Friday, March 9, 2007

Squeeze A Grape (Chapter Two) ~ Early Morning Thoughts

--Chapter Two (Chapter one here)

We are squeezed into a train car along with a lot of other people, and the train is heading down the track. Normally, there would be the soft lulling sound of the train, the track and the gentle rolling of the car. This time, I’m looking over at bodies of students, and adults looking like some kind of huge puppy-pile - involving arms, legs, heads and luggage. The group camped in front of and around the bathroom were highly protective of their space, and resented having to move for anyone. But, at least, with some grumbling they were willing to eventually move. And the train continued to head down the track. I mentioned earlier that we were one of the cars close to the engine. A coal fired engine.

As the late afternoon turned into evening, people had made peace with the situation - somewhat, and were beginning to settle into a resigned manner of getting as comfortable as possible for what was obviously going to be a very long night. I looked around and realized that if someone were to take a picture, we would look as if we were advertising a multi-cultural performance of “The Lower Depths” (a play by Maxim Gorky). I didn’t dare chuckle about it too loudly, as trying to explain where my mind was wandering unaided would be too difficult.

A few hours passed…

I started to come to the realization I was about to “lose it.” As in - completely lose it. I felt I had reached the end of my patience, understanding - you name it. Something had to happen, or something was about to happen. I think almost everyone has reached that point at some time. In this case, the idea of losing it was actually quite a delightful idea. I had this crazy picture of a madman (me) tearing through the train compartment luggage and all flying in my wake. At that moment, there was a commotion from all those camped in front of the bathroom door. They were actually laughing and whooping and such…and pointing to the door of the bathroom. I found this interesting, as I hadn’t seen (or heard the loud complaints about) anyone going in - let alone coming out.

Imagine my total shock and surprise, when two VERY lovely Indian ladies came (evidently) from the bathroom. And I do mean lovely. They were in beautiful sari’s, jewelry with their hair impeccably done and make-up absolutely perfect. Bollywood (Bombay) film actresses was my first thought, which was immediately followed by the question of what would film actresses be doing on THIS train and that was followed by the thought that I must have lost my mind, or gone into total hallucination. These lovely ladies gently moved their way through all the encampment and ended up in front of the first compartment and myself. At that point, they leaned over and put on their dancing bells. These bells are wrapped around the legs of dancers and the legend has it that a superior dancer is able to ring each bell individually.

By now I was sure I was suffering from a gigantic hallucination - however, the students continually asking me what they were doing and/or going to do, convinced me that this was NO hallucination.

The attaching of the bells finished - the two began to sing a Hindi film song, and to dance (well, dance with as much room as was available). The “encampers” had reach a state of almost football game excitement. As in, they were shouting and being very loud - with much shoulder and back slapping. The students and adults (to say nothing of the rest of the train car) were now completely awake, and all thoughts of how uncomfortable they might have been - had been forgotten as they watched this performance.

I thought that this interesting tamasha (a Hindi word that really has no easy English translation) might simply be moving down the car - a sort of impromptu entertainment. But, it soon became apparent that they had no intention of moving…until they were paid for their performance. As I was looking at the ladies, I made other discoveries. One of them had 5 o’clock shadow beginning to peek through the make-up and the other had a bosom that seemed to be moving in different directions - and slipping slightly -occasionally. Of course, the adams apples should have been my first clue. And the students - who are never as naive as people think they are - had begun to figure this out as well. Now, I was in a quandary. There is no set price for these performances, and it’s true - they will not stop and will not move on unless they get what they think is a good price. As I had mentioned earlier, the trip was tightly budgeted - and there was no money for extraneous performances such as this, which I wasn’t sure I would be able to explain with any degree of rationality to the administration.

So, I did the first thing that popped into my mind.

I got up, and precariously stood on the bench I was sitting on, and began to imitate them. By this time, our entire end of the car was in complete uproar. To say nothing of the students and adults. However, I was now committed - and there was no turning back. I tried to match them gesture for gesture, hip bump for hip bump. I guess that one of them decided to humiliate me by reaching over and grabbing my rear end. We used to refer to that as a bah-poo (accent on second syllable) . As I was told, that’s the affectionate pat one gives a baby’s bottom, and in the wonders of Hindi - it can also be a term of endearment (and you thought English could be difficult). So, there I was trying to keep from being a total fool (probably too late for that) and was having my rear bahpooed by a drag queen in a crowded train in the middle of somewhere.

Again, I did the first thing that popped into my mind.

I whirled around, stuck out my hand and demanded 5 rupees. I repeated it several times (each time pointing to my rear). “Five rupees.” They finally figured out that I was either 1) completely crazy or 2) completely crazy and serious. They gently took their leave of the first compartments and moved on down the train car. And I was five rupees richer.

--the finale tomorrow

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