Old Delhi Railway Station 12 April 2015

If you ever find yourself in need of a defining moment of self sufficiency- I suggest trying to navigate the Old Delhi Railway Station by yourself.

It begins in the Rickshaw. You start by telling your driver that you, the small single white woman, are going to Old Delhi Railway Station. New Delhi? He asks — knowing it will comfort you in ways you couldn’t conceive of until this experience is being reflected on later. Old Delhi you explain, Chandi Chowk side. You climb into the rickshaw with your 75 liter backpack stuffed to the brim, and pray that your rickshaw makes it up the hill despite the extra weight. And even though it does, the engine gives out once you’ve plateaued and your speed decreases to 20 miles an hour. Women with mangled hands and men with none ask you for money, and you look down pretending as though you don’t have any to spare. At the next stoplight you are propositioned by a transgender woman who calls you Didi.

You are almost to the railway station, where the supposed respite comes. You realize that despite your rickshaws laughably slow speed you’re an hour and a half early. The driver says platform 16. But you know that can’t be possible because 16 isn’t on the Chandi Chowk side. So you walk towards the airport like projection screen where you read your trains name in Hindi and you take solace in the fact that it’s not 16. It’s 5 and you are close. Only in proximity, not waiting time.

So you sit on the curb with your backpack in your lap and read a book. Despite the sound of bangles clanging as women run to catch the train or families yelling at one another because they too are struggling with the platform decision, you are the spectacle. Bangles stop clanging when they get close to you, families abruptly become quiet. So you turn down your head and bury yourself in your book, which you skim because your ears are ringing with unfamiliar sounds mixed phrases you relish in the joy of understanding. After five or so minutes you put the book away and breathe.

You smile at the women who stare confusedly at you, match the gaze of the men who ogle, and breathe. You’ve been here before. You’ve taken this exact train and been taught how to make your bed six times over. You walk through the security line whose effectiveness is questionable, and make your way towards a place to sit. You wait. You see men, women, and children walk past with a look of worry. Not a look of, “what is she doing here?” But a look of: “will she make it through this station?” Being the spectacle brings a worry you didn’t know was there until someone else was more worried than you.

Old Delhi Railway Station is without question what Dante envisioned as purgatory. The grandfather clock beneath the schedule doesn’t move. The families sit around you eating dinner as if they are at a party and have no intentions of leaving. The men who stare appear to have nowhere else to be as their gazes last for minutes at a time. If not for the trains that come and go at a speed that intimidates even the most seasoned of traveler, you would think time stands still.

The automated clock intended to signify your platforms incoming train is stuck at 13:35. It’s now 19:45. Your trains exterior says an unfamiliar name, not the one you drilled into your brain for hours prior.

Jammu Mail. 2nd AC Sleeper. 20:10.

Jammu Mail. 2nd AC Sleeper. 20:10.

Jammu Mail. 2nd AC Sleeper. 20:10.

You see a man near the train who smiles at you. You’ve been instructed to avoid men, even though the older paternal ones have been your best allies to date. He clarifies this is your train, but your car is two down. You check with three others along the way. You reach your seat and check once more with the people around you.

You’ve made it. You look around and are comforted by the luxury that is 2nd AC sleeper car. Never before have you been in a cabin with only 5 others and a privacy curtain. You splurged because you are traveling alone. You sit on the bed and read your book and make polite conversation. You’ve been in India for 2 months. This is not the first train you’ve been on. Thank you for offering to help make the bed, I’ll ask you if I need help.

You close the curtain and settle in. You begin to write. The conductor taps your bed and takes your ticket. In this moment you are certain you’ve reached the correct train. You are finally alone. Undisturbed until the sun rises and your alarm will wake you at 5:40. And again at 5:44 for good measure. You realize this is the longest you will have been alone since arriving in this new place. Room mate, bed mate, split bathroom, 24 million people. On this train, behind the curtain, under the white sheets you don’t look too closely at for fear of what you’d find, you are alone.

and it’s okay.