Indian Trains

Past experiences quietly echo amongst our neurons until they arise to become the cloaked voices of our present hallucinated intuitions.  The subjective bias of our minds may be common sense, but we often underestimate its pervasiveness.  Let me offer a personal example:

I have extensive train experiences, but only in India, China and Japan — not in the USA. And all of my train experiences were 30 years ago when technology was markedly different — both for trains and for her passengers.

My first American train experience was yesterday – an Amtrack ride to Philadelphia where my son and I will catch a plane to Amsterdam.  And as I prepared for our trip, my mind brought back preparatory intuitions based on my train travels in India:  “I need to bring food, safe water, and wear clothes that can get dirty.”  But I chuckled as my past impressions tried to actually appear as accurate present intuitions.  I removed the cloaks of my old memories and those intuitions evaproated.  But let me share those old memories.

Indian Train Experiences

During my first trip to India about 40 years ago.  Since I had little money then, I would usually ride on top of the trains where other poor people stole rides.  At the stations you could tell the freeloaders — they all had little burnt holes in their clothes.  For in those days, the trains where coal-driven and sparks would fall from train’s smoke trail when it came overhead and land on those of us riding on top.  I was suprised at the kindness of other top-riders:  they’d help each other up on top by extending hands and when the smoke was overhead, they’d stamp out the burning sparks on each other’s clothes.

I occasionally scrapped money together to pay for rides inside the trains which, back then, were an amazing cacophany of smells and sounds:  people chatted, chickens squaked and the train itself was uproariously loud.  Indians brought home-cooked heavily spiced aromatic curries and many passageners did not bathe well.  Finally, many Indians would loudly hocker up mucus and belch without hesitation thus adding to the experience.

Our Amtrak Experience

My Boy’s Amtrak View

So as I sat at home planning my trip, I realized I did not have to plan for India.  Indeed, the Amtrack train had wi-fi connections, outlets to charge phones and computers, electronic doors and was very quiet with little odors.  Water would be safe and there was a dining car.  Wow, what luxuries.  And I had money for this trip.  Everything was different from my days in India.

But ironically, the couples sitting both next to us and behind us were Indian.  The older couple behind us spoke little English and he hockered the whole trip while his wife snored.  But the gentleman and his wife next to us were delightful.  He had lived for years in Dubai where he worked as Engineer but was visiting his son in the US.  He and his wife were involved in Ramakrishna Vedantism which had heavily influence my past also.  So we shared stories about Engineering, families, the Middle East and religion.  And in parting, the generously gave me a Vivekanada book on education.

So though I had to resist Indian memories when preparing for our trip.  India was more of a part of the first leg of the journey then I expected — what fun irony.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

6 responses to “Indian Trains

  1. TWF

    What great fun! I’ve heard the tales of Indian train trips. To me, they sound like something to avoid at all cost! 😉 But they do make for great adventures and stories, huh?

    My first train ride was in Europe, and I loved every moment of it. The scenery was great; going by mountains, rivers, and the occasional random castle.

    It’s such a treat to meet friendly people while traveling. I’m guessing the couch surfing will be even more rewarding.

    Have a great trip!

  2. I love this post! It made me think fondly of The English Patient, Reds, and Dr. Zhivago (although the latter two have nothing directly to do with India). Even more so, I am thinking happily about ‘Brief Encounter’, a 1940s film by Noel Coward starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, set mainly at a British train station. If you have not viewed it, then I am happy to lend you my copy, so long as you only keep it for a fortnight… because I view it THAT often. 🙂 And, most importantly, I must ask you… how do you feel about Taggart Transcontinental? Yes, that is my Train Company of choice forever.😀

  3. CRL

    Indian trains make San Francisco public transit sound quite tame by comparison! (Though, from your description, it looks like we’ve got everything but the chickens. The largest animal I’ve seen was an unleashed chihuahua wandering up and down a streetcar and barking.)

  4. @ TWF:
    We haven’t hit the mountains in Europe yet, but lookforward to it. And I must say, some aspects of the train rides in India have been some of the fondest memories of my life: talking about astrology/religion, sharing stories of families, sharing meals. I have loved my encounters with many Hindus and Muslims.
    Couch Surfing so far is great — Staying with a woman and her son who speak Finnish, Swedish, Dutch and English — put us Americans to shame. Great fun.

    @ Nicole Marie Story:
    I enjoyed your free-form movie tour! I would love to borrow (and then discuss) “Brief Encounter” for fornight or less! 🙂 I would be honored to learn from a movie conneusieur!

    @ CRL:
    San Fran buses do have their own specialness though, I’d agree. The chihuahua story cracked me us since one of our three dogs is a chihuahua/terrier mix who I could envision doing the same!

  5. Alex, I’d like to answer this question for 500. “When is a train ride not a train ride?”
    I’ve heard a number of Zen/Buddhist teachers declare that “relationships are the best way to gain insight into ourselves.” If intimate relations are #1 on the list, in close 2nd might be travel to foreign lands. Places that are truly foreign to our customary way of behaving and thinking. Uncomfortably foreign? Me — I like to travel, even when it hurts, perhaps especially so. If that makes sense. For a similar reason, I tend to hate Hollywood pulp movies. They play to our common denominator expectations. And take us nowhere new.

  6. Andrew: I agree, relating to other cultures by trying to imitate and understand teaches a great deal. I am watching my son learn as we travel in Europe.

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