Friday, April 26, 2013

Hey, there's the a**holes from the train!

We went to Darjeeling in November. On the way, we stopped in Kolkata to attend Chanchal's wedding. Chanchal is a gifted writer, someone who started working for me at my first job in India in 2008. I liked him. Yu Yu, his team lead, liked him more. She said he was perfect for the position, even though he had minimal experience. What I liked about him was that, although naive, he could be taught. As a group leader, I needed staff that had potential. He had that in spades. I wanted him to work for me. He agreed and I can say that he never disappointed me. His work was good. The longer I knew him, I was encouraged that he could really progress as a writer. An international writer. I left the company and he continued to work for them, but eventually Yu Yu left and he as without a leader. Any leader. No team lead, no marketing group lead. He was a ship without an anchor or sextant. 

I really like him, so we decided to ensure we made it to his wedding on our way to Darjeeling. A Bengali wedding is a sight to see. There are several days involved in an Indian wedding. We showed up on the wrong day -  a bride's day, when the groom's invitees are not to come. We didn't know this, but the bride's father was very gracious, walking us down to eat dinner and being wonderfully accepting of us foreigners who showed up on the wrong day.

The next day, we were to board the overnight train to NJP, the last stop before the toy train, a UNESCO world heritage site, that takes forever to travel up to Darejeeling. When we arrived at the train station in Howrah, we were eager to get on the train. Once on the train, we were unhappily surprised to find out that our train did not offer private sections - we were stuck with the first class AC people en masse. That meant bad behavior from me. The unfortunate family to be mixed in with us had children. Teenagers, middlers AND infants. F*ck me. 

I don't like children. Doesn't matter what country, what culture, I can't deal with them. This family had them in spades. The teenage girls were okay, quiet, focused on their phones… but the smaller children were running around, shrieking - this, I could not stand for. After a few minutes, I yelled at the family to keep their kids quiet and seated. They were insulted and made that painfully clear. They were horrified by my language, even though I apologized for the infrequent F-bombs. I expect children to be easily ignored. It's not difficult. I did this with my own child. He was socialized from birth to be able to interact with adults. He was never an issue on airplanes or trains - I always insured that he had plenty of toys and quiet distractions to keep him busy for a few hours when he was little. He's been flying since he was six months old.

I've dealt with numerous Indian children on trains and airplanes, some on 13 hour flights, where the parents couldn't care less how their children affect the other passengers. I'm not one to let that pass. This train went south quickly. I was stuck with a young mother with her infant and a small child sleeping with her mother as well. We hated them and couldn't wait to arrive in NJP to depart. Such unruly children, I will never forget. We got into our rented car and headed up into the Himalayan foothills. After a few hours, we arrived at our destination.

A few days letter, we decided to have lunch at a local eatery, where, suddenly, I heard, "Hey, there's the a**holes from the train," from Yu Yu. Now, Yu Yu is not one to pipe up with a snarky comment. One of the gents replied, "Yes, you're the a**holes from the train." I didn't recognize them at the time. They were seated in number of tables, so the group was split up. They left soon after. I never spoke to them, so hopefully their day improved.

Darjeeling was amazing. The last time I had visited, I was 16. Tiger Hill was a different experience back then. We came as a large group of international students, part of the ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) who sponsored over 50 foreign students to travel to Darjeeling to encounter a number of different cultures over a two week period. I had changed completely by the time I returned to Mumbai. The experience exposed me to many different cultures and I was completely transformed. When I die, I still want to have my ashes spread from Tiger Hill. It's that important to me. HOWEVER, the experience this time was far different. While we still woke up at 4AM to trek uphill, by the time we got there, we were only offered a middle floor ticket as they were full upstairs. I wasn't ready for what as to come to pass. There was a new building. Instead of the tower that you had to climb up numerous flights of stairs to reach the top, now there were lines for each section. We were subjected to the middle floor, where a number of chairs were set up. It was still dark. While all the foreigners took their chairs, the Indians didn't.

They stood up in front, blocking any view, videotaping a sunrise that would take over an hour. Everyone, especially the foreigners, were yelling at them to sit down. As my seat was in an aisle, I moved it to effectively block anyone moving forward. It was a horrible experience. Before the sun ever appeared, all the foreigners except us had left. Once the sun was fully up, we went downstairs to the ground level to really see the majesty of the Himalayas. It's that inspiring to see.

We were in a wine shop on the mall and while we evaluated the prices of vodka and rum, a Nepali woman came in and asked the the man behind the counter something. He looked around, then brought up a bottle of something from below the counter. Yu Yu asked the man what it as. He looked around again and brought up another bottle. It was wine from Nasik. It was very cheap compared to the domestic liquors we were looking at. We bought a bunch, hoping it would be as good as the Goan Port we'd had when we last visited there. It was pretty decent... and we managed to keep a few to bring back with us on the plane to Delhi.

Darjeeling will always have a place in my heart. We revisited many of the same places I had seen so many years before, and it was much more special having Yu Yu and my son there to experience it with me. Now, it's time to head south and see the richness of South India and places we haven't yet explored.

William and I at Ghoom Monastery

William and I at breakfast in the Hotel

Bhutia Monastery with William

William and I at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute

Yu Yu and I at the Japanese Peace Pagoda

William and I at the Japanese Peace Pagoda

William and I at Ghoom Monastery

William, Yu Yu and I at Tiger Hill above Darjeeling

William and I

Ghoom Monastery

William and I