In Hindsight when a monkey steals your Samosa, scampers onto the station roof then pees on your backpack, it’s a bad omen.
I adore India it is my dream destination, you know you are alive in India, it’s like the wild west only in the east, it can noisy, smelly, impractical and corrupt and love it for all those reasons. But sometimes you can just get overwhelmed. Varanasi to Kolkata is a thirteen hour train ride through idyllic scenery or an excruciating experience similar to water boarding.
My monkey scented luggage and I barged on board the 12.30 ‘express’ train to Kolkata disheveled but not disheartened, it would take more than a primate gangster to spoil my trip! My sleeper couch was already packed with boxes bound with twine; families sat with baskets of fodder to ease the boredom of the rails and fat, bald men hacked their lungs up and spat red phlegm onto the carriage floor . I squeezed on to my tiny bunk -as comfortable as a coroner’s slab- and shook out my bed sheet which was decorated with a peculiar yellow tie dye effect. The shaking disturbed tiny cockroaches that scurried under my pillow. These wee beasties and I would form a special bond during the trip, when bored I would flick them out of the broken window. I dropped my head back and nestled down and tried to get some rest. Unfortunately my neighbors were the Indian Olympic snoring champions!
‘CAFFEE CHAI, CAFFEE CHAI!’ the Chai Wallah bellowed, bounding over passengers toppling over luggage. He spotted me and loomed into my bunk shoving his wares towards me, his tombstone smile and yellow eyes beamed down on me ‘CAFFEE CHAI!!’ .His wretched breath and freakish grin startled the shizzle out of me. I felt the first gastric gurgle. The train had not yet left the station.
Twenty minutes later the Delhi belly had my bowels in vice like grip and for the next 16 hours every drop of water drained out of me leaving me internally mummified and stupefied. Then the fogs came!
Fog poured like custard down from the mountains making it impossible for the train to travel at speed. Instead we crawled along the track at hundred meter intervals then stopped for thirty minutes. By this stage of the journey I was disoriented and delirious, at every tiny rundown station jumped of the train hoping we had arrived in the big city only to be ushered back on to the train by a burly guard shouting ‘Not yet Englander, many, many hours to go!.’ I had been on the train for a ghastly seventeen hours!
Eventually the Purgatory express trundled into a decent sized station through bleary eyes I was convinced we were in Kolkata I leaped from the trian -It’s been twenty bleedin’ hours now, Allah, Jehovah and Shiva please. Give me a break!- But no wrong again! I turned to board the train and was accosted by a gaggle of drunken teens. A pudgy little git seemed to hold personally responsible for two hundred years of British rule ‘Indian would be a greater country if you had never come! You imperialist scum scarred my homeland’- he was very intense and irritating, I came very close to punching a minor. The Snoring giants had been replaced by plastered hormonal teens all listening to different music with no earphones! I snuggled up with my insect family and shed a solitary salty tear, the last drop of moisture in my sorry body.
For the next half a day I slipped into a nightmarish hallucinatory trance. The chaos of India whirled inside my fragile carcass. ‘Caffee, Chai’ cackled the cockroaches, ‘Down with the imperials!’ cried Machete wielding Yoofs, gorging themselves on infected Samosas! Inside every cardboard box a rabid, hooligan macaque taunted me – “Cum ‘n ‘ave a go if u fink u ‘ard enuff” they jeered, spraying the carriage with toxic urine!
After thirty hours the derelict heaven of Kolkata trundled in to view and with my last ounce of energy I collapsed onto the platform a mere 17 hours late.
Outside I fortunately had the choice of a million taxi’s!
‘Take me to the best hotel in town!’ I rasped
‘No problem sir it would be my greatest pleasure.’ Said the cabbie with a soothing head wobble.
The end Thank Krishna!