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Lounging and Lunging

My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - Journey in an Unknown Culture

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 28 March 2011 | Views [413] | Scholarship Entry

Hyderabad’s flashing kaleidoscope was bloating my cortex: vendors crooning from glittering stalls, rainbow fruit spilling from every market, the constant buzz of yellow jacket rickshaws, and the dense, wafting iron timbre crescendoing from the mosques in 5:00 prayer. The whole city’s magic flayed out in chat stands and jewelry billboards. Litchi juice, masala, and petroleum exhaust ever lingering on my skin. Stolid, smoldering, assaulting India. What are you behind this frenetic rind?

To find out, I escape Hyderabad on the East Coast Express bound for tiny Vijayawada. I sweat and stick in the blue, dusty, vinyl seats in sleeper class as the train lurches from the city.
Traveling by train in India is hardly groundbreaking. Yet, for a few hours this county stands still and I catch its unadulterated moments. A mother changes her son’s pants. Two brothers, arms around shoulders, chat and smile through shrewd lashes. The tiniest boy crams himself like a decorative decal between the spaces of two window bars. I consider their flaccid expressions, mute, inscrutable in silent vigil. For once, no one stares. I’m just another passenger moving north.

A cast of castes rotates from the car’s side wings. Chaicoffee! young boys shout as they swing silver pots and paper cups like lanterns in front of them. The monosyllable emphasizes their urgency – get it while it is hot! Two women trail each other through the berths, attached like the capsules of the peanuts they are selling out of round wicker baskets. They squawk in a deafening pitch and passengers flash their wallets.

Beggars come, too: a waif woman limps against the car's unsteady jolts. Her muted brown sari pales against the ornate, bejeweled wraps that women wear to impress each other on the train. It covers a body seamed with wrinkles. A man hands her a few rupees and one drops to the floor. Bent low like a wilted, burned sunflower, her sweat glints brighter than any beading as her fingers scrimmage with the dust and the luggage to find the lost coin. She refused to leave it; the man who gave her the rupees stoops to help.

I listen to the dulcet impetus of the lunging train as we ripple through the countryside, hemming the Western Ghats. A mustard sun drenches their peaks as it lays the long limbs of dusk onto the horizon. Their singular blue cones tend to waterlogged rice paddies and brown fields like the white-clothed shepherds passing through them. The monsoon pours out its hot contents gently but urgently over the crops, making viscous pools for lounging camels and water buffalo. A peacock’s long fermata form blazes over the brown fields. I could touch the short palm trees wagging their fingers in our wake.

In the drone and sway of the tracks, I revel in the moving isolation, the blithe languor of the day. I hear nothing but the wind whipping through the glassless windows. From the city's grime, this journey a glinting memory I, too, scrounged to find.

Tags: #2011Writing, Travel Writing Scholarship 2011

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