by Niall Doherty

We sat there chatting, waiting for the train to pull in.

He was about my age, also from Ireland. He’d only been three weeks in India, and he wasn’t a fan of the place. He told me how he’d been hassled through Agra and Delhi by touts, beggars, rickshaw drivers, the occasional tip-hungry tour guide. They’d taken their toll on him. He was tired.

All sounded so familiar.

It dawned on me that his issues weren’t so much with India and its people. The battle was mostly internal. Letting go of those initial, naive expectations. Giving up that stubborn insistence that things not be too different from back home. Learning to be more assertive than Cork or Dublin ever demands a person be.

Our train was now a half-hour late. It was getting dark. He was growing concerned. Needlessly, I thought. It was a small station, a one-way track. Impossible to miss this one.

With a little prompting, he began to tell stories of the hassles he’d had. Trying to politely dissuade the rickshaw drivers. Telling touts that he’d think about it, that he might come back the next day. Pretending not to see the beggars.

Irish strategies in an Indian world. Recipe for frustration.

He was slowly learning, just like I had, that India eats the meek and the reasonable for breakfast, hand-mashed with idli and sambar.

Right about then, much to his relief, our train arrived.

We were to be in the same class. I hadn’t paid attention to the numbers as the carriages came past. I took a shot and started walking towards the front of the train, looking for two-tier a/c. My countryman followed. The length of a dozen or so carriages later, I realized my shot was off. We were at the wrong end of the train, and now it was starting to move, quickly picking up pace.

He looked frantic. Should we get on?

Hell yeah we should!

I bounded in an open door, squeezing past several bodies, my friend on my heels. We found ourselves in what must have been the lowest class. Everything filthy. People crammed in like contortionists. A hundred eyes upon us.

We stood near the door, no space to move further. I told my friend that we had about an hour until the next station. Then we could go hunting for the right carriage.

He looked back at me half-scared, half-exhilarated. And I thought to myself, he’s starting to get the hang of this.

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