OBSERVING RURAL INDIA BY TRAIN. . .an infinite number of barrows made from tiers of dried cow dung cakes; drying the cakes on walls—whole stretches of long wall dotted all over with cow dung patties, in the center of each one, a handprint. . .Brick-making villages—all the people who live there make bricks, from the mud on which the village stands. . .cutting away, slicing downward, the homes becoming small raised islands, thatched-roof huts each crowding its own diminutive mesa. . .from the front doorstep, a steep drop—all around, yellow mud, stacks and stacks of yellow bricks, couples kneeling in the mud, forming the bricks, nearby a kiln, breathing heat. . .waking up every morning with the brick-dust-thick yellow light in the corners of one's eyes, and spreading. . .

Also along the way, great towering stands of bamboo, extremely beautiful, seeming to signal prosperity—they're near the more extensive villages, the ones with more than a few tiled roofs. . .bird life: storks, or very large (whooping-size) cranes, in groups of three and four, standing in fields; kingfishers with brilliantly aquamarined backs, parrots and scissortails on the telegraph lines along the way, peacocks sitting wild on haystacks. . .some wild cattle, standing in a cultivated field, looking for a more appropriate setting. . .monkeys at the train stations, picking up stray snacks. . .

Time yet to discuss the early morning squatting to defecate near the train tracks of countless multitudes, each carrying a little water pot in hand? The smell of this, all day, lingering, as one crosses India by rail? Maybe not yet. . .instead, a little about this room (big, well-lit, no TV, 600 Rs.) and this hotel (shabby-genteel, cleaner and not so decayed as the Carlton in Lucknow, but same set up) which I had to try, at least for a night or two, in Varanasi, the city of tirthas, of passageways between places, times, conditions of being—of simultaneities—I had to stay at the Hotel de Paris, my sacred city, of sorts.

Eight hour train ride from Lucknow went quickly, even with stops—in what sense some of these trains with "Express" in their names are express trains is a question that has occurred to me many times already, along with the question: Who could I ask? The train personnel are never in evidence, although (this being India) there must be dozens of them aboard every train; anonymous-looking men pass through once, marking tickets, then vanish; on the platforms, nobody, ever, to inquire about anything of—only the coolies who rush about in mad confusion once the train pulls in (their torpor otherwise is astounding, reptilian: pink lizards smoking eucalyptus leaf birris), pretending great struggle and difficulty in finding your seat when in fact the real difficulty lies in keeping up with them as they make their unerring way very swiftly to their next opportunity to rest and smoke. . .Spent an hour or so thinking I must have missed my stop, and was entering Bihar—reasons for thinking this were not entirely missing but still it was a mistaken thought and somewhat odd; but couldn't bring myself to try and ask the very nice, somewhat older couple doting on their young, very spoiled, very handsome son in the compartment with me whether Varanasi was coming or past. . .decided I'd go on to Calcutta if I'd missed it, decided it would have been some mystical sign of some mystical will of which the Northern Railway foreign tourist ticket man at Lucknow had been the agent, that I should not see Varanasi, yet. . .however, once we reached Jaunpur I realized I was still on the right train. . .Missing (as in wishing for) train personnel to be more in evidence is really a wish for people who are being paid for the trouble of dealing with me to deal with, instead of the poor civilian bystanders whom I would rather wish to spare. . .although they're almost always so nice and so pleased to help it's really beyond what they should have to bear, moving someone so ill-prepared, ill-tempered and heavy over long distances without dropping and breaking her. . .The unpleasant result of not engaging with civilians, however, is that service-providers, professionals, in it for money, as much as they can get, as conveniently to themselves as they can get it, rush in—actually swarming, eg. at train stations, crowds of mosquito-like rickshaw wallahs converging—and soon become one's sole source of human contact, a situation as financially hazardous as it is pathetic. . .and irritating, and dull.

Hotel de Paris, Varanasi


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