Sunday, April 4, 2010

Final Days in India

It has become clear to me that leaving India will be like squeezing dramatically and painfully through a birth canal. In a hilarious India way. The past couple of days have been, well... "Hellish" is the word that comes to mind and clouds all other possible words. I am finding it hard to believe that the majority of our travelling has been so easy in comparison.

We tried to leave Kalpetta. Seemed easy enough. Just go to the bus stand, ask someone how to get to our next destination, and be on our way! No. The thing about Indian people is that they will give you a made up answer if they don't actually have a clue. So we ended up trying to catch a bus in a nearby town, Mapeddy. We had been led to believe that many buses left this town every day to get to our next destination. But instead there was only one, at four PM. And nobody out of the ten or so people we asked had bothered to mention that it stops at a completely different bus stand in town! After sitting in the bus station eating all of our snacks and watching the town buses pass through the station again and again, the bus boys becoming more and more amused by our presence, a gaggle of males finally plodded up to us and laughingly informed us we had missed our bus and would have to catch the one at six thirty the next day. Frustrated, sweaty, bogged down with luggage, and a bit disheartened, Poni and I tried failingly to find a taxi driver to give us a fair price. But to no avail. This tiny little ghost town had become saturated with the knowledge of our touristy presence. Being unhelpful and watching us flounder about not knowing what to do with ourselves was more interesting than helping us leave. Having waited all day for a bus at that point, we decided to give it a try the following day, and commenced to find another hotel room. But lo! It's suddenly the Indian holiday season and every hotel in every tiny po-dunk town in these mountains is full. We finally end up back at the hotel we were at before, our tail between our legs, regretting all of the incessant and failed arguing we had done with them over the additional "taxes" they had snaked onto our bill when we had checked out earlier that day. We got the last room in town. Infested with ants, but the toilet and sink both worked...bonus!

The next morning we cheerily hopped on another bus to another town we'd been to before, but knew it promised us travel options. It was lovely barrelling down the mountain, roaring past tea plantations and monkey families sunbathing and fraternizing with Indian tourists. We had seats this time, which was a plus, but the girl in front of me couldn't hold onto her breakfast so she politely asked the isles behind her to close their windows so she could calmly vomit out the window. No big deal, apparently. Happens all the time when you're spinning wildly around hairpin turn after hairpin turn.

The man at the train station information desk was actually helpful! He gave us times and places that were actually accurate. We were to take two trains to get to Bangalore from there (Calicut). Perfect. We battled our way onto the train, knocking through the vicious crowd with our bags. I got into a particularly close race with a tiny old man. No fair that he had a cane to whack his way through! Only two hours on that train. Lunch at the train station was lovely! We cheerily enjoyed our one-millionth thali meal and agreed that THIS day was much better than the previous. The Gods were smiling on us. Train number two began peacefully. Fairly empty train. Seemed to be emptying enough for us to lay ourselves down over some seats eventually. Just as we were getting into nap position, the Gods decided to have a laugh, and began filling the train with Indian men. They crushed us into the corners of our seats and began flopping on us and the other boys around them kitten-pile-style. Thinking it was strange that they had the gall to be physical with us, we wondered if this was some new Kerala train etiquette, perhaps. Six hours in, our butts sore beyond sore, and the breath of the boys all around us becoming more and more noticeable, we inquired as to when we might be reaching Bangalore. We could use a shower. Oh. Eight hours from then! We would be there all night! Poni and I looked at each other with crestfallen faces, then burst into laughter. Of course India wouldn't let us get off that easy. At first we were sitting opposite each other, each of us with a huge oaf grumbling and rolling around next to us. Then the guy next to me decided to try to massage my boobs with his elbow. I elbowed him out of my bubble. Being relentless is a thing in this country, so of course he kept trying and trying to use his elbow as a grope-tool. Then he started...ugh. Men. Why must they be SO FILLED WITH TESTOSTERONE to the point of being completely and utterly repulsive?! I had to have Poni switch places with him. All through the night feet snaked their way into my bubble. I would finally start to nod off, and then there was yet another toe poking my shirt, my ankles, my everything. By the time we heaved ourselves out of that train, I was disturbed to the core. Shaken, tired, sleepless, VIOLATED.

I must admit, I am tired of the man-snakes here. I am tired of their eyes undressing me, their smiles that are more of a sneer than a kind expression, their handshakes and other unnecessary physical gestures that make me feel queasy. The fact that they are EVERYWHERE. I miss my male friends at home. I miss my home where the "ladies" and "gents" and whatevers can actually BE friends. I have a much greater appreciation for the advancement of gender equality in my own country after having been here long enough.

On a nicer note, Kalpeta was lovely just prior to our attempts to leave. We neutralized any relationship woes we had been stewing in, patching ourselves back together as the magical, special people we are to each other. We are more of a team now than we have ever been. We visited some amazing caves with ancient Sanskrit written on the walls, waded through a river to get to a lovely and peaceful island, visited a quaint little lake with paddle boats and young Muslim newlywed couples. We discovered the best restaurant ("hotels"...why do they call them that?! Why do they call the barber shops "saloons"?!) in India, perhaps. Hotel Delux, it's called. With the tiniest little man in flowery lunghis offering the most amazing sambar, banana-coconut cakes, parota, and service this country has offered us yet.

We are now in Bangalore. Nice hotel. Hot shower, comfy bed. HBO. Anxieties melting into trustfully clean sheets. The joys...oh, the Joys!...of toilet paper. My impending departure from this country is looming ominously in the very distant future. I am feeling a mixture of ecstatic happiness and anticipation, sheer nervousness, and utter, utter sadness.

I don't care what you do to me, India. I love you anyway.

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