Monday, October 24, 2005

Hell Train To Khandwa

This photo above seems a rather appropriate way to begin the telling of this particularly horrific tale. It's one Ted took while both he and I were taking a quick moment to eat a bit of something in this makeshift train station diner of sorts while waiting for the train to arrive that was to take us to the little town of Khandwa. Although I didn't see it at the time, Ted told me this gentleman actually noticed him taking his photo, and gave him the most silent, but intensely, ominously slow shake of his head; as if to say "Don't take my picture again, or I'll put a curse on your name the likes of which your feeble western mind has never seen." In retrospect, I think this man may have gone ahead and enacted that curse all the same (as the picture seems to indicate, I don't think he was in the most jovial of moods), for the trip that awaited us was every bit as inhumanly difficult and trying as could have possibly been imagined.
Above: Ted looking a little plussed before the trip (I think he might have been second-guessing his earlier decision to invade the swami's personal space by taking his picture unsolicitedly). The long train trips were beginning to take their toll at this point. Little did we know that the worst was just around the corner . . .

All Aboard!
At the beginning of the train trip, we found ourselves stuck without seats. Although this was by no means the first time this had happened, the fact that 1) the train was pretty much jam packed with people, and 2) we ended up having to go the majority of the trip in this very spot pictured here, made things a little more . . . um . . . trying, shall we say. This (above) is how Ted looked from "the outside" . . .
But internally? Well, this is how things were really looking.

The Fun Continues . . .

Now THIS guy right here (in the background of the picture taken above) was something else . . . He was like a . . . like a MULE or something . . . It was really quite interesting because he was both 1) THOROUGHLY uninvited into our space, yet 2) COMPLETELY unaware (or, perhaps, uncaring? or something) of this fact, and, consequently, he got in every one of these pictures, and payed NO attention to the concept of "physical space". It was even more amazing because, in a rare moment of frustration (at least this level of frustration), I actually agressively told him to go somewhere else . . . and he didn't even REACT. He barely blinked. There was absolutely NO agressive reaction on his part to my energy - at all. It was amazing. It was then that I really realized that this guy had grown up in a culture that put us (in that moment anyway, and to put it lightly) in pretty dang different worlds. The shock and surprise of it all (you had to be there) kind've simmered me down a bit.
"Simmered down" or not, however, I was still very, very fed up in this picture (above). The cat was walking around barefoot in conditions that made the bottom of my SHOES curl - to say nothing of what my feet would have done if in direct contact with the crap (literally) that was on the floor and in the restroom - which our subject here happened to visit WHILE barefoot . . . THAT'S the one that really threw me for a loop.
(Above) As the night wained, things didn't get much better, and the cramped, unsanitary, highly repulsive floors that earlier we had recoiled from in utter disgust ended up doubling as nice, comfortable, sealy posturepedic mattresses. Well . . . maybe not nice - and definitely not comfortable - but it's amazing what a 17 hour train ride in India will do for what you THOUGHT were your levels of tolerance. Next to Ted here is a police officer, if you can believe that. That was the cadence of this journey, where it was so packed that even a person like this ended up having to sleep on the floor. The word heinous fails to describe . . .

(Above) We finally got to a set of bunks on the train. The caption to this picture should, perhaps, read me saying something like: "What!? What the hell?? Where the hell are we? What are we doing here?? I didn't plan for this!! This wasn't in my contract!!" I was a little bit on the fed up side at this point - we both were . . . But, to be honest, that was all part of the beauty of the journey in general - and, even in this surrealistically bad moment, this fact - this realization - wasn't at all lost on me.

A Lifer . . .
(Above) Ted is looking every bit like the prison inmate that we BOTH were very much feeling like. I really like this picture all the same though. Lot of depth in it.
Even within the context of this hellion journey, however, Ted and I both found time enough to be inspired by cool moments and imagery.

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