The Amazing Adventures of the ‘Delhi Girls’ and the Indian Trains

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My stay in Delhi (hopefully!) ends tomorrow morning when Ali, Sudi, and I (hopefully!) take the train to Fulna– the station nearest our NGO, Educate Girls.  I say ‘hopefully’ because all of the interns have found out since arriving in India that the train booking system here is a much bigger beast than any of us could have possibly imagined.  Trains are the most popular mode of transportation in India, and spaces can apparently fill up months in advance.  So, the process that we should have started 2 months ago began instead last night when we called a travel agent who joined us at dinner in our hotel at 10 PM so that he could join our desperate quest for tickets to our various internships. 

That wasn’t exactly where the process began.  We knew we were in trouble when we went to the train station 3 days ago, thinking we were on a mission to pick up already confirmed tickets.  Shuffling into the room designated for foreign travelers, some of us challenged each other in a game of “what is the nationality of that foreign traveler?”, taking in the different languages and styles of dress as we waited to speak to a man who would help us retrieve our tickets.  The system designed to aid the waiting process seemed tedious then.  We sat in a certain part of the room when we were at the end of the line, and then, at the signal of a man in charge, we scooted along to the next set of chairs, slowly making our way to the front of the line.  When we made it to the front, we found out that the employment visas in our passports made us ineligible for the foreign quotas on our trains.  Lacking tourist visas, we were told we needed to go to the section of the train station where native Indians and visitors on student and employment visas get their tickets.  Although we asked for further instruction–even simple directions to this other building– we didn’t receive any.  Swiftly shunned from what we would soon realize was the paradisal order of the foreign ticketing office, we set out to find the Indian ticketing station.

What we found, after much back-and-forth and confusion, was a dingy, dimly-lit concrete hall.  It was crowded, and the crowd was restless. We joined the line to speak to a man behind the glass window and fought to stay in it. Despite the people who lingered near the front of the line attempting to discretely push in front of us, we stood our ground– a pack of 6 girls, in Western dress, standing out sorely from the crowd.  I learned two very important things from my fellow interns in this line.  Sudi, who took control and talked to the man behind the window, taught me the importance of humble assertiveness.  As she switched her linguistic register to talk to the man, taking on an Indian accent to add authority to her English speech, I was amazed at her ability to demand respect.  Lucia made me realize the importance of paying close attention to my surroundings, as she whispered to me, “We are the only women here. There are a handful of women in the room, but we are the only ones waiting in line to ask a question.”  Always attentive and inquisitive, Lucia taught me how to ask the right questions to find out about the people around me in a kind and considerate way. Her observation explained the exacerbated tension in the crowd, as the men behind us became angry that we were taking so long.  We left the train station defeated, after a long conversation with the man behind the window, who told us we did not have any confirmed tickets but were merely on the waiting list.  After a few more weak attempts to book our own tickets, we called a travel agent.  “Mister Confidence,” as we refer to him, guaranteed us tickets.  So far, he has actually secured tickets for two sets of interns.  Ali, Sudi, and I are still on the waitlist, hoping to catch a train that leaves Delhi in 6 hours. But as Feroz, the man who picked me, Lucia, and Christina up from the airport said, “Welcome to India, where everything is possible!!”  (He said this when we stared at him in disbelief as he threw his car into reverse in the middle of the driving lane because he missed the turn for our hotel, but I think it can apply here as well.)  For a little while earlier today, we were deliberating between taking a chance on these 3 wait-listed tickets and taking up a different travel agent’s offer who had secured 2 tickets but could not get a third.  Ali wondered aloud, “Do we know how to bribe people?” and the 3 of us tried to imagine ourselves approaching the conductor with only 2 tickets but the right amount of cash. We decided to take a chance on the wait-listed tickets.

I also say ‘hopefully’ because I feel ready to leave Delhi.  I’m eager to start my internship, but I also do not particularly like this city.  I will not miss having my freedom restricted because I fear staying out at night as a woman.  I will not miss ignoring beggars in the street.  I will not miss having to ask myself if the person who seems to speak fluent English appears to misunderstand me because of an honest miscommunication based on different accents, or because he wants to trick me into agreeing to pay for some extra service.

But the interactions I’ve had with people here have also been wonderful.  Shumita, who will be interning at Chirag, has a family friend named Maboub who made it his mission to help us enjoy Delhi.  He accompanied us to hear the Sufis seeing ‘qawwali’ at the shrine of Nizam-ud-din-Chrishti (the singing didn’t actually happen that night, but we enjoyed ourselves in the still, sweltering heat, learning about Maboub’s family), he took us on a tour of Old Delhi where we got to meet his brother-in-law’s family and learn about his nieces plans for college while sipping chai on their dining room floor (their dining room is a room without a table, but the entire floor is cushioned and their cabinets with their dishes and cutlery line the walls), and he showered us with kindness. 

And, of course, I have loved my time spent with the other CASI interns.  That is what I will miss when I leave Delhi.  We have had such adventures together, and all are such thoughtful, good-humored, smart, and strong people.  I noticed their kindness particularly today.  As an Orthodox Jew, I observe the Sabbath on Saturday, and everyone went out of their ways to make me feel comfortable and respected.  As part of my observance of the Sabbath, I wasn’t able to go shopping in the markets. Christina and Lucia were so concerned that I wouldn’t have enough clothes (we each only brought a few articles of clothing with us from America), that they came back to the hotel with colorful shirts for me to wear and demanded a fashion show.  These are the people who are inspiring to be around.  I know they’ll all do great things at their internships.

Until next time!
Eliana

7 thoughts on “The Amazing Adventures of the ‘Delhi Girls’ and the Indian Trains

  1. Eliana, thanks for this great synopsis of our time in Delhi so far! I’m sad to be parting ways with all of the Delhi girls tomorrow and will miss you all dearly, but I’m excited to hear about your adventures and what you will do at your internships in the weeks to come!

  2. I remember our first (and last) time trying to get train tickets in the foreign traveler’s office! We scooted along the seats in line as well. I really loved my 10 weeks in Delhi. It’s truly a wonderful city once you lean how to handle all of its quirks! I’m sooooo excited for all of you starting your internships. Good Luck!

  3. Eliana – If only we knew in Delhi that you would be in the hospital the first week in Bali, we may have wanted to stay there longer! You’re such a trooper for handling an Indian hospital and coming out better! Take your time getting better, and Ali and I can’t wait until you’re back here in Bali with us! Love,Sudi

  4. Eliana – If only we knew in Delhi that you would be in the hospital the first week in Bali, we may have wanted to stay there longer! You’re such a trooper for handling an Indian hospital and coming out better! Take your time getting better, and Ali and I can’t wait until you’re back here in Bali with us! Love,Sudi

  5. Eliana – If only we knew in Delhi that you would be in the hospital the first week in Bali, we may have wanted to stay there longer! You’re such a trooper for handling an Indian hospital and coming out better! Take your time getting better, and Ali and I can’t wait until you’re back here in Bali with us! Love,Sudi

  6. Eliana – If only we knew in Delhi that you would be in the hospital the first week in Bali, we may have wanted to stay there longer! You’re such a trooper for handling an Indian hospital and coming out better! Take your time getting better, and Ali and I can’t wait until you’re back here in Bali with us! Love,Sudi

  7. Eliana – If only we knew in Delhi that you would be in the hospital the first week in Bali, we may have wanted to stay there longer! You’re such a trooper for handling an Indian hospital and coming out better! Take your time getting better, and Ali and I can’t wait until you’re back here in Bali with us! Love,Sudi

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About Eliana

Class of 2014, double majoring in Anthropology & Political Science. Interned at Educate Girls in Bali, Rajasthan in summer 2012.