Steel Notes Magazine November 2016 - Page 99

www.steelnotesmagazine.com Steel Notes Magazine I’d bought my ticket a few days earlier, and now I made my way to the platform and looked for my name on the list of second-class sleeper reservations posted on a poll. It always made me laugh when I’d see these notices. There among the countless V.S. Guptas, R.K. Sharmas, S.K. Bhatnagars, and the Chatterjees, Boses, and Banerjees, was Rex Maurice Oppenheimer. Second-class sleeper, which was really third class, considering there were two classes above it, was my preferred method of travel in India. I boarded the train and moved down the aisle to find my section of the train. Two wooden bench seats facing each other about a meter apart formed each section. Above each seat was another bench folded against the wall, and above that another bench fixed in place. At night one passenger would sleep on the bottom bench, where three would sit during the day, another would sleep on the one in the middle, and the third on the upper. I would use my pack as a headrest, my shoulder bag covered with cloth as a pillow, and snuggle in to my wooden plank secure that my belongings were thus protected. I much preferred the trains to busses, which could be quite uncomfortable. I remember one long bus ride from Rishikesh to Delhi. The bus was the same type used in America as a school bus. It was crowded with people and animals. There were three of us crammed into the seat, and the only way to sleep, or doze, was to put my wadded up shoulder cloth against the bar on the back of the seat in front of me, rest my forehead against it, and let my body bob along with the bouncing bus. Of course there are no bathrooms on the bus, and at some of the bathroom stops the only facilities were slabs of concrete with water and lota with which to clean one’s self. You could shit on the concrete, and an Untouchable waiting nearby would clean it up for the next customer. On my second-class sleeper train I could walk to the toilet at the end of the car, which was luxurious compared to the concrete slab. At various stations peddlers would either approach the window or come on board the train to sell snacks, meals and tea. Things may have changed now, but at that time there were no type of disposable cups available to the peddlers, and the tea was served in low-fired clay cups. When you’d finish your tea, you could just throw the cup from the train window to break and melt back into the earth. I loved riding the trains. Journeying by second-class sleeper was to be in the middle of all of India. The other passengers, their dress, customs, food, talk, the vendors, mostly children, who would come on at one stop and get off at another after hawking their food and drinks, the rhythm of life that developed as the metal wheels rocked and rolled along the track. Even the history of the Indian Railways, with its British heritage, all contributed to a multidimensional experience. I loved watching India roll by outside the window. I was heading to Varanasi, supposedly one of the world’s holiest cities, just seven kilometers from Sarnath, where the Buddha had preached his first sermon. Indians from all over the subcontinent bring their dead to Varanasi, where they perform the ritual cremation and scatter the ashes in the sacred river Ganges, or Ganga. I had a serene sense of peacefulness traveling in India, despite that I was unemployed, had limited funds and was alone thousands of miles from anyone I knew. Rather than a deep philosophical or spiritual reason for this, I Steel Notes Magazine www.steelnotesmagazine.com 99