I'm zonked, but I remain dedicated to share my story with you all, beloved bath-and-beer blog readers... I gotta find a good way to begin my story though, so I'll start by arriving in Ambala to take the train to Agra.
I get off the bus, notice a beer/wine store and am delighted by this sighting. I have a few hours to kill in Ambala before taking the train, but the train station is smack in front of the the bus station and it's dark and I'm not in the mood to roam about. Plus, there's not much to see or eat in Ambala. I get a beer and as usual get chatted up by some cute Indian boy, Sachin. Soon we are joined by his cousin, Rohit. A patron at the wine/beer stall looks at me with a confident grin and gestures the universal 'Let's have sex' symbol (index finger going in and out of the other hand that has formed a hole). Ewww 'Baaad man' I yell in Hindi! Gross. We walk out, sit at a restaurant, order an omelette and more Tuborgs (cause you know what they say, 'Tuborgs are better than one'). I soon see Sachin is smitten and becoming more and more animated. His cousin, on the other hand is way more chill and collected and I am grateful for this. They invite me to Sachin's brother's wedding in December... I comply. We exchange numbers only after I make Sachin PROMISE not to abuse it and call me insessantly. He agrees.
Uh-oh time has flown and my train is leaving in ten minutes. Sachin is drunk and rambling, so Rohit takes my hand and weaves us in and out of the train station maze of people and luggage to the platform. He has strong hands, and they're soft. I'm swooning juuust a little, and my mind dreams of a Hollywood (Bollywood?) scene where Rohit kisses me passionately on the platform, then turns to leave and doesn't look back. Of course that doesn't happen. Instead he gets me a chai, a veg puff and samosa and walks me to my sleeper, smiling as he descends the already bustling train. Meanwhile my cell has been ringing off the hook. It's Sachin, looking for us, in vain(he promised not to call a lot! LIES!).
Ten hour train ride goes swimmingly. I realize I much prefer 2nd class. It's not only cheaper, but there is a constant flow of vendors selling chai and biscuits and samosas and other fried deliciousness. Also, one can open the door, hang in the doorway overlooking the scenery whizzing by and smoke butts. Sweet. I wash my face, brush my teeth and get off the train sooo ready to see the Taj Mahal. I can already imagine how its statuesque and remarkable beauty will impact me and my romantic dreams of meeting a man that would be that crazy in love with me... Hmphf! It can and does exist- the Taj is proof..
The foreigner ticket is a whopping 1700 Rupees. Please don't forget, beloved reader that although I am a foreigner, I live and work in India, and I make rupees, not dollars. So the above sum sorta hurts. But included are three historical sites, and I'm in India godammit- I can't miss the Taj! I get on the tour bus. To my amazement I am the only white girl amongst Indian couples and families. How odd, I think to myself. All around me huge air conditioned buses are filled with tall white blonds. It strikes me how I'm more comfortable being around brown people now... I'm not used to seeing so many white faces anymore, and I feel kinda funny about it. They look so sanitized, scrubbed, pale, self assured. Do I look like that?
I sit in front of two young boys who ask me a multitude of questions, and when I tell them what I do they start sharing knowledge about everything they know; from Hindu Gods and Goddesses to European History and Indian poets. The boys' fathers chime in. I'm enthralled. They talk about Tagore, about the caste system, about their beloved India.
We get to the first place, the ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri. I'd like to add just how cool and well spoken our tour guide is. He reminds me of an Indian Alain Delon. Tall, thin, greased salt-and-pepper hair and a killer gaze. He is by far one of the best tour guides I've had. I feel so good to have befriended a couple Indian families and have him as our guide. I look at the white folk clumped together, talking loudly. Inside, I am gloating... I know you're thinking 'who the hell are you to judge, B? You're a whitey too!' But I feel accepted by the people of India. They are incredibly proud to be Indian, therefore relish in the fact that I made a choice to live and work here. Membership status privilege- whoooot!
We spend over an hour here. It's gorgeous, it's like you stepped into Aladdin, only redder, and better. The soft redness of the buildings, the detail on the monuments... If you visit India, visit Fatehpur Sikri.
Off to eat lunch. One Indian family shares Chicken Biryani with me, while the other shares Butter Chicken. Yum and Yum.
We get back on the bus to visit our next destination: Agra Fort. A few minutes into the ride we stop.. Traffic jam. I hear whispering around me that this is unusual. We wait.... and wait..... more cars/buses pile behind us. Waiting some more. Now it's been an hour. Something is up. Zameer(the guide) walks forward to check what the hold up looks like.. He comes back with grim news. Ministers are barricading the road with their bodies to protest the Provincial Election results. Some votes were allegedly compromised, stolen, or something... Still, somehow no panic on the bus (India's mantra of Surrender and Patience is alive and well, everyone!) Hours pass. Crowds have gathered on the median, around buses, cars... everywhere. And we wait. From 2 to 8pm we don't move. The round face of the butter yellow moon shines on the road. I'm surprisingly calm, although I am disheartened by spending my precious off-time doing not a whole lot but listening to my ipod with one of the young boys and yearning for the bus to mooooooove.
The Police show up, armed. We drive back to the train station. Zameer refunds me the Agra fort and Taj Mahal entrance fees. I eat Thali and drink chai, now ready to board the train once more and go home, defeated a teeny bit. My train isn't for many hours yet and I decide to focus on my novel and wait at the station.
The train is 2 hours late. ugh. I am so thankful for my book, you don't even know! It's past 3 am when we board. I close my eyes. I wish I had a sheet with me, or something. It's cold now. Brrrr. I lie down. I feel something around my head. I assume it's a limb from the top bunk. Black night all around me. I swat it with my arm. Again I feel something, this time around my neck. Again I swat. I'm so tired. It's so quiet but for the metal click clacking of the train tracks in the night. This time I feel a forceful weight on my breast. My eyes and torso spring forward. I look to where the touch came from. There is a man sitting on my bunk, calm. I scream profanities in French and English, forgetting to make an effort to practice my budding Hindi language skills. I punch him. I kick him. A light comes on. Two guards assuredly come to me and talk fast, grab the man off my bunk. They look at me and nod in question. I nod in approval. The men take turns slapping him in the face forcefully and repeatedly. The men around me get up from their bunks and want to join. The guards drag the man out of the compartment. The light goes off. I'm left alone. Murmurs fill the air. Then silence. Not so tired anymore! My mind races, somehow I'm so proud of my instincts...I fall asleep with a smile on my face. I wake up to the chant of a small boy passing through singing 'chaiiii. chai chai chaiiii gurum (hot) chaiiiii'. Yes please!
I bring my paper cup to the train door and open it. I smoke and stare out to the landscape of cows and fields and people defecating in the open. I finish my book, read the Acknoweldgements. My eyes well up, ache: "Finally, thank you, Roya. For reading this story, again and again, for weathering my minor crises of confidence (and a couple of major ones), for never doubting. This book would not be without you. I love you." -Khaled Hosseini. My mind goes back to the building of the Taj, of love bringing out the artist, the passion and the drive in people, and my heart once again fills with hope that one day, I shall witness this caliber of emotion.
Sigh. I'm happy to be home. I buy produce from my local market vendor and get a chai from my local chai guy. 'Namaste ji' they welcome me with. Namaste ji, I reply. 'Ap kya se o?' 'Tikeh' (OK, all good, fine). Haaa.. 'Yes' I think. Tikheh indeed.