4 On Board the Poorva Express

5 March 10.00 pm
The train spent it’s time equally between moving and non-moving. 4 hours into the journey, we are already 2 hours behind. Arjit, a nice young man whose berth is above mine tells me. He hopes to get into NTU, the technical university in Singapore, and eventually end up in the aerospace industry. He’s interesting and well-read, and does not seem like a homicidal maniac. I hope we had not been keeping the other passengers up. The thali dinner arrives after Arjit disembarks. A new passenger for the upstairs berth, a middle aged woman has arrived to plonk herself down at the other end of my berth. She stared at me and I blinked at her. After a couple moments of confusion, all on my part, I decided to let it go, and settled into my thali.

6 March, 6.30 am
After an uneventful night, the lady finally left me to my own devices, I wake to the train stopping at what later turned out to be Varanasi (the previous Benares which was previous to being Benares, Varanasi). The station platform at 6.30 in the morning was drab, teeming as usual. Actually it was more like a war zone– you know when the camera pans across the faces of a sea of refugees? Or is it the annual convention of the rag and bone industry? Jokes aside, I fear I feel ill equipped to step onto this platform come next Friday night. Leaving Varanasi station, the train slithers its way slowly through a decayed ghost town and over the river Ganges. There with its face to the rising sun, the oldest city in India appear to be crumbling slowly back into the river.

Streaky Window View 6 March
Mud bricks drying in the sun. Kilns issuing smoke. Padi fields.
Small hamlet with their livestock. Straw roofs superimposed on crumbling brick walls. Here a
mud hut, there a straw hut, men squatting in the fields mooning the train. A family bathing at the water pump.

More crumbling villages. Faces and clothes smeared with colour, some people evidently got a head start on the Holi festival. Cows lying on their bellies chewing the proverbial cud. Ancient buildings, leaning, crumbling. The train passing the station of Kudra by. Cows grazing on the other track. A train passes us on that track heading for the cows.

Kumehu, another non-stop. No more mooners, the mooning time of the morning seems to be over. The train attendant comes to tell me “next stop Gaya, near about 1 hour”, with a little jiggle of the head and index finger pointing. A flock of sheep newly sheared, a river of sand, fluttering saris crossing it. A crippled man with diminutive legs sweep down the aisle with a coconut broom. He doubles back to beg.

2 stops and “near about 2 hours later” the Indian gentleman in the next compartment announced the station of Gaya. After a whiz around the station dodging beggars and taxi-wallahs, I find the main entrance and there was Dick Jeffrey, the director of the Maitreya School for Universal Education, my host in the realm of the historical Buddha, Bodhgaya.

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