Blue June – Monsoon Train to Delhi

13 June 2013

Summer’s tent is broken and the monsoon has unfurled its vaporous belly over these mountains again, bringing with it a world of mists and uncertain landscapes.

The heat has become amorphous – neither warm nor cool but also both somehow. Moisture perfuses everything. Surfaces have taken on amphibious qualities. The trash that was dumped around Mcleod Ganj all summer is now being washed down the mountain in swollen streams. My skin this evening has taken on the texture of a salamander’s.

Over the next two months it will rain nearly every day.

Some days it will rain all day; other days the rain will come and go like a drunk thing, leaving a vague, hungover-looking sky in between the sullen downpours.

This is weather one can neither love nor hate. But it’s also a weather one can’t help but be deeply affected by. It coats the afternoons with a lacquer of melancholy and draws all sorts of terrible questions out of the heart. Particularly on nights like this one, when the clouds are flashing and the dull thundering is keeping you up.

14 June 2013

I’m sitting on my balcony, watching how the monsoon plays the valley. At around 11:00am the daily fog oozed in, dampening further the already grey sunshine as it swallowed huts and houses and silhouetted the trees with a lugubrious haze.

Now its noon and the overcast is beginning to run thin, and it seems like the valley may begin to brighten a little. The hawks and crows are coming out and flying around. It leads me to think that maybe today there will be sunshine.

An hour has passed. The fog is yawning back in. The rest of the day will be weighed down with monotone, monsoonal melancholia.

16 June 2013

Monsoon train to Delhi.

Thumptatump. Thumptatump. Thump-bump thumptatump.

I lie side-by-side with M— on this hard narrow seat beside the window watching the Punjab blur by. We are on the Amritsar-Delhi 06:30 Express. It is 09:30, three hours into a seven-hour ride.

Thumptatump. Thumptatump. Thump-bump thumptatump.

We pass villages and flooded fields and temples. We pass women in vermillion saris wading the knee-deep waters. We pass straw huts and water buffalo. We pass cities and slums. We pass wastelands of garbage and ride over muddy rivers and alongside the ruins of bridges built by the Raj.

Thumptatump. Thumptatump. Thump-bump, thumptatump.

M— and I are counting how many men we can spot defecating alongside the track.

Thumptatump. Thumptatump. Thump-bump thumptatump.

Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve.

Thumptatump. Thumptatump. Thump-bump thumptatump.

Number thirteen is a man with his pants around his ankles, just standing there, mouth open as the train passes.

Thumptatump. Thumptatump. Thump-bump thumptatump.

I begin daydreaming and lose count. I stare up through the window bars at the grey sky. My thoughts begin to drift everywhere. I watch the thousands of strange faces pass, full of worries and triumphs I cannot even imagine. I watch the beautiful design the electric wires make as we glide alongside them, our speed seeming to make them dance.

Thumptatump. Thumptatump. Thump-bump thumptatump.

A faint approaching red-shifted honk and another train blows past, rocking us around the track before suddenly we are calmly jerking and thumping along again.

Thumptatump. Thumptatump. Thump-bump thumptatump.

I sense something near my right shoulder and turn to find a legless beggar on the ground in the aisle beside me. He holds his palms out. Startled, I turn the other direction. I wait for a while, trying not to think of him, waiting for him to go away. When I turn back he is gone, crabbing his way down the aisle, tugging at men’s pant legs as he goes.

India has hardened me.

Thumptatump. Thumptatump. Thump-bump thumptatump.

Every half-hour or so we pass through another patch of monsoonal rain. The train is hurling along so fast that not much of it gets through the window on us, but when it does we drop the heavy windows down and continue watching through the thick glass. The roar of the rain mutes out most other noises. M— is mouthing something but I cannot hear what. The train slows into another station and a river of water comes pouring through the window onto her seat.

Thumptatump. Thumptatump. Thump-bump thumptatump.

Under a thin Tibetan shawl my leg is intertwined with hers, a situation that has attracted the eyes of the dozen or so Indians sharing this railcar, who stare listlessly at any display of public affection. Her face is close to the window bars, so engrossed in the passing landscape that she does not notice me watching her. Every once in awhile she takes out her notebook and writes something. I touch her with my toes and she turns and smiles. The train slows into another station, dumping water on her again. She doesn’t seem much bothered by it.

Thumptatump. Thumptatump. Thump-bump thumptatump.

Outside the villagers are shampooing their hair, bathing themselves in the rain.

Thumptatump. Thumptatump. Thump-bump thumptatump.

I’m in the bathroom – a small, iron-clad room with a toilet hole in the floor that opens up onto the rushing tracks below. When I squat over it, I feel the breeze of the earth moving beneath me. It is too dirty to touch anything, so I just hug my knees, hovering over the hole, trying not to fall over when the tracks jerk.

Thumptatump. Thumptatump. Thump-bump thumptatump.

At the end of every railcar are doorless entrances. This is one of my favorite things about Indian trains. You can hold the bar and lean your entire body outside, and then, if you look along train’s length, you’ll find a number of people, mostly lower caste, who have the same inclination to experience this thrill as you. I sit down on the ledge, my legs dangling over the speeding ground.

Four more hours to Delhi.

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