From Delhi to Siliguri with a Frebile Fiend
This is not my photo. It is an archival photo from The Indian Express. Riding atop the train is now punishable by law.
I recently came across this journal entry that never made it to the blog.
Something happened on the way from Delhi to Siliguri.
The journey itself was some 30 hours, but I'm seasoned, so I didn't really think twice about it. Plus, I was traveling in 3AC and not in Sleeper class. If you're well-versed with Indian Railways, then you know that 3AC or 2AC costs substantially more than Sleeper class -- but it's a splurge that, to me, now no longer in my 20's, is a no-brainer. If you're not familiar with Indian Railways, then imagine Sleeper class as … sleeping people. Everywhere. On the floor, between cars, in the bathroom. Standing, lying down, sitting up, and squatting. Every square inch of the train is covered with human beings.
We were to reach Siliguri at 6:30 in the evening. Around 5:00, I started to feel achy, but chalked it up to a night sleeping on a hard bed in a rocking train. Soon enough, though, the aches became deeper. Shaking it off didn't work; they nested in my bones, and my eye sockets, too. Then my body became hot, and my balance dizzy.
Around 6:15, I stumbled to a man waiting near the door to ask if Siliguri would be the next stop.
"No, no," he said. "The train is late. We'll reach Siliguri in about six hours."
This was, in that moment, the most deflating news I could hear. I had no guesthouse reserved in Siliguri, and I wasn't particularly comfortable showing up alone in a city I didn't know in the middle of the night with nowhere to go. But what to do? No one was going to do it for me. I remembered the name of one of the guesthouses I had read about, googled it, and gave them a call (a moment when I can say THANK GOD I finally got a smartphone). Said I would be coming after midnight, and did they please have a bed into which I could collapse? Luckily, they did. Then I fell into a fitful sleep the next six hours.
True to my fellow passenger's word, we reached Siliguri just after midnight. The last thing I felt like doing was bargaining for a fair price with a taxi driver, so when someone said 300 rupees for the three kilometers to the guesthouse (five dollars, a grossly inflated price, no doubt), I only resisted about sixty seconds before consenting.
Sometimes you're in a situation where you're not super comfortable, but you just go with it because your other options are nil. Somewhere in your fuzzy, febrile head is the knowledge that most people are indeed good, and in that moment, your imagination is just being influenced by negative media. In this particular scenario, it was me and an unmarked taxi, with no meter, no sign, nothing at all that made it look official -- all in the middle of the night, no less. But hell -- all the taxis were the same. Our drive was basically the taxi wallah making conversation, and me in the back, fingers on the door handle, feverishly (literally and metaphorically) calculating that we had certainly already driven three kilometers, if not more. In retrospect, it was in my head. But in the moment, all I kept thinking was, "Am I going to have to try to bencao (kick) someone when I feel so shitty?"
Obviously he dropped me at the guesthouse safe and sound, and I made silent apologies in my head. Let's skirt by the next 48 hours, they're boring -- spent sleeping mostly. That's not the point of the story. The more glorious sentiment is this:
You know when you get sick, and you feel like you just want to sleep for a long time? In this instance, it was a case of what I later learned was Dengue fever. But what a difference a few days makes. It passes. Such a miracle. And when it passes, all of the sudden you feel so damn alive and energized. Like a new life dropped into your lap. Anything is possible. Game ON! Let the adventure commence anew!
Which is a great moment to tie a string around the finger, especially for the next time it's clasped on a door handle.
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