The antiquated black ceiling fan spins rapidly. The motor shroud has been long lost. I study the windings encased in layers of greasy dust. Maybe the spinning motion will hypnotize me to sleep. The loud roar of several other fans in the coach reminds me of a bank of machinery in some infernal factory. The clack, clack of the steel wheels striking the joints of the rails is oddly soothing.
I’m suddenly aware of a dull pain in my neck at the base of the skull. I’ve been using my backpack as a pillow, both as a head support and so I can prevent its theft. The bed platform feels like a sheet of steel it has padding of about an inch thickness and is covered with a very heavy duty grey, vinyl upholstery.
Reddy has climbed onto the platform I occupy because it is high and away from the foot traffic of the aisleway. Reddy’s proper name is Raheem Rashtrakuta. I’ve finally learned the correct spelling of his surname. I don’t know why he doesn’t use Raheem in normal conversation, it translates to “compassionate god”. Reddy said his last name is Sanskrit for Rettakudi, which has been shortened in some instances to Rettadi which, in turn, sounds vaguely like Reddy. So it is.
I’m pondering Reddy’s name because his butt is pressed against the right side of my abdomen and left foot is resting on my right shin. I want to get up to use the latrine but I really don’t want to disturb my friend. I finally decide that I want to take advantage of the fact that everyone else in the coach is still in bed. I can avoid the morning rush by taking my turn right away.
I carefully untangle myself then make my way down the aisle to the latrine at the end of the car. I still can’t get used to Asian style toilets. This one is basically a hole in the floor of the coach. I look down at the passing railroad ties and hope for the best.
Later, I climb back onto my platform. Reddy, turns toward me. His eyes are half closed and he flashes me a sleepy smile. “Good morning, Jay”. “Good morning, Reddy”. He then drops his head back to his own backpack and closes his eyes. My gaze returns to the old ceiling fan. I fade in and out of consciousness.
“Chai, chai, chai! Kofi, kofi, kofi! Chai, chai, chai! Kofi, kofi, kofi!”
Ah, the chai walla, at last.
“Excuse me, I’ll have one of each, please. Reddy, do you want something?” “Yes, two chais.” “Thank you, all together, that is three chais and one kofi (coffee), that will be 200 rupees, please.” “There you are, thank you very much.”
“Here you go Reddy. Oh these smell so delicious it’s a shame they come in such small cups.”
“Thank you, Jay. Chai, first thing in the morning is most auspicious way to begin one’s day, yes?”
“Oh yes, I agree, but I must have my coffee, too. Will there be a food walla coming through soon? I’m getting quite hungry.”
“Not for some time, we may have to eat at the station in Mangalore. We have saved something from last night.”
“Must we eat Naan and lentils all the time?”
“Jay, flat-bread, lentils and vegetables are all I know that will keep on a long train journey. Here, I have some mango chutney to make it better. Try it.”
“Thanks Reddy. I’ll look out the window. Anything will taste delicious when you’re distracted by beautiful, exotic landscapes.”
I wish the train could travel slower so I can savor the scenery. Endless green groves of mango, papaya, jack fruit and bettelnut trees. Sometimes patches of tamarind, guava, banana and plenty of coconut palms dot the land. If I could only stop the train for a few minutes, we could snap up a fresh breakfast and season it with fresh herbs and spices straight from the bushes. I’d want to have cardamom. It’s heavenly when it’s absolutely fresh. I’d wash it down with some more masala chai.
My senses are on overload.
“Jay, I see that you are very happy today.”
“Yes, Reddy, I’m so glad you talked me into flying over to visit you before I go to the monastery.”
“You are still most welcome to stay with me at my brother’s house in Mysore.”
“I’ll keep that in mind in case the Dalai Lama makes a surprise appearance and clears out the guest rooms with his entourage. Do you know where we will meet the car and driver?”
“Yes, he will be at the “Airline Hotel” in Bangalore. We will be riding inside a white Ambassador car, the driver’s name is Arno.”
“A white Ambassador? There must be a million of those in India!”
“Oh no, Jay, at least 100 million Ambassador cars in India! Ha ha ha!”
“I think I’ll sit back awhile and try to catch a nap.”
“That is a most excellent idea. The journey from Mangalore to Bangalore will be very, very long and tiring. The bus will be less comfortable than the train.”
“The train is comfortable? I can hardly wait to experience the bus!”
“Yes, perhaps we will obtain a seat inside and not ride on the roof.”
“Oh please, we must ride inside, Reddy. I don’t want to fall off and get lost and get eaten by a tiger.”
“Or a band of monkeys….go to sleep. Have auspicious dreams.”
“Namaste’, Reddy.” “Namaste’, Jay.”
I position my backpack so that I can slouch on the bench. The “beds” have all been reconverted to seating. The backs are perpendicular to the bench seats. Reclining is not an option so slouching is the way to go.
My eyes open and close as I segue in and out of wakefulness. Dreams and the passing scenery become one. I’m astonished and tired at the same time. I want this trip to last forever.
“Jay, wake up, please. Jay, wake up. We are nearly at Mangalore.”
“Oh! Already? How soon?”
“In only minutes we will be at the station. We will need to disembark from the train quickly so that we can catch a bus right away.”
“OK. I have my backpack. I’m ready, Reddy.”
“OK, Jay! Ha, ha, ha. Here, let’s stand by the door.”
The train screeches and slows. Reddy and I jump to the platform before the coaches come to a complete halt. I look back and mentally say goodbye to the train.
We scamper along. Reddy grabs my hand and orders me to not let go. The crowd is large and dense. I feel like I’m swimming in an ocean of humanity. We make our way to a ticket desk to find passage to Bangalore. We rejoin the stream of people and find our way through the doors onto a large tarmac lot filled with parked busses. They look dangerous. They are massive. Their bodies look like they were poured into moulds like cast-iron. The destination signs are all in Hindi. Reddy finds the proper bus then we settle down inside onto board-hard seats. At least they recline.
“Well Jay, relax and enjoy our luxury coach journey through the jungle as we make our way to Bangalore.”
“How far is it?”
“Straight line it is only 300 kilometres, but the road has many switchbacks so it will be longer and quite slow. We will be on the highway all day long until night time.”
“I guess I’m all set. I hope we get there in one piece. This bus doesn’t look very safe.”
“Oh it is very safe. It is built as strong as a bank vault.”
“Yes, I’m sure it is. And probably as comfortable as one, too.”
The behemoth bus jerks to a start. There’s no turning back now. We’re on our way.
The Blue Jay of Happiness hopes you’ll be back for the next portion of the journey.