Flash Fiction From India

You need the universe on your side, watching your back at least fifty per cent of the time to be safe. We all need guardians. Ruin can be a gift, but most often it pulls at the walls, rustles in your ears, and makes suggestions of who you might one day be.

The buses in India guard themselves with sleeves of a plastic army. Mala beads too, hang from mirrors, reminding of the circular unity of life in India where all is connected and fractured. The theory of re incarnation is everywhere you look. Indian’s have traditionally been afraid of the Dalit community seen as the bottom of a hierarchical caste system. The Brahmin at the top of the chain could make powerful decisions without complaint or opposition. The people in between ride the buses and put their lives out on the line like washing. Their heroes are above the steering wheel as a bus plummets around corners too fast, as it collects passengers who stand in the aisles, as it stops in traffic and is dented.

Bigger vehicles win in India. This is the law of the land.  Durga, Ganesha, Shiva embroiled on a dashboard, right where they take their centre of gravity preparing to protect the standing passengers, the wheels of the bus from the potholes; the cows, the shimmering streets, the roundabouts with no rules, the traffic that comes at you from all directions, the food stalls that are wheeled across the streets to change location at inopportune moments, the cows! Street crossings could never be enacted by design, but open hearted, dithering chaos.

Watch in bewilderment as children weave through the mass of cars, buses, bicycles, hold onto the back of public buses as they steam across roads, exhausted with the weight of merchants and tailors, and small things, produce for home from markets. 10 kilogram sacks of rice and flour, spices from the old bazaar bought in bulky pots to store. Sweet meats and sugared sweets to take home. Bursting containers of tea leaves, haggled over to the last gram. All of these things will become moments condensed into perfect take away packages to offer friends and family.

Someone waits near a doorway, by the clock, in the garden, for a friend to appear with the missing item, the melon promised for dessert, the syrup mix for the finishing touches on the cake, the place mats to lay the table, anything. There are laws of the land for what can realistically be delivered. Sometimes you will ask the universe for something and it will not come. There are rules about timing, and who should be where when, and how you could get the best deal and what might happen during that interaction that would be life changing. There are rules about behavior, how to glean respect from a street vendor, the notion of repeated custom so they know you. They see you and think, a box of eggs, a chicken, a pint of blue lid milk. 

Scarf dye runs in the rains. Arms will be tattooed not with the well-meaning certainty of henna, but the patchy spontaneous effect of rain spill. Tie the scarf to a tree, so that any spare color can be blown across the country for others to taste. Maybe this will be the reason a pale wife wakes up with redness tinged in her cheeks.

The rain soaks people completely until they do not know their head from their heart, until thoughts are paralysed by the drum of sky meeting the ground, until floods become rivers that swell and fill. 

Anyone important has left to go inside now, back into their air conditioned offices, the blizzards of places they want to be. They will scarcely know what has happened in their absence. Later when they finish work for the day, they will step outside into the sodden street and ask ‘did it rain here?’

Behind the red mosque, Karim’s is voted the dirtiest restaurant in Delhi. But don’t worry: you probably won’t find it. Tucked between three more streets, past the fluttering wings of half living chickens and motorbike stores, and rammed packed doorways, and arches where men pray, is a courtyard with spigots and water taps and stolen moments and a sign affixed above the doorway, it boasts ‘the finest restaurant in old Delhi’.

Order what the locals eat. They have roti, and naan, each of them. Buttered and Peshawar, filled with pink, cashews and sugared. They have chicken tandoori cooked in clay ovens, rice and okra. Notice the spigot outside. Continue eating. Plates are wiped with a cloth in between. Everyone eats similar dishes, and the main ingredients are tamarind sauce, coriander leaves, turmeric. The tin plate is hazed with yesterday’s sunshine. 

 Everyone wants to be back in their homes, watching the chorus of water from the safety of their patio, or rooftop. Why do a few choose this moment to enter the old mosque? It is true; they will not be disturbed by hagglers wanting to take a picture now. Their cameras would be ruined. 

The stairwell is narrow and bricks have stood for decades. They are the oldest part of the city, have been standing for years on end mortared together. A rope handle has been carved into hooks off the wall, all the way up as you helter skelter. Sometimes you may think you hear feet moving up from behind you, but the echo is your old foot falls catching up.  If you pass another shape on your journey up, you will have to do a dance on the stairwell, and embrace each other, if you are to cross safely. The stair well is too narrow to climb with more than one body. The air is restrained, cool; a tunnel positioned towards the sky not the earth’s core.

The top of the minaret is open, grating covers the floor, and suddenly, without stairs in the final circle, you have space to cling to the walls, and stand, nose pressed against the bars. Perhaps you can force your camera between the slats and still take a good photograph. Old Delhi spreads to your left like a caricature, unsure of itself from this height, dizzyingly small. The city is fast from this height. The crossover of the junctions seems amplified. You see short cuts to parks, to open space that you would never find from ground level.

It is easy to be deceived by walls of traffic, by streets and buildings you assume mushroom and take over bays of land. The lake in front of the minaret has developed its own shore line. Now it is clear, ochre water, dazzling with the height of the tower, and the shoes slipped off at the steps become a bay, where at a beach you might spread your towel, leave sunglasses and an easy novel. The painted marble banisters become a tidal wall separating the land of the palace from the lip of the sea.

The street became a semaphore for the whole of South Asia. Unknowable and familiar. To the East, you see carriageways that are jumbled up heaps of cars in a scrap yard, slugging along the modern road. The failing flanks of cows morph in and out of sight lines, breaking up the constancy of plastic, tin, metal.

You hear gunshots, explosive, stymieing but don’t know which edge of the city they emanated from. In this moment, the city holds its breath, and the roar of the traffic from ground level, normally deafening, becomes a steady warble of new age noise.

You smell, everything. Cardamom, cinnamon, the fire of Assam black tea. Spice boxes are cheaper on this side of the city, and you can put your spices into these 8 little boxes, and they will last. Sealed in by identical lids. Maybe you will make labels for them. Little bustling squares that declare your exact intentions.

Clairvoyants sit in doorways waiting for traction in the crowds, and the wondering man or woman with a lost look on their face to be washed up between their winglets. The eddy flow of vehicles connecting all great cities: Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, will wash in a sample soul, to be opened up. Pandora’s gift box is stored tightly in the school yard, college dorm, marriage, child birth, until now when they finally sit. Taking their first look at the city alone, they come to realize they don’t know it at all, because how can you know a city that always changes?

Finding the Third Space

I have learnt to believe wherever you hang your hat is home or there would be no way back. You would never do anything, go anywhere or attempt to follow a different path.

 Who feels completely at home in one place? Who moves to accommodate their latest impulse, desire, love affair, job or education? And who leaves pieces of themselves everywhere they’ve stepped, surrendering to the complexities of feeling both less than whole, and then more whole, bursting at the seam lines of experience, culture, thoughts, people and ideas that won’t quite gel together?

I struggle to realign my senses after being ‘elsewhere’ be it in a tiny workplace on the edge of the Highlands with three other staff and a field of sheep for company, sipping tea with my oldest friend in a hippy café in the Hertfordshire villages or here and now at an office in India’s capital.

But there are two sides to everything. Ralph Waldo Emerson softly warned ‘Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.’ You could traverse the globe with your hat ready to throw down, but if your heart is glued shut, you will feel nothing and be closed for business, new experiences and sentiment.

Edward Soja, postmodern urban planner and geographist classified the elsewhere and unknowable space that happens as soon as you walk out the door, these in between places as ‘Third Space’ and spent decades theorizing on the value and ideas associated with this dimension.

 His ideas of this Third Space:

Everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history.’                                   

In India, where my cultural mismatch is most acute, I am dragged between a Third Space and a concrete reality that is sometimes too much and like Soja, become aware of ‘the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined.’ But, our hearts won’t crumble like cookie dough. Handing over a piece every now and then is a good idea to help the immersion process.

 On a train returning from Shimla, the old British Summer Capital, I asked the staring man opposite me: ‘Are you going to stare at me all the way to Delhi? If you are, I’d like some warning, so I can prepare myself.’ It is a ten-hour train journey.

 Then to his young companion, I said ‘ You should learn not to stare at women,’ really what I wanted to say was not a feminist stance but a plea ‘I’d like you not to stare at me. I feel naked enough here, even when fully covered. And I don’t just mean in India, I mean on this planet. I am a twenty something, in the mad limbo of life, give me a chance to breathe.’ Or as the better poet Eliot asked for time ‘to prepare a face to meet the faces you meet.’

 I’ve seen the struggle in stranger’s eyes as they come to terms with my face, with my travelling companions. We aren’t all the same like dominoes or chess pieces in a flat line; we come with hiccups and lumps and bumps and no receipt. Pretending to be a uniform homogeny is the biggest mistake. So to cope with hanging our hat on a hook that can be hostile, we might play safe, its often the only way we can anticipate the next moves on the field.

 Ways to cope with feeling out of kilter and culturally mismatched are to go to places that make you feel at home, to run somewhere with trees and grass and find some peace. By putting on our shoes, and stepping out, we have already dived into deep water before learning to tread. The places that demand more of us will be waiting.

 Below is a poem I wrote to capture some of these feelings, the mismatch, the Third Space, the heart space and the home space:

 Travels

Surveying the open wreckage of the heart

can be achieved by opening up my suitcase and seeing what I cannot live without.

Anointed in splendors from the East,

lavish beads that stain a wrist, coral reef that will drown twice,

you take me to accidental dinner parties

give the tangerine of an invitation that later

I will destroy

or take home and hang somewhere.

 

But I always hope that no matter what, I might find a way back to my hat- to call somewhere else home, drag it firmly from the rusty hook and replace it on my head, brushing off the amazon dust, acid rain and thousand other faces.  

Namaste friends..

Grounded in Leh

Long weekends are for exploring the North. From Delhi’s pulsing heat and short sleeves to Kushok Bakula Rimpochhe, one of the highest airport’s in the world at 10,682 ft serving LehJammu and Kashmir in northern India, where woollen hats and thermals are essential.

When we landed, the other passengers pulled out knitted jumpers and pashminas. The men wore socks underneath their flip-flops. You arrive during the descent over what seem to be doll’s houses and watch a mass of grey sand emerge with little houses scooped into the rim. If you want to find G-d, go to the mountains.

 There is a starkness to Leh, particularly visiting out of season, when most tourists are still to arrive. The German bakeries are closed. Tours are not running. The trip to famous Pangong Lake is available, but the water is frozen over. We bought permits to go, but felt sick when the day came.  We arranged a cycling tour of the surrounding hills, including a thirty kilometre downhill section, but couldn’t muster the energy for that day either. I made plans to meet a friend at Lala’s famous Art Cafe in town and cancelled.

Leh came to me as India often does, in a sequence of interpretations, trying to do things, but ending in Plan B. Plan B for me was lying in room 104 at the guesthouse with the window pushed open, staring at the changing sky and waiting for the pins and needles in my head to subside.

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In reality, being grounded in Leh simply meant seeing it from a humble perspective. Guide books advise 48-72 hours immediate rest for a reason. Husband and wife team, Sonnam and Padma ran the guesthouse and a sweet Nepalese man would come to my room every few hours, clean the bathroom, squeeze out the flannel for my forehead, bring me another bucket of cold water and a tray of altitude adjusting black and mint tea before clopping back down the stairs and pulling the door shut.

All the way along from Changspa Road are guest houses with a slanting view of the Kunlun mountains to the North and Himalaya range to the South.  My friends and I stayed near the top of the town in Silver Clouds, a wooden guest house near the Ladaki Women’s Alliance and Lamdan public school with a view of Shanti Stupor, the Peace Pagoda, identical to one in Nepal’s Pokhara district.

 It is easy to see why the Ladakhi people smile with such ease: Leh averages three hundred days of sunshine a year. Breakfast on the terrace was fluffy omelettes, a flask of mint tea and freshly baked bread with locally pressed apricot jam and the ever present, but well received Nutella.

Ladakhi school children wondered down our lane each day, wearing blue button down shirts, black trousers, navy jumpers and baseball caps, carrying square backpacks branded with Adidas or The North Face. Girls had a single plait pulled to one side, and often we’d see groups jogging together up a hill that we were too out of breathe to walk down. When they saw us they would shout ‘gillet’ a traditional greeting meaning everything from ‘hello’ to ‘mind out for that cow!’

 We discovered a shortcut into the town, tramping through dusty fields, newly logged trees and weaving via tiny temples glazed with orange paint and donation baskets. Ladakhi’s walked around the town, and moved in crowds twisting prayer wheels in their hands, murmuring ‘Om Mani Padme hum,’ the mantra for compassion and wisdom.

Leh seemed vastly different to the rest of India, magical in its mystery and open landscapes. Darjeeling in the East, with its mythical tea plantations has a huge Nepali and Gurkha population, with Nepalese as the unofficial language. Leh has a large Tibetan Buddhist population with some Shia Muslims and completely different sounds are heard. Their faces are less angular, softer. The first local we met was called Ani, the second Karma. In Hebrew ‘Ani’ means ‘I am’, meeting I am Karma was a nice way to start.

From the top of Shanti Stupor, the sound of Buddhist chanting and birdsong fills the air, otherwise Leh is almost silent. Prayer flags in all colours line the path way to the top. You cannot help wondering what is going on just across the mountains though, to places the news report as conflict zones.

The Chinese invaded the edge of the eastern frontier the week before we arrived, so it was an interesting time when locals asked our opinion who has the right to Leh? We spoke to two men by the public bathroom, us wrapped in five layers, dizzy from the thin air. Why do the Chinese want a piece of this landscape? This is the place where traveller’s have flocked to since its opening in the 1970’s, and here is the edge of the North, before India grows more dangerous.  The in- case- of- natural- disaster- or- emergency- evacuation- zone is a series of empty fields out near the airport, almost awaiting tragedy. What would become of the empty houses in a town coated by dust?

We drank chai with Kashmiri shop owners, were invited to stay on their house boats that autumn, holding delicate cups laced with threads of saffron, and drenched yellow. It was chai at its sweetest, and their scarves were beautiful ranging from 300-18,000 rupees.

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Around the edge of the town, street vendors sat toothless and wrapped in puffa jackets with bags of dried fruits split open in multi kilo rice sacks. Every trader had the same goods, and they would dig their wrinkled hands into the mass and weigh you 100 grams or half a kilo of almonds badam and raisins Kishmish, before pouring them into a newspaper bag stapled together at the edges, and you would be glad you hadn’t gone to the Amritsar Dried Fruit shop and spent double on 50 grams, paying for cleanness.

Later, we searched for the most moist cake and failed. At 10,000 feet closer to the sun, everything was dryer, the skin on our faces, and the suddenness of a nosebleed. The plum cake pretended to be chocolate, but disappointed us with mottled edges. The cheese cake was not cheesecake but ancient butter sponge, with all the warmth and richness drained out. The biscuits cracked when we put them to our lips, left stale crumbs around our mouths in whisker lines.

The plain puff was thin with the undercurrents of a kiln that had blown it inside out days ago. The counter top was thick with the complexities of Ladakhi air, both a triumph and a curse, drying out our skin making us peak early and need rest often. Our most prominent position that weekend was lying flat on the ground, on stones, near monuments  and always under a blazing sun.

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We hired a private car to drive out to Thikse Monastery and had Maggi noodles at the temple doors. The monastery was a faded white from the sunlight built in the fifteenth century, with little windows revealing the surrounding panorama. A medicine man tried to sell us pellets for altitude sickness. The smell; a pungent mixture of horse stables and an injured camel made us re think our rupees.

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Semi-precious Ladakhi jade stones were on sale in the nearby Tibetan market. To make my bargain, I said ‘I’ll pay you in cash right now’ despite this being the only accepted payment method. The market seller laughed, looking at me with ancient eyes and a huge smile as I reached for my purse, giving me a good price.

Four days later, as we boarded the plane to leave, a BA pilot turned to us and described Leh as ‘The Highlands of India’. Just over a year ago I was living there on the edges of Scotland, and felt right at home with his comparison. We flew out of heaven’s highway to the fluttering of prayer flags and calls of Tashi Deli, take care.

 

Language Links

 As soon as you start to hear new words, you assimilate. Kitne baje? What time? Obama James Bond se zyada prasidh he. Obama is more famous than James Bond. Maybe I like Hindi because it isn’t all that different from my mother tongue of English.

I first heard ek, do, teen, char , panch in a children’s book. Topsy and Tim went to the local farm and counted pints of milk for their Indian neighbour. These Hindi numbers came out of the blue into my nursery school reading material, but I hoped one day that I might use them in the right setting. These five numbers have been invaluable as a grown up navigating a Hindi world: getting into the lift and asking for a lower floor, requesting one meal, a drink or a handful of bananas and mangoes.

But language in general isn’t that different if you break it down into communication with a purpose, audience and an intention. Books are written weekly about communicating without words. If we can make our intention clear through non-verbal communication: gestures, pointing, smiling are all expressionism and with the additional capacity of words, language becomes a limitless medium. So powerful, that censorship also dominates certain regions of the world with people restricted about what they can read, hear and speak. The pen is mightier than the sword, and the mouth is mightier than all.

Mark Pagel (Ted Talks) suggested that ‘Speech is Neuro audio technology for re wiring people’s minds.’ Changing people’s minds and thinking patterns is exactly where language links and fractures; there will always be words we don’t understand, are not allowed to use and words we don’t know how to use.  The traditional Hindi greeting ‘Namaste’ is imbibed with the respectful nama– to bow and ste-to you. If we start to understand the meaning behind our words, language can revitalize purpose.

 My friend Rachel is in touch with a family we met in Northern India last year and said: ‘I’ve told them next time you visit you’ll speak Hindi with them.’ Now in the future there is a conversation hanging in the balance that I might be able to participate in. Wittgenstein once said: The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. I couldn’t agree more. Are you accessing all the messages you should be? My relationship with this family was possible through non-verbal communication, and their kindness, chai and laughter creating a language link, but this time I want to do more than take. Lena– is to take and dena is to give, one letter apart, but brimming with the potential for better communications.

In the office, business speak is the same. Once you understand what your customer wants, the next step is to figure out how you can deliver this. There is no doubt that if you’re on the same page, you will get a better bargain. Natives give us tips on this, to say ‘batomese’ for bargain, and to ask how much, ‘kitne paise hue’ as soon as you walk towards your chosen item, and then ‘chota chota’ a little as you rearrange your rupees, making sure never to carry one thousands. The big notes aren’t usually accepted in markets, because vendors can’t make change. The thousand-rupee note proves to be a useless currency.  But sometimes carrying the big notes is important, to show your purpose and that your aim is sky high, potentially. Language links start with the smallness of counting out change, and continue when you begin to understand the value of the coins in your hand. 

Hole in my Chapatti

I’ve cried out for softer edges here, but witness sharpness. I turn up at this page expecting a problem to be solved as I revamp and slash together days, my blizzard of Delhi moments. Outside Devika Tower home to my office in Nehru Place, I stare at chapattis, burst open with a hole sliced through them and left on the street, and these chapatti holes become characteristic of Delhi: whole on the outside but snipped open with a jagged centre.

I dream one night that I am chased by street dogs all through the back streets of Chandi Chowk, the old part of Delhi, before realising it is just the territorial sound on the street outside my window- a few hours of dogs yapping and barking at each other, territorial cries staking their claim on the pavements.

One evening I go for a run with my mobile phone clutched in one hand, pony tail bouncing and bindi mark slipping towards my nose in the heat. I go to the Life Style Mall, where last week I bought a handful of balloons from street kids, that say ‘I love you lots’ embezzled on their skin.

 I then run to the vegetable shop, five minutes in the other direction. There are only men on the street, and no street lights. I run back towards the mall, and then turn for home. I have explored the areas I know, and can go nowhere else. Even after running I feel trapped, tucked in by the hugeness of Delhi that I shouldn’t explore alone, lest I turn the wrong corner at the wrong time.

The vegetable stall is dusty. In a noisy refrigerator are pots of Dahi curd. I take a cucumber home and wash it with Dettol in my rasoi Kitchen.

I once called Delhi a toxic Disney land, but after watching a cricket game at the Muslim University Jamia Hamdard between my office and the expat team Delhi Wallah’s and seeing the vultures streak across the darkening sky, toxic was the wrong word.

It was also wrong to describe the jewellery stands and markets bustling on the edge of GK at midnight on a Friday.

Wrong again for the sweet man selling me coffee, the frothiest drink for 11 rupee (10pence).

But how do you judge sweetness?

Most of the days are spent between one cup of tea and the next asking people in my office: What is your favourite this and where is the best that? I am a sponge, mopping up the brilliant and the ugly, unable to separate out the chaff from the grain.

As I stood at the bus stop near Jasola Apollo Hospital, a man stared; turned around three more times to gape at me. Modestly dressed, with a scarf on my head to shield the harsh sun, I waited before saying loudly ‘STOP STARING’ my very own toxic response, but this is what India is about, really, and he is no more able to stop staring than I am going to fit in, despite my Kurta shirt, my crap Hindi and everything else about me.

I practise my Hindi to a co-worker, ask: are you tired? Ap sona passant chartee he?’ or ‘is it that you are like tiredness?’ He laughs, ‘Not in the office’ thinking I’ve asked him to sleep with me. Wrong language usage blows open a space like that in the chapatti, gaping with misinterpretation and grime, but this chapatti could be patched together, just no one has yet. So, I consider my mission for the next week like this: to sew together the edges that hang gloriously, toxically exposed.

Namaste, almost, Friday.

24 in Delhi

Today I have turned 24 in Delhi, another point reached in a rotating world.

The weekend just passed we have been rocked upside down by the beauty of Rishikesh. This small town tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand state is nearby to Dehradun airport and pilgrimage town Haridwar characterised by its huge statues.

 We swam in the Ganges, played volleyball with Indians, heard them debate every point ‘KITNE?’ (How much?) and waited for the stars to break out into the night sky. The campsite on the shores of the river bank was home to tiny green two man tents, with beds inside. The flash of a torch took us to the bathroom along a stone and sand path.

 By evening, the sky opened up and the edge of the mountain threatened to fall out of its axis towards us sitting small and incredulous at the beach edge. In the morning there were life jackets scattered by the rocks, the softening ashes of our camp fire, and the memory of marshmallows cooked on forest twigs.

Rishikesh was as it always is, a glittery yoga haven, with more Germany bakeries (26 in total) than a German town I suspect. It is also a peaceful place with a beaming mandarin coloured ashram at its epicentre. At all hours pilgrims spiral up and up to its roof, ringing bells and praying as they move chanting ‘Om-nimashivaya.’ It is the first thing you see when you stand at height and glance across to the other side of Lakshman Jhula, this spine of travellers world weary and apricot looking for their G-d, flagged by scores of monkeys clinging to the iron bridge.

IMG_0014 Rishikesh river above

There are mala beads, leather shops, and prayer flags, hung jauntily from building columns, jewellery stores selling statues, Ganesha, Durga, Lakshmi. There are men with alms bowls and a stick, sitting at your feet on each corner. They dress in orange and have given up all possessions. Soon they blend and become part of the character of the place, and once or twice you stumble across their stick, or fail to notice the asks directed at you and her and him: ‘chapatti’ and ‘water’.

Then it is back to Delhi, seven hours later on a bus, the city where it is safer to walk on the street than the pavement. Sinkholes and dogs, litter and sleeping folk consume the street edges. It is prudent to watch where you step, what you touch, who you talk to and where you go, say Delhi-ites. But Delhi is a journey of exploration that is best undertaken alone, with a pocket full of rupees, a sense of humour give or take a camera. It is the bravest travellers who leave their camera at home and dare to see a city face on without a lens to filter, compromise the picture or falsely zoom. Our eyes are the zoom already. It is the city you stand in and breathe in the day that enters your dreams at night, and usually with close observation and being fully present, there is always a way back.

This week, I have felt the corners of Greater Kailash Colony (GK) early in the morning. The Sivananda Yoga Centre at A41 welcomes yoga practitioners for drop in classes from 6.30 every morning. It is a small piece of calm, fenced with white and signposted above the entrance way ‘Silence please, observe your true self’ with manicured lawns to each side. In the wide street nearby just five minutes from the metro are bread and tea vendors. Yogi’s fill up on puri’s after their morning practise, mat rolled up in a carrier over one shoulder, freshly baked bread steaming from their hands, a tiny glass cup filled half with chai resting at their feet. Inside the studio, candles are lit and incense shimmers a lemony aroma. The chants of OM echo and vibrate through your core towards your heart and take your mind to the point behind itself. The sound of inhales and exhales, mats being shuffled and readjusted and exhales again fill the room.

Later in the evening, we hear the beat of a drum out of the Jasola apartment window, open up the pane and stare out, drinking in the sound. An impromptu group of women and men, dancing and hitting drums move slowly down the street. For a while they are hidden by the trees, so all we can have are the rhythmic pounds of stick against drum skin, while a secret shadow moves on in the gloaming, past the ice cream wagon and onwards into the night apropos of nothing.

Namaste friends, join me as I explore again….

5 Reasons to take a train in India

 

Time to relax: As the train creaks and belts through the suburbs and edges of India; you won’t be moving anywhere fast, this is the perfect chance to sit back, soak in the view and go with the flow.

Get inspired: Doorways stay open on the train and to people’s back yards. You can observe India from a local perspective, notice exactly what is happening in the houses beyond the train lines, watch the women toiling in the fields, and hanging out their flags of washing, whilst feeling the air whip through the open carriage doors and windows.  Keep a notebook and camera close.

Be refreshed like a local: The Tea Wallah comes round with his pot of tea and stack of cups and fills your head with tea leaves and sweetness. The chant becomes a mantra of train travel in India ‘chai, chai, chai.’ The words will ring in your head, and for the privilege: pay 5 rupees.

Swaps stories: There are many stories told about journey’s on Indian trains for a reason; learn India and it’s verses by engaging with other passengers.  Ride the train, and talk the talk.

Mission accomplished: Actually booking a ticket and choosing the appropriate class is a learning curve. If you manage to get past the huge queue in the station, confirm a train ticket that isn’t waitlisted, find your appropriate carriage and board the train you booked, this is a huge success. Sit back and enjoy the ride!