On the packing of concepts and crowds...
07.07.2012 - 07.08.2012 38 °C
Have you ever noticed a feeling of compression building up in the flow of your creativity when you are making some sort of art? I feel this way sometimes when I write. Like I really want to cook up a piece on the spot, and I have the ingredients all ready to go, but somehow it seems as though maybe they need to be prepared a little longer in the kitchen of my mind before the proper alchemy will be in place to bring the full flavors of my story out. To rush would be to undercook it. But wait too long and the moment will have passed; another experience will have saturated my awareness, and a new order is now sitting in the cook’s window next to the first one.
Then I would have two stories brewing in the cauldron of my artist’s soul, and steeping with them is the frustration that I won’t be able to pull both out and into form before time and distance dull the potency of their exquisitely deliciousness, and unique intimate details. Another customer will soon walk in the door, more ingredients will be tossed into the pot, and poignant flavors become lost in a mish-mashed slurry of composting former life-events.
I hate to mix metaphors right now as I would like to keep stewing your imagination in cooking imagery as I describe my writer’s dilemma, but capturing a story is a lot like catching really good surf: You have to feel into the oceanic dance of shifting and colliding waveforms if you really want to get up and hang your best ten. Screw up your timing and the wave either won’t have fully formed, or it will collapse under your board and drop you into the froth of the breaks.
All waves bounce off the shore and return out to sea, so if I have the time and the space to quiet my mind and listen well enough, I might be able to feel again, the energy of my memories-past arcing away off into the distance of life’s vast ocean. The story can still be told. But the further a memory goes out there, the more likely the waveform will change as it intermingles with ripples echoing other former and perhaps future tides. The wave as it was at its most surfable moment, often only comes along once.
There. Now perhaps you as a reader have a taste of what it is like to have the waves of multiple flavors colliding together on your own imagination’s tongue. Here is the story I have brewing, dude!
July 8th, 2012
I am now back in India, and I have just spent 2 days each in Varanasi and Bodhgaya. Today, I have arrived in Kolkata and already, I have many possible stories to tell, but I have to pick just one for now while I have a spare moment, as tomorrow, I will be beginning a week’s worth of volunteering at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Destitute and Dying. I can feel the undertow of that big wave pulling me into the next moment already, but while I have the chance, I want to talk about my train ride from Bodhgaya to Kolkata, before the story-train arrives at my next destination.
I have ridden the Indian railway a few times before this: once from Udaipur to Agra, once from Agra to Varanasi, and once from Varanasi to Bodhgaya, and so I thought I had it figured out well enough. But, India loves show me just how naïve I really am and well, I will admit that this is probably a big reason why I came here to begin with.
I have traveled via sleeper class each time, which is steps below the more luxurious 1st class AC and 2nd class AC, but steps above “2nd class,” which is where the Indians really pack themselves together, and “Luggage”, where you get to ride with the live chickens and whatever else can be put in a cardboard box and bound with twine. Each sleeper car has a string of berths which are designed for 8 people. During the day, people sit on the bottom beds (there are 3 stacks). At night, the seat backs convert into an extra bunk bed, and sitting is no longer plausible.
Previously, my trips had started late at night, and so it was nearly time to sleep when I arrived and there weren’t too many extra people hanging around who didn’t belong to specific seat number. The beds are only six feet long and I have to creatively cram in my 6’4” body in, along with my sizeable backpack, which is less than comfortable, but at least the seat configuration during the day works for me, so long as I don’t mind trading hours of glancing and staring at just about everyone in eyeshot. This trip would also be an overnighter and upon departure from Bodhgaya, the seats hadn’t even filled to their 8 person occupancy. Everything was going normally.
But then, as time went on, a few more people packed in for a few stops. It was a noon departure and the beds don’t come down until around eight, so it wasn’t such a big deal to make a little extra room. I was enjoying alternating between watching the grassy farmland/village scenery go whizzing by, reading “Into Hot Air”, and reminiscing on my adventures so far. Then a few more people got on.
At first it was a large group of Hindus wearing all orange clothes and no shoes, who were heading on pilgrimage to a town 3 hours down the line. The numbers in my berth rose to about 18 people. 4 on each seat and two sitting next to the bags Adrian and I had each placed on our top bunks over the three bed stacks. The air outside was uncomfortably hot, but with all the windows open and the breeze whipping through, it was pleasantly cool while the train chugged along. With 10 extra people, the extra body heat made it sweltering every time we stopped and all I wanted was to get going again so the wind would dry up the sheen of sweat seeping from my body.
Before I left, one of my friends gave me some extra money to pay for a nice train ticket in the AC compartments when I rode the trains in India, at least once. Her son had previously traveled there packed in with the hordes and come down sick as a result, and she kindly wanted to help me avoid his experience. I thought about this now, as the sweat slowly soaked into my shirt. Air Conditioned, private berths would be nice. But, all of my tickets were bought last minute, as my plans formed and the 2nd class AC seats were no longer available. Besides, this was another adventure (!), I thought; maybe one I would write about…
Around two o’clock, the after-work crowd started filtering onto the train. At first, they stood in the aisles huffing and sweating up the place even more. Then one person squeezed his way onto the bench opposite me, making it 5 people. Of course, it didn’t take long for someone else to see that there was some imbalanced math happening with my bench, and he wedged himself in too, pushing me into the aisle a bit. More people squeezed onto the third bench, and more still onto the upper beds. The aisles filled up so much that the chai-wallah couldn’t squeeze through, and he had to yell, “Chai! Chai! Chai!” through the windows on the outside, vending from his humongous tea kettle, whenever the train stopped. By 4 o’clock, there were 25 people crammed into the berth. There was room for no more unless we started stacking people on top of each other. At least, that’s what I thought until number 26 squeezed in, and didn’t get off until 6 o’clock.
Now, I had to angle my head just right to see out a window. The waves of body heat now lightly outdid the moving train’s cooling breath of the wind, drawing out a slow sweat. One woman toed at me to let her friend take my seat, but I told her no and that was the end of that. An old lady, I would have moved for, but not a young woman who wanted to pack into our 26 person sweatbox just to gab at her friend across the aisle. Very few people had reading material or entertainment of any kind, and every time I glanced up, I noticed ten or more faces staring at me unashamedly from the bench across or above or down the train. If I was reading, the guys next to me would lean over into my space and try to read too. If one guy struck up a conversation with me, then everyone would lean in, even the ones who had been acting polite or like they were uninterested before.
I had to laugh at it all though. I came for adventure more than I came for comfort, and like it or not, the pack-the-train-full game is one more adventure before I go home to my well-regulated country. I don’t have to endure this every day of my life just to survive and I can feel thankful for that!
Eventually most of the extras got off, and the last few, we kicked out when it was time to go to sleep. I don’t know where they went to.
There really is a lot more I could say about the train trip. I spoke a combination of Spanish/Hindi/and English with one guy for a couple of hours. I spent two more hours practicing a list of Hindi words. There was plenty of scenery and train stations to discuss. I could talk about the stream of beggars who work the passengers over at each station or guys walking the aisle selling chai and various Indian food treats. But this time, I am not going to over-pack this story with details, like the train was with people.
I really have many more stories to tell than I comfortably have time to tell while in the middle of traveling, and I am learning how to pick and choose. Some are little extra details like I just mentioned, and some are true gems that will have to wait for later when I have the time and space to give them the attention that they deserve. The last thing I want to do is undercook my surfboard!