A very flustered Japanese man with a small towel slung round his neck came to ask if I was “nihonjin-deska?” I said “sorry, no” and he nodded apologetically and strode off. He went up, down and across the platform several times, his face getting redder. The Japanese tourists I mused, as I stand there with Amrish guarding me, are so abused. In India there are always 4 price levels: an Indian price, Isreali price, western price and Japanese price. Even in Singapore there is a special Japanese price at tourist places. In Bodhgaya I was routinely asked by young men in the streets if I was Japanese. By my lack of politeness, they get that I’m not. “Korean? Taiwanese” They would ask.
All in all I spent 10 days in Bodhgaya with very good memories of the kids, and a few ideas of what I can do for them. Something with craft, folk art, fund raising, sponsorship…. But whatever it is, they gave me more than I could ever give them.
The train was late so Amrish and I chatted sparsely about the India-Pakistan cricket matches and his family. Amrish was a taxi driver in Patna before he came to drive for the Maitreya Project in Bodhgaya in 1997. His English is surprisingly good. He’s a medium built guy with olive skin and enigmatic eyes. Blue-jeaned, ear-ringed and a George Cloony haircut, he would look at home from London to La Pas. The Indian ethnicity is really quite varied. The cook who is a Sherpa from Darjeeling, even though technically there are no Sherpas from Darjeeling, Dick tells me, looks Chinese. He serenades us with Hindi songs when he’s working in the kitchen.
The Gaya station is not a very nice place. A number of beggars approach us, but not quite as many as if I were to be standing here alone. Ahead, a man is waving a red kerchief at a cow that’s gotten on to the tracks. She’s serenely eating the garbage that’s been tossed down. I watch her swallow 2 plastic bags. She missed the papaya peel that the papaya-wallah had just thrown, stupid cow. At 4.50pm the impossibly long train pulls in and there was a general scramble. My coach was of course at the other end.
Amrish finds my seat and evicts the portly chap who was occupying it. The train begins to pull away. Who but the flustered Japanese should have the seat next to mine? He too was going to stay at the Hotel Surya. I decided to adopt him. It later transpired that it was his third trip to Varanasi and he was the one adopting me. We managed to pay only 10 rupees (US 25 cents) to the auto-rickshaw wallah to get to the hotel. I am pretty sure that that was the Indian price.