answer finally, “Much different.”
“How different?” he asks, “Cleaner?…more sophisticated?”.
“Yes….much cleaner and, yes, more sophisticated.”
We both smile knowingly. “But once you get sophisticated, it’s not simple anymore.” I say.
I think we understand each other.