It was a rainy morning, minutes prior to our imminent departure in the ‘tin-can-van’, I walked over to the small wooden stilted shop. The medical ‘tree-house’ situated next to the van, was the hang out of the three guys who were seated comfortably inside. I stopped to talk with them until it was time to depart, at which point I asked if I could take a picture of them.
That shot has become one of my favorite pictures that I’ve ever taken.
Last night, as I walked past the festivities on my way back to the Jain guest house, I saw a warm glow… the medical stand was still opened. I pulled out the picture out of my bag and held it up, trying to determine if either of the two men resting in their fort, were any of the guys in the picture.
Recognizing his eyes in the candle lit glow, I cautiously approached and said hello.
I told him of my last visit and how I took the picture, showing them both the photo, I pointed to one of the pictured men and asked if that was him.
The ‘Doctor’, as everyone calls him, studied the photo… suddenly a large smile appeared as he stared back at me.
If there is something so beautiful in life, that I feel is often overlooked, it’s the impact from being aware of ones’ intentions. It was easy for me to print these pictures and to bring them with me knowing that I was not planning to stop in Sarnath.
But also knowing how incredible the feeling would be if I did happen to cross paths again with these people; being able to thank them in person for allowing me to take these beautiful photos, that I have shared with the world.
Judging by his smile and the numerous ‘Thank you’-s that followed, I think I made his day.
I still feel good.
I reflect this as I lay in my room in the Hotel Saraswati in the distant town of Mughal Sarai.
The train to Gaya was canceled.
Munching on my morning stacks of buttered-jammed toast at the Jain Guest House, I was reading in the news paper, an article about recent student protests in Bihar that turned violent with the local authorities. Not quite understanding the whole conflict because I was jumping into the loop apparently 5days into the conflicts, I gathered something that had to do with unfair treatment of northern Indians, resulting in students shutting down the railway stations and setting fires to some of the trains, and Mumbai being the root of all the problems.
The article reported that service had been restored, yesterday.
[If you would like to read what the conflict was about, check out: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/mns-mayhem-students-set-ablaze-train-coaches-in-bihar/376584/]
Dr. Jain asked what time my train was scheduled to depart, he offered to give me a ride to Varanasi Junction, as he was picking up his visiting Daughter. It was so nice of him!
The car ride was full of inquisitive questions, asking me of my opinions on foreign (American) policies. I enjoyed talking to him very much as he had some very good opinions of his own.
Upon our arrival at Varanasi Junction, the distorted announcement came over the loudspeaker that several trains were canceled, mine being one of them.
In the midst of the quick crowded confusion, I regretfully parted ways with Dr. Jain without thanking him for his hospitality, as he asked me to follow his driver to the foreign ticket office in attempts to procure a new train reservation.
The tiny ticket office was guarded by a station officer; I was asked to show him my passport in order to enter.
I sat down in front of the desk that was manned by the solo ticket clerk on duty. The bulky old Hercules computer monitor told him that all trains into Bihar were canceled today; my e-ticket had been canceled and I would be refunded.
The next available train to Gaya would be departing tomorrow from another railway station, in the neighboring town of Mughal Sarai, but there was no guarantee that service would be restored by tomorrow.
I agreed to take the reservation for the train departing tomorrow; if the train gets canceled, I would just do this again…
Behind me in line and were two older women from Germany; they asked me what I had decided to do as they too were on their way to Gaya.
Rather quickly, the office began to fill up with tourists from all over; they were all affected by the Bihari train cancelations.
The lone clerk looked overwhelmed as questions and exclamations from the crowd begin to get louder and louder.
I found myself assisting the desperate clerk in answering the questions being barked out by the new arriving travelers, as to what had happened in Bihar and why the trains have been canceled, offering what I’ve chosen to do, and explaining why the clerk was saying that taking a bus at this time of day into Bihar might not be the best or safest idea…
“Long bumpy rides… not recommended to travel at night… Naxalites with machine guns…”
The story I’ve retold so many times, people’s heads began looking up and crowding around.
I have a feeling I helped the Indian Railway sell a lot of rescheduled train tickets… right speech? I don’t know.
The two German women told me that they had also reserved for the rescheduled train and that they were thinking of making the 17km trip out to Mughal Sarai, now, to scope out where the railway station was and if there were any hotels near by, and if I wanted to tag along. I was up for a little reconnaissance.
The Lonely Planet started to become nothing more than bulky paper weight on this trip; it listed nothing about Mughal Sarai. The auto rickshaw driver said there were no hotels in Mughal Sarai; finding it hard to believe, we asked him to take us to the railway station.
‘200 rupees, station fixed price.’
Leaving Varanasi, the auto rickshaw ride out was a relaxing trip, passing by beautiful old structures as the scenery transitioned from the crowded slums to the rural farms.
The main road through Mughal Sarai was lined with shops and business alike, it was a much cleaner and quieter town than the likes of Varanasi.
We passed by a hotel and asked the driver to stop; with cat like agility, his co-pilot jumped out of the moving vehicle and immediately went into the building as the driver made a sharp left turn into the empty parking lot.
His companion returned almost too quickly and said, ‘no rooms’.
The three of us looked at one another to why they first said there were no hotels, and then why there were no vacancies in such a large hotel building.
When we arrived at the railway station, we asked the driver if he could inquire with the other tuk tuk drivers, for a recommended place to stay for the night. He parked his vehicle and got out. I followed.
I stood listening as he began speaking to a man in Hindi; a small crowd formed around us as a few people offered replies back.
He turned back to me saying that there wasn’t anything around.
‘What?’ Something didn’t feel right.
One of the ladies told him to go back the way we came as she had seen a sign for another hotel on the outbound side of the road.
We pulled over to the side of the road, and this time I jumped out first and walked down the alleyway into the hidden hotel.
I smiled and greeted the desk clerk, asking if he had any available rooms. He looked past me and began talking in Hindi to the co-pilot who had caught up with me.
The driver’s sidekick sheepishly told me that they had no rooms.
‘BULL SHIT!’ I thought to myself.
I turned back to the desk clerk and asked him again. He this time looked at me and said, ‘No rooms for you.’
I walked out and tapped the sidekick on the shoulder, asking him what he was doing and what had happened.
‘they had rooms available, I know it!’
‘yes, but they no want sell to you.’
‘because they no sell to foreigners.’
I climbed back into the auto rickshaw to explain to my travel companions what had happened. A little annoyed by everything, I told the driver to bring us back to the first hotel they stopped at. I wanted to find out what was going on.
We pulled back into The Hotel Saraswati parking lot and this time, one of the Germans jumped out with me as we both went inside.
They had rooms.
I looked at the sidekick and asked him why he had lied to us.
‘No, lie. No have AC rooms.’
‘Yes, we are sorry, there are no AC rooms here, sir’, concurred the desk clerk.
We had never said that we wanted AC rooms…
We asked to see the rooms; 500rupees for my single room, 350 rupees each for their double. They were fine.
As we headed back outside to get our bags, a level of distrust, frustration, and confusion over the unnecessary ordeal, continued to rise.
The driver and his friend insisted they were not familiar with this area and that they tried to help us in finding a hotel. I didn’t want to hear it. He was going to get a bad tip…
I grabbed my rucksack and handed the ladies their bags and turned to pay the driver; we each handed him 70rupees.
‘200rupees.’ pointing to each of us.
‘No, no, no!’ the Germans began shouted. ‘You said 200, fixed station price, not 200 per passenger!’ as they pointed their fingers back at him.
The look in his eyes expressed his feelings of shock and confusion, rather than a look of disappointment… he didn’t understand why we were upset.
‘But I help you! You say, I take you to Mughal Sarai railway, and I do. I try help find hotel for you!’
Suddenly, the anger and frustration began to melt away at the consideration that he could possibly be telling the truth; that he truly didn’t know Mughal Sarai, that he misunderstood our unspecified English, and that he wanted to help us by getting us a comfortable room.
My angry companions made a final offer, ‘350rupees!’
The driver had no choice but to accept.
We went inside the hotel and were asked to fill out the guest registration book; waiting for my turn, I turned and slipped out of the lobby and ran back outside catching up with the tired motor rickshaw as they began pulling away.
I looked him in the eye and asked him to tell me the truth.
Shaking his hand, I handed him the concealed 300rupees.
I believed him.
He opened his hand and began crying. He grabbed me and hugged me as he began thanking me and apologizing for making us angry.
I went inside and filled out the book and went to my room.
I didn’t feel the need to tell the ladies what I had done.
After unloading, I walked over to their room and told them that I needed to go into town. I had seen an ATM, an AIRTEL, and an Internet centre on the tuk tuk ride through the main strip; I needed to get some cash, recharge my mobile minutes, and to tell Nikesh that I was not going to be arriving tonight…
Walking through the streets in India, I’ve noticed on this trip that I am not being approached as often or stared at by everyone; compared to my last trip, where we were constantly stopped by curious locals wanting to practice their English.
Not being Caucasian, allows me to slip by the radar… funny.
The ‘smell of India’ was definitely noticeable as I walked down the main strip in the warm sunny day.
I found an ATM and took out some cash.
It’s interesting how secure I felt when I had money; something I haven’t written at all was the nervousness I had of not having enough cash.
Having to use cash everyday is something that I’m still getting used to.
Two doors from the ATM was the Internet centre.
Nikesh called right as I walked into the air conditioned store. He had heard that all trains had been canceled and wanted to know if I was alright. I told him I had reserved a train departing tomorrow and gave him the new train number.
Just as I said goodbye the phone cute off, I ran out of minute on my mobile.
An hour on the computer later, I found an AIRTEL shop.
I handed the lounging store clerks, my mobile asking if I could recharge my minutes. They said the network was down and suggested that I come back in an hour.
I decided to grab some food. Walking into the tiny restaurant, I said hello and took a seat. A little boy with a huge smile on his face handed me a menu.
I smiled back.
I opened the menu and noticed it was all in Hindi.
Laughing to myself, I attempted to try to order, with the few words I knew.
‘naheen, no.’ Shaking his head.
I was confusing him.
The chef came over gave me a smile.
‘ummm… Mai… shakaharee hon.’ (I am a vegetarian)
‘ahhh! Haan, haan. O-K!’
Feeling, satisfied that I was able to ‘order’, I asked the smiling boy, ‘Pena Thums Up.’
The food arrived, it was vegetable lo mein.
My frosty Thums Up cola was uncapped for me.
After getting my mobile minutes recharged, I walked back to the hotel; stopping by a fruit stand, I bought some apples.
I went back to my room and meditated for a while and relaxed, reading my book and listening to my music.
Later I got a knock on my door. Sigrid and Karla wanted to know if I would join them; we sat out on the lobby balcony munching on our apples and bananas, sharing stories of where we were from and where we have been, as the sun began to set.
We decided to go to the restaurant next to the hotel for dinner.
The two are from Berlin; they have been in India for about 6 months volunteering for a traveling clinic as Occupational/Physical Therapists, helping children who are suffering from polio.
I love how I’m meeting so many interesting people on this trip.
(The Inefficiency Of Emotion - Grade)
(The Inefficiency Of Emotion - Grade)