the sky over the gatineau hills.

the sky over the gatineau hills.
graham law.

the sky over the hills.

the sky over the hills.
graham law.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Train


as the rusty, crusty, dusty old train rumbled into the amritsar station, there was a western guy dressed like a pathan slouched on a seat across the crowded isle slowly shaking his head. i had been watching him with interest for a while. he didn't look well at all and i perceived a growing anxiety in him the closer we came to the station. as we lurched to a final and abrupt stop, he shot me a wry grin, screwed up his face and said he really couldn't 'fookin' believe he had to go back into 'fookin' india to renew his afghani visa. of course i was impelled to ask why he hated india so much, seeing as i had just spent months if not years looking forward to it. he said: "i loost me stoomuk ere." i had a fleeting and totally nonsensical mental image of him walking around all bent over searching for his stoomuk, but i would directly understand what he meant soon enough.

be that as it may, the moment i walked onto the platform and took my first steps on indian soil, i felt a sense of relaxation come over me. it was a visceral experience, palpable, undeniable and I don't know why. and i've had the same feeling every time i've ever landed in india since. it certainly wasn't a logical reaction, that first time, to the place where the fellow had lost his stoomuk, where i immediately started seeing red spittle all over the ground. i pondered the notion of india being a land of ulcers and tuberculosis. the red was beetle juice spat out as an integral part of the pervasive paan-eating ritual, but i didn't know that then.

i spent the first three nights sleeping in the famous, perhaps now infamous, sikh golden temple, in a plain cement room with a wide cross-section of humanity. in those days, everyone was welcome.

on my third day in india, i saw a man beating a water-buffalo mercilessly with a wooden cricket bat while a smaller man held it by its nose ring and neck rope. they were yelling while flogging the beast, as it bellowed in pain. nobody paid much attention, until i grabbed the arm of the larger man and demanded that he stop. then a crowd quickly formed around us and the two men screamed at me and at the crowd. there were a lot of histrionics i didn't understand until one willowy old man told me in english that the buffalo was very stubborn. i said that was no reason to beat it and then the two men did something i was not expecting. i don't know what i was expecting, but it wasn't to be handed the rope and being told that the buffalo was now mine. the two men stormed off, the crowd was laughing and still calling out to each other while i stood frozen to the spot.

i was at a total loss to know what to do. within three days of being in the country i found myself wandering through a market with a water-buffalo who, by the way, was incredibly stubborn. it seemed singularly ungrateful to a guy who had just saved it from a heck of a thrashing. i hadn't gotten far when the willowy old man approached. seeing me struggle, he smilingly said: "you can do with that buffalo the same as so many problems in the life. before you lose your good sense, my son, you can simply let it go." which is exactly what i did.

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