Writing from: A Rishikesh internet cafe where they are playing Kenny G. Good grief.
A 24-hour train from Aurangabad and my bunk is infested with inch-long cockroaches. The end of the world is nigh, surely. Oddly enough though, it turned out to be a pretty damned fabulous 24-hours, and not one of my six-legged friends laid their eggs in my ear while I slept so their babies could feast on my juicy brains when they hatched (largely due to the fact I wrapped myself in a sheet, head and all, so tightly that nothing was getting in there (not even air as it turned out at some points, when I burst from my sheet fortress for a breath)).
We shared our compartment on the train (less compartment and more area with eight bunks in), with a whole Sikh family. Just me and M, as the boys bunks were at the other end of the carriage.
By the end of the journey I had eaten many mysterious home-cooked, teeth-shocking Indian sweets, become a judge in an improve-your-English game (words starting with Y. “Juggle?” no, “Yikes?” yes), witnessed much try-your-luck bunk stealing, been told “Don’t worry. The cockroaches won’t hurt you.” by a smiling be-turbaned Sikh youth as I got warily into bed, and generally been climbed all over, stared at, and giggled at by lots of tiny Indian kiddies with huge eyes and huger smiles.
The bravest of the girls was in her early teens, and spent hours sitting with her mum and trying not to look at us while she and her brother peppered their conversation with English words to see if they could catch our attention. Once we got on talking terms she proudly told us all about the Golden Temple at Amritsar (where you can get free food and lodging, but must keep your head covered), and asked where we were from and what our names were (I did ask
back, but I forget all names, always. It is my curse), and whether we were husband and wife (huge laugh over the fact the Hindi word for wife sounds like Putney, when we told them it was a place in London).
Mr Tea and I amused them greatly with our efforts to learn ‘thank you’, count to ten, and ‘I don’t understand’ in Hindi, and M impressed them with his podcast-learned ‘how are you’ and ‘You are Punjabi’ entire sentences. I found, as with back home, that knitting soothes not only inner turmoil (like finding out cockroaches are your bed mates), but also outer. So I got out my barely-begun socks and began stitching away when some new arrivals got onto the train at 7 am, and tutted and stood with their hands on their hips at us having a bottom bunk while they had a top one (despite the fact our tickets clearly stated this).
The sight of me knitting caused them to shed their shoes, break out the bananas and munchies to be passed round, and eventually to gently take my knitting from my hands and peer at it.
The evening before, when I was left alone on my bunk with the peering Sikh family, it was my knitting that broke the ice. The mother of the teenage girl with all the questions taking courage at the boys departure to ask “What are you weaving?”.They all smiled when I said socks and pointed footwise, and I was informed by one of the boys that his grandmother was a great knitter, while he did the international gesture for knitting (which always looks nothing like actual knitting at all, but I get the point). So I told them that it was hard to knit in the heat, because your fingers get humid and sticky, and they oooohed at my pattern. And there you are. My first travelling knitting conversation. And in fact my first conversation on my own with anyone in India. All because of barely-started socks. Yay.
So we arrived at Dehli crumpled but smiley, and shook hands and said ‘Namaste’ (hello and goodbye) on the chaotic platform. I didn’t namaste any of the cockroaches, but I am pretty sure one of the smaller ones waved his feelers sadly as I left. Bless his six little cotton socks.