(& how Indian people react when I speak Hindi)
I am on the Delhi-Ajmer train to go to Pushkar. I took the train from Varanasi to Delhi on 16 March; it was the most painful train journey I ever experienced. I had not felt anything before leaving. A couple of hours after I sat on my berth though I started to feel it. It was very, very slight but it was real and I knew it was going to ruin my night: the urinary infection. Because of course I didn't have any of the required antibiotic with me. And so the pain and the discomfort slowly but surely started to grow... I didn't know what to do.
After a while I remembered that three white tourists had walked down the alley before the train had departed. Would they have something in their pharmacy box? So I went to look out for them; they were sitting just two compartments after mine. I asked the first one if he didn't have any antibiotics with him. He was French. "I have the beginning of a urinary infection." I said. "Oooh la!" He understood. He looked into his bag but he didn't have anything in stock that would help me. I decided to sit down with them because their European company was comforting, so I went back to my compartment to chain up my bag and came back. In front of the French man sat two young English men. They were all wearing shorts and I clearly am no longer used to seeing so many naked hairy legs in India! Indians never go out in shorts, unless maybe during the hot season and if they are at home or in their neighbourhood. So these guys looked very under-dressed, as though they were travelling in their pyjamas! Near the window next to the English men sat a bearded Indian man, also in (bright yellow) shorts. He had not said anything until then but when he opened his mouth I understood! He was a British tourist of Indian descent, travelling with the other two English guys. It had become strange for me to hear an Indian man speaking such beautiful British English, but it was delightful... I asked him about his origins and if he spoke Hindi; "A little." He said. "Haha, I bet I speak better than you!" I joked.
Kabir went on asking me how Indians reacted about my speaking Hindi. "I bet their mouth drop when they realise you speak Hindi!" He said. Indeed I recounted many such situations and Kabir was quite amazed and amused by my stories, and for me it was really interesting to speak to a British Indian. A few minutes later a train-patrolling police man came by our compartment. (Often police men come and go on the train to check that Indians don't bother foreign tourists.) "Do you know these people?" he asked Kabir with a cold voice in Hindi. "Uh?" muttered Kabir. With great amusement, I explained to the policeman "He's not Indian; he's English!" - in Hindi, of course! The poor man's eyes grew double in size as he turned his gaze at me. It was far too much for him to comprehend. He kept trying to address himself to Kabir in Hindi because he couldn't believe me. An Indian man who can't speak Hindi and a white woman who speaks fluent in Hindi!! I had shattered his world. He was clearly bewildered. He kept staring at me and started asking me questions about what I was doing in India. I said I was married to an Indian man and was studying Indian classical music in Varanasi. Then he tried asking the other English men if they too spoke Hindi but obviously they didn't understand anything. "No, no, they can't!" I laughed. But the policeman kept trying, asking them if they too were students in BHU (Banaras Hindu University)!! The whole situation was hilarious. I repeated that I was married to an Indian and I was studying music in India. The policeman, with his eyes popping out of their sockets, asked me if I was taking the piss. "No! No!" I assured him. But I was so amused that he couldn't believe me. "You're taking the piss?!" He insisted". "No I don't!" I laughed. He stared at me some more and eventually left our compartment. Kabir was very satisfied at this perfect demonstration of how Indian people react when they realise that I speak Hindi...
I spent two hours with the tourists; we had a really nice conversation which made me forget about the urinary infection completely... I needed a pee but I had managed to avoid it for a while. At about 10pm they went to lie down to sleep. "OK good night." I said before returning to my compartment. I went to the loo to relieve myself. I peed almost normally but the burning feeling at the end clearly hadn't left me. I went back to my berth and set up my travelling pillow and cotton sleeping bag and blanket. I lied down and closed my eyes. Nah. It won't happen. After four minutes I needed a wee again. I kicked out my sheets and climbed back downstairs and to the toilet. I did three drops, burn, three drop, burn. I did as much as I could and went back to my berth. After two minutes I had to run down and to the loo again. After a while like that, the pain and the discomfort grew unbearable. My water bottle was almost empty when I realised the train had stopped in Allahabad for a while so I quickly got off to by another bottle. That's all I could do. Drink, go to the loo for 10 minutes, sit for 2 minutes and drink although I was dying for a pee, go back to the loo for 10 minutes and back to sit again and on and on. The burning sensation was so strong when I peed the first drops that it made my body jerk and it almost made me sick. Now I had left my upper berth for a fold-up seat near the toilets because I just couldn't go up to my berth and down back and forth, and there was no point in lying down anyway.
Thankfully the train wasn't very full. In my tourist friends' compartment one lower berth was empty so I thought I would shift my stuff there and take that one. A policeman was trying to sleep on the first berth of the carriage nearest the toilet. He had seen me come and go and come and go and he looked concerned about me. I told him I had a urinary infection, which he took a moment to understand, and that I needed antibiotics. I was crying because the discomfort was so unbearable. "I need the toilet constantly" I explained. He gave me some space on his berth to sit so I didn't have to climb on my berth every time. Despite my shawl I was cold and he even got out a blanket from his bag and lent it to me. I must have looked like a wreck.
After a few round trips to the toilet I woke him up and asked him if I could see the ticket inspector to ask about the empty low berth. Tears were rolling down my cheeks and I told him I had a urinary infection and I needed antibiotics. I had to repeat a few time so he would understand. The inspector was in the next carriage and the policeman took me to him. He looked tall and broad and his presence somehow felt comforting. Distressed, I explained what I had and that I needed antibiotics. The conductor said that the next destination, Kanpur, was about one hour away, so he would call a doctor who would bring me tablets at the next stop! I was amazed! It was almost 1am and my train was due to arrive in Delhi at 9am but I could see an end to my ordeal now. I thanked the conductor and the policeman profusely and went back to my temporary seat. Now I just had to wait for the next destination hoping it would come after a European hour and not an Indian hour.
Although the stench of piss was so strong that it almost burnt my nose, I only felt relief when I was in the toilet because I didn't have to retain the pee. After the few burning drops it was kind of OK. I was grateful for my healthy knees because I was squatting for hours. I would have stayed the whole hour in the toilets but I did need to rest my knees once in a while sitting normally in between long stretches of squatting. Yet when I sat on a seat I constantly needed to pee. I drank as much as I could despite the need to pee and soon I finished my second bottle. On one of my trip back from the toilet I noticed that the policeman had asked one passenger from the first compartment to liberate his low berth and to lie down on another, upper one, so that I could take his seat and lie down. Again I was amazed. After about an hour and a half, thank God, we reached Kanpur. At 3am, the doctor arrived with a suitcase of medicine. He asked what I had and I explained. He gave me tablets for now and for the following morning. When I asked how much it cost, he told me he didn't want anything. Then I turned to the policeman and asked him if he could bring me a bottle of water and some biscuits, because I wanted to eat a little before taking the antibiotic. After five minutes he brought them back to me. I handed a 50-rupee note to him but he too refused the money. I was so grateful!!! I ate the biscuits and took the tablet. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh what a relief. Now I just had to wait for the tablets to take effect and the pain to wither away... After another hour or so of goings and comings to the loo the pressure started feeling more bearable and I decided to go and lie down on the low berth in the tourists' compartment. After shifting my stuff there I lied down in my shawl and the policeman's blanket. I finally fell asleep at about 4am, and managed to sleep three hours with only two trips to the loo in between. It was heaven to be able to sleep, to feel almost normal again. By 7am I woke up with my tourist friends. I felt normal now, and surprisingly untired. I told them the story of my night.
They were amazed by the policeman and the conductor's concern and kindness. So was I, still... And that's what I love about India. When people don't know you they'll rip you off your money as much as they can if they see an opportunity. But when you win their heart they treat you as one of them, as family, and they can indeed treat you with amazing care and generosity... Thankfully I do often win their heart because I speak Hindi...
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.