A note on my three blogs

A note on my blogs

(1) vio; in love with india - this one is the main blog about my Indian adventures, which started in 2005. I don't write much on this blog these days because I prefer to write privately in the confidential blog. But check out the categories and the index to figure out your way. I have kept some older posts not about India but which I still find interesting or relevant in Old words. Also check out my new, fun category Only in India in which I post photos of funny, unique, Indian situations...

(2) vio; sounds of india - this is my blog of sounds, because India wouldn't be as incredible if it was not so vibrant and just so full of incredible sounds!

(3) vio; confidential - this an extension of my main blog in which I post entries I do not want to reveal to the entire webspace for privacy or sensitivity reasons. You must receive an invitation from me and then accept the invitation to be able to read it. You may email me if you are interested in receiving an invitation.


Sunday, 3 June 2012

London without a handbag

1 June; 21:00

I am sitting on the Eurostar without my papers, without money or debit card, without my phone. I had misread my train ticket and thought the train was leaving at 21:03 when it actually left at 20:30; I had read the arrival instead of the departure time. This isn't the first time it happens to me. Last year I missed a train to Paris like that when I had a connection to go to Cahors, quite far south, so I'd lost and missed my entire journey. This time I had wanted to be careful and checked the departure time, thinking how silly I had been the first time – and still, I did exactly the same again. I had a funny feeling on the tramway to the train station; I know why now. This time though I didn't miss my train, because you have to arrive half an hour before departure to check-in before taking the Eurostar. So this time, I arrived 5 minutes before the train left, hopped on the train... but I forgot my handbag on the belt after security check. I ran all the way down to the end of the train and only when I got on my carriage realised I had forgotten my handbag! I tried to call a member of rail staff but there was none on the platform nor on my carriage; I started shouting out to everyone on the carriage whether there was one, it's amazing how inhibition suddenly dissolves when panic strikes.  All the passengers got to know about my plight, I started shouting, crying, explaining, telling people I wasn't mad but in trouble. They were great. Just before the train started I decided to get out with all my stuff (rucksack and violin) but then an announcement called me to go to carriage number 5 (I was in number 17). So with all my stuff I crossed the whole train back down to carriage 5. I was relieved, I was convinced that staff had my bag with them, but when I arrived, sweaty and out of breath, they told me they hadn't taken it on board! I burst into tears, asking them why they hadn't taken it, but they told me that since they didn't know if it belonged to someone leaving from or arriving in Lille, and they couldn't take that responsibility. I really didn't know what to do; I had no one waiting for me in London as I was supposed to take a night bus to Edinburgh; I told the staff. But they were really great; apologetic about the situation, and really helpful. This was the last train from Lille to London in the day, so I had to wait until morning and they'd send my bag on the first train; until then it was safe in a locker at lost property. In the panic I wanted to phone my dad but without a phone and without his mobile number in my head (I knew he was out) I couldn't. One member of staff kindly handed me her phone (another one a tissue, because mine were in my handbag!) and I phoned my sister who then gave me Dad's phone number; then I called him as I wanted the number of some friends in London – but then I realised it was too complicated and gave up; I'd spend the night in St Pancras station and wait for the next train near the Lost Property desk. By the end of it I stopped crying and started feeling OK – my whole trip wouldn't be ruined, and oh wait, I have my computer with me, I can give my email address to the staff so they'll let me know by email when and where I can get my bag! Then I'd just have to take another train or bus to Edinburgh after I'd get my bag in the morning. And I was happy at how kind the staff treated me – through the tears I laughed telling them not to worry, I was OK, just a very expressive person.

Back down to carriage number 17 I got back to my seat and collapsed. My seat neighbour asked me if I had my bag, I started crying again a bit having to say that I didn't. And then the thoughts started rushing. I inspected what I had in my rucksack, and wow, actually, I had my British checkbook – so it's not all that bad. And even though I hadn't got my phone I could listen to some music on my computer – Which I am doing while I'm typing this.

And then feeling of gratefulness started rushing. That music and that voice; just starting the music made me feel like crying again. I've switched from crying out of panic to crying with joy.

I realise now how this “panicky” situation, which really isn't one anyway (that's just how it feels at first!) has become exciting. The best in this sort of situation is, of course, that it forces you to live in the present. All plans are stripped and you are forced to deal with the now, without any judgment. This is precisely what makes it exciting. I don't know what will come next and I'm loving it. Now that my Edinburgh trip is no longer planned, I could even meet a friend in London before I catch a train to Edinburgh – woooooooow, who knows. Yes, that wonderful Unknown, which is always scary at first, but which soon becomes exciting, because it is Now, because it brings you back to what is important and what is truth.

2 June; 19:00

And obviously I couldn't ever have guessed what would happened next, as such was its intensity. But I feel that all that happened did happen for a reason: I helped that homeless lady.

I informed the first member of staff I saw about my situation after I got off the train. I was going to passport control without any proof of identity. A kind (Indian-looking) man escorted me to the desk where a tall, funny, typical English man with a delicious accent took my case with compassion and humour, and let me go through without any problem. I first had to try and get advice from various desks but most of them were closed and there was nothing I could do before morning anyway. So I set out to try and find a place where I could spend the night. I found shelter in the Costa cafe of the station. I informed the staff there that, having left my handbag in Lille, I had no money. They let me sit down with no problem, and the man behind me, who had heard my explanation, insisted to offer me some tea. I was a bit shy but he insisted. I thought he'd try to chat me up, but he brought me my tray – tea and a pasta dish at my table and then went to sit somewhere else! I was amazed by his kindness. It was quite warm and cosy, with free wifi (inside the whole St Pancras Station) and a plug for my computer, so I sat for a comfort internet session. In the cafe, the night staff were two young Bengladeshi guys who were quite funny. For a bit of fun I decided to speak to them in Hindi (Bengali is close to Hindi). They were quite surprised and asked me how come I spoke Hindi, but we carried on communicating in Hindi for the rest of the night, which made me happy.

I probably spent the worse night of my life. I lied down on a cosy carpeted bench, covered myself with my jacket and put tissue in my ears to muffle the loud music a bit and tried to sleep, but I had clearly forgotten that I was in the UK: After one hour two intimidating security women dressed in fluorescent yellow came to tell me this place wasn't a hotel, I wasn't allowed to lie down like that and I had to buy something if I wanted to stay in here. Again I burst into tears trying to explain my situation. A young French women, who had just arrived, offered me a second cup of tea so I could stay in the cafe, and as I was still crying, one of the security women told me off for not thanking the woman. I couldn't believe my ears, and through the calm flow of tears told her that I was dealing with a lot of emotion here, and I was trying my best! She shut up, at least. Soon they two left and I went to sit down with the French lady, a really nice au pair girl who had been crying all day; she too had had a hard time since morning including losing £95. She was waiting for a train to Paris in the morning. We started chatting and laughing at our situation together then tried to sleep. Mostly I slumped my head and arms on a table, with my (fabric) underwear bag for a pillow, and having covered my head with my black scarf, I closed my eyes, focused on my breath and gave reiki to my throbbing head all night. Closing my eyes in the darkness of my scarf and meditating was restful, but I didn't manage to sleep. I eventually sat back up at around 5:30, and for breakfast had the pasta that man had so kindly given me.

I spoke again to the French young woman, A., and we befriended another woman, C.. I had noticed her all night; she was also trying to sleep head rested on her table, in front of me. And she was beautiful, with silvery grey hair, probably in her early fourties but despite her grey hair all over she looked quite young. She looked like someone who could be my friend; perhaps that's why I was shy to speak with her. I was wondering what was her reason to spend the night here in the station. Eventually we started speaking with her, and she asked us if we could spare her a bit of money for some tea. We asked her why she was here; her case was a lot worse than ours. She was homeless. Something to do with a late refund for hostel accommodation put her in a position where she couldn't afford a shelter. This weekend (it was Saturday) was also a bank holiday, with the Queen's diamond jubilee, so she wouldn't have any money at all until Wednesday. Eventually she went on with her story. She had been a primary teacher, she'd been married with two young teenage children, and since her divorce two years ago she had lost everything: her roof, the care of her children, her job. One year later she had also lost her mother who had been very ill, and today she had her iphone stolen – the only item in her possession that had allowed her to look for jobs. I couldn't believe my ears; I had never met a homeless person before, at least not one I'd felt could genuinely be my friend.

When I told her I actually lived in India she opened her eyes wide and we talked some more; she had wanted to go there before her divorce but it hadn't worked out, and she had even tried out some Indian classical vocal at some point! She started asking me many questions about India, but they were punctuated with subjects dealing with the reality of our present situation. It felt to me like she couldn't really afford to dream so I didn't want to get carried away talking about my own life.

After A. had left for her train we decided to go together to check out on my bag situation; the first train from Lille would arrive around 9am. She had nothing much to do anyway so we'd keep each other's company. She seemed very humble and centred despite her tragic situation, and only through her presence was really helpful to me. She didn't do anything really, but the fact that her situation was so much worse than mine kept me centered and able to deal with every step of my situation. We first had to go to the Eurostar dispatch desk to ask if the staff knew about a black handbag being sent over by train, but they hadn't been informed, and were very skeptical that this sort of procedure would be allowed. There was all my ID, money, phone in my bag; they'd require proxy to send it, a proof of identity etc., and the bag had to go through security checks so it couldn't be handed over to a member of train staff just like that. I burst into tears yet again. But the staff was so kind and trying to help; they just couldn't really do anything. C. and I went to McDonalds, as she had a free token for a cup of tea and A. had given her £2 before she'd left us. So we went and came back at 9am but my bag wasn't there. I really didn't know what to do; I also wanted to check that my bag was kept in a locker at Lost Property. We phoned various places in Lille; I phoned my dad from the dispatch desk office; he said he'd go to Lille train station and check on it. Eventually the Lille station Lost Property desk confirmed they had my bag, and after I'd described its contain they agreed it was the right one, but still they couldn't send it across. I cried some more, trying out on some humour at the same time. The staff was just so kind!

I started to really wonder what I could do without money and papers. Nothing. I couldn't even cross the border again, and hadn't got any money to buy a new ticket – and Eurostar tickets at the last minute are horrendously expensive anyway; going and coming back with my bag would cost me about £400, it seemed completely mad when my little bag could simply, in an ideal world of compassionate and understanding beings, be sent over on a bloody train. Then I remembered that I had a copy of my passport on my email account; if I could manage to print it out, and with luck if my dad or another friend could buy me train ticket, would I be allowed to travel? The dispatch desk staff gave me a paper with the phone number of the French embassy (oh no, please not to go through the embassy; how would I even travel on the metro with no money!?) and instructed me to go to Eurostar departure to ask for advice to a member of the French custom police. By that time it was 10am and C. wanted to go to a nearby church for free lunch. I really didn't want to lose her so we agreed to meet again at a point in the station at 12:00. She'd wait 10 minutes and go if I wasn't there.

I said to the policeman that Lost Property wouldn't let a member of rail staff travel with my bag; he told me: “with you they won't; with me they will.” That's when my hopes came back. He was wonderful. I went back through departure security with him and into his office. He tried to get into my email account to print out the copy of my passport but it took some time. That's when I realised I'd better phone my dad to tell him he shouldn't interfere with the procedure at the other end. The very moment I phoned him, he was in the Lille station lost property office, who had agreed to send my bag! Dad spoke to the policeman and it was all sorted. The next train was just a few minutes later, and the train manager would take my bag and bring it to the police desk at noon. I was so, so relieved! I wanted to hug the policeman – and felt very grateful to my dad too, who had been totally non-judgemental and helpful despite his being very busy that day. I went to sit on a station bench again, for some more comforting internet session. At noon I went to wait near the departure lounge. After a few minutes I heard a happy “Bonjour!” behind me, turned my head to see a smiling man. I looked down, and saw my bag handing from his shoulder... I was jubilant and thanked the men profusely.

When C. came back from her free lunch she couldn't believe I had my bag with me! My case was dealt with, now it was her turn. I couldn't possibly leave her alone and decided to spend the rest of the day with her. I wanted to give her everything; a roof for the rest of the weekend, some food and tea, a new phone, a walk in the sun, some time to breathe and forget. Firstly we went to the library for her to check whether someone had handed back her iphone. No-one had. And check internet; her for her jobs and me for a new bus ride to Edinburgh tonight. With all those emotions I had forgotten again about eating, but after the library we went for some food. I had a pizza and offered her some more food. “It's the first thing normal we do today!” She exclaimed, laughing. And it was true. I was completely stoned, my eyes were stinging for having cried so much, and after a sleepless night I felt on a different plane, in a different world from all the people around. It was surreal. But the pizza was delicious and rewarding. After that we just went out walking; it was nice to be outside at last, away from that station, and the sun was coming out. It was such a relief to breathe some fresh air that I forgot about the load on my back. I just wanted to walk, anywhere. She wanted to walk towards Trafalgar Square to see some of the Jubilee, so we did. It was weird to see happy celebrating people and women with big cleavages and make up, and those silly flag-hats; we had other priorities. Then I told her I could buy her a phone. We went into a shop; she bought the simplest one with a new sim card; it wasn't much money really, and she'd be reachable again to resume her job hunt. She was clearly grateful although she didn't say much. It was a funny and beautiful situation; as though all had happened naturally, as meant to be. She'd been meant to keep me company during my bag quest, and I'd been meant to get her a new phone, after she'd been so distressed about losing her iphone. We talked a bit more, but I felt as though I didn't want to get her to dream too much – and I asked her if she wanted me to pay for her roof this weekend, but she wasn't clear; she was reluctant. I understood. Often she'd speak about her situation head in her hands, but always humble and centred. She never cried. She'd told us the previous night that she'd forgotten about crying, because if she started she wouldn't stop. She also told me that some nights she had to choose between food and shelter. It was as though I was a homeless for a day, wandering the streets randomly with my rucksack on my back, greasy hair and dirty teeth. And we walked, as she tried sending a text to her son with her new mobile phone. She has no-one to turn to. Her mum is no longer, her father rejects her, and her husband ignores her. She feels embarrassing to her children. And she said all with such calm. After we reached Trafalgar Square I sat on some steps. She wanted to go to the loo, and she'd mentioned going back to St Pancras Station. I waited for her and asked if she'd come back; “possibly”, she said. I was convinced she wouldn't come back. I waited 10, 20... 30 minutes. I started crying like I cry at the end of a film, although I was now part of that film. A film that had started with my running to catch a train, and ended after we'd both done our duties to help each other. I felt this emotional roller-coaster had happened so I could help her – and it had been well worth it. I was happy to have met her and shared a day of her life. I felt like if God exists, S/He had made me fall from the sky to help her after she'd lost her phone, and S/He had made sure I would find my bag thanks to her presence. It was the message of the film that made me cry. I eventually decided to leave, convinced that she wouldn't come back, so I went down the steps. But at that moment I saw her coming back. Feeling a bit silly I tried to dry my tears and walked back to her. She'd seen I'd been wanting to leave. She hardly looked at me; but I felt we both knew our story was naturally ending here; we both needed some rest alone now. I asked her if she wanted some of my contacts in London; she refused, and she was reluctant to my paying for one or two hostel nights. And I understood, because it must have felt weird for her meeting someone suddenly wanting to give her so much, unconditionally. I would have felt the same; embarrassed. But I was glad; I had given her the most important; she had a phone again.

I started wandering in London. I really needed to be alone, to recentre myself. There I was; Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. I had forgotten the beauty of London, especially on a sunny day; and I was happy to walk. Victoria Station was not far now, so I decided to carry on walking, as despite my bags I didn't want to engulf into a dark, crowded and stinky metro. I found another cafe, bought myself some deserved hot chocolate and carrot cake, and started to write down my rushing thoughts.