“No way, I’m scared! It seems dangerous; I bet criminals ride it. We will probably get robbed while sleeping. Let’s take first class with private rooms and locked doors. I heard it’s much safer for women,” my frightful self demanded.
“We won’t get the full culture experience locked away in first class. And besides, I’ve already bought our tickets for sleeper class.”
“Why in the world would you do that to me? I want to be comfortable while sleeping; I don’t want to have to sleep with one eye open and crammed among stacked berths in tiny, open compartments. What if we catch an illness, what if there’s rats, what if…”
“You’ve always wanted to backpack across India, but have held back for years because of your fears. And now that you are finally here, you need to get over your crazy worries once and for all.”
I sighed knowing that he was right. And later, I reluctantly boarded a sleeper class carriage.
I was horrified at the scene! I sat close to Billy, trying not to make eye contact with the panhandlers who were dragging their amputated bodies across the filthy floor and desperately tapping my shoulder for money. There were too many begging palms to hand out to, so instead I sent them silent prayers.
Then I looked out the window to avoid dozens of piercing stares; men’s expressionless faces with eyes that seemed to undress me, leaving me squirming and wanting to hide under a rock. Fortunately, the countryside passing by comforted me: Yellow wild flowers, miles of green fields, children riding water buffalos…
But the serene views were disrupted when ten skeletal Indians squeezed in our row that had comfortably sat three. I was now pushed up against the window. My eyes bulged out further watching locals boarding with live chickens, screaming goats, barrels of grains and everything else one can imagine that does not belong on a passenger train.
It was beyond crowded – OverOverOvercrowded! It seemed as though everyone had no concept of space: You sat shoulder to shoulder and if your lap was free, then you held someone’s extra baby, bags or chickens. If there were no more seats, then you stood on top of someone, slept in aisles, climbed on the rooftop or even squeezed underneath a seat. You could cough on someone and no one cared, you could drink out of a stranger’s water bottle and that was fine, anything you had could be shared and I mean anything.
As a result, I felt suffocated from the claustrophobic carriage, nauseous from the concoction of rancid smells… And the bathrooms were a whole other nightmare! I wanted to jump off the train until Billy whispered to me in excitement, “This is awesome. There is so much happening on this train. I’m glad you gave it a go. I love it!”
And for the first time in my life, time stopped! I had never witnessed anything like this train madness – madness that was beautiful. All my fearful voices ceased, all my judgments evaporated, all my anxiety fled… and I was finally free – free to see everything from a clear, blissful love. He was right again; this was awesome!
There were mothers giving life to their babies by breast feeding them on the floor, strangers generously making room to let others rest their feet, families offering me chapatis, children practicing their English with me and even the poorest people giving rupees to those less fortunate than them, the panhandlers. There were all walks of life on the train sparking up genuine, curious conversations with us or made up sign language. It was a beautiful scene.
That night I crawled up in my top berth with a bigger heart. Feeling humble and grateful for the experience, I fell asleep being gently rocked by the swaying train and the sounds of a humming engine that propelled me forward to a brighter future with fresh, new eyes.
And several months later, as we waited at a platform for our final train to Delhi, I looked forward to riding in sleeper class; despite that it was midnight, the train was two hours late, the electricity was out, insects nibbled us and rats scurried nearby. Things that would have caused me to scream farewell in the past no longer bothered me because I had conquered my fears and transcended my judgments. India railways had inspired me to live wholeheartedly with no regrets!
It was evident that I was not the same girl who first got on a sleeper class carriage a few months prior. The excitement and colorful culture of India had transformed me. I was going to miss its magical rides.
About the Author: Sabrina Soares from California is an elementary teacher who loves adventures. She is currently self-publishing a book about fear, love and change based on her year long experience teaching in Bhutan.
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