Musings on a Train by Sylvia Keogh
The train lurched giddily from side to side…gatchy-gatch-gah- gatchy-gatchy-gah, disallowing the usual hypnotic lure towards sleep which I have always associated with train journeys. This ear splitting racket thundered through the barred, glassless windows, prohibiting any conversation unless one had the habit of bellowing. The lurching allowed me to read only a few pages in short bursts before travel sickness demanded I stop. And so I sat there as the familiar movie that is India slipped by my window.
My travelling companion slept the sleep of the innocents. He could sleep anywhere, anytime and he did. I alternately admired, envied, or was resentful of the fact that Morpheus always came to his rescue but never to mine.
I drifted again into musing on the circumstances which had brought us here together. He was now resenting every minute of the trip and that resentment was seeping towards me.
After all it was I who had planted the seed with photographs and stories of a previous trip I had taken alone a few years before. We were acquaintances then, but had become firm friends very quickly despite our age difference, and so we had carefully planned this trip.
Now he was so discontented that he saw those photographs and the books I had shown him containing information on customs, religions and landscapes as some mendacious plot used to entice him to India to fulfil the role of my sidekick and rucksack wallah.
The poverty, filth and inhumanity towards animals got to all of us at times, but he became so jaundiced that he was blind to the beauty. That sense of slipping in and out of centuries, and the brilliant technicolored world which would not have seemed out of place in a Cecil B de Mille film, can be found everywhere in India.
I loved watching from the windows the story of India, the dawn ablutions by rivers and lakes of people and their buffaloes. The brightly-dressed women filling their various containers at the wells, to be carried home on their heads, their backs straighter than any catwalk model. Later, when the big orange sun was sinking, smoke from the cow dung patties drifted skywards and the aroma of curry was mouth-watering.
My lone travels seemed so easy now. Besides a few inevitable hassles, I had lost myself in the magic of the diversity I found in and between the Holy places, the Mughal palaces, beaches and the foothills of Everest. I determined then that I would not allow his resentment to tarnish my romantic memories or this trip.
We were on our way to an elephant festival. It would be a joyful, riotous affair of grandly caparisoned elephants and the mahouts would be almost as impressive. There would be the inevitable tinny music played on long trumpet style instruments. I was going to have a good time, I would not allow this parade to be rained on by his black mood. We would go our separate ways.