What personal space?

mila: I trudged along a platform, landed, waited- thinking I was in the right spot to take my train. Time in India holds a different meaning. It’s usually off, by a lot… IST must mean something it certainly does not follow any rules of the Earth’s rotation or the positioning of the Sun. After some time I had a feeling that something was off. The guard walked up to us and told us that the platform for our train had changed. Of course… In fact, we had to cross the bridge and be on the other side of the tracks within a few mere minutes. Perfect. I had a lot of luggage, heavy too. I had to climb an, what seemed to be, infinite amount of stairs… Up and down. Finally, destination reached. A while later the train arrived… I had a first-class ticket in the sleeper car but for some reason I knew it wasn’t going to be like my previous train experiences. I clambored onto the train and was stuck on the little area near the open doors… You know, the part that connects between the different cars. The part where the bathroom is, the part where all the foot traffic is. That place. It was a small closet size space to be shared by a ton of people- all pressed up against each other, hot, sweaty, smelling, with luggage as surroundings. I managed to stick myself in a corner in between various pieces of baggage and used my own rolling bag as stool for what was supposed to be a three hour but really five hour, train ride along the southern coast of India. If I thought my previous rides were adventurous then I was gravely mistaken. A pack of friends, male, joined my personal space… My friend stood right in front of my lap, his dad next to him- protecting his luggage and his brother next to him- keeping guard next to the doorway that led to the seats. Then there was a mish-mosh of strangers that all snuggled in, their breath evident on our faces. I stuck my earbuds in, turned on my iPod and let the music set the soundtrack to my windy journey… Soon, I was in a tropical land… Coconut trees lined the dusty orange roads leading the way to an expanse of beach… The waters, turquoise, the sand, a seamless mixture of beige and black iron. Stomachs growling, we wandered to what seemed to be a popular seafood spot. A palm frond-thatched hut fit snugly into the beachside, littered with colorful plastic chairs. A song in some unrecognizable yet failiar language sung pitchedly. A drunken waiter mosely danced his way through the pebbled sand fitted tables and bent over telling me, “This is my favorite kind of music.” and then leaned into my friend next to me, embracing him affectionately as if he’d known him for years. Almost an hour later, grilled fish, caught fresh just a couple hours earlier, arrived to satiate our hungry appetites. I had the pleasure of diving into a red snapper, doused in coconut masala curry… Heavenly. My counterparts tore apart Kerala-special prawns and calamari. Happily… Food drunk, I walked along the surf and settled upon a spot… I lay on an incline, dampened sand packed perfectly for my back’s recline. I took off my tank top, covered my eyes, the gauzey gray creating a smoky quartz glow from the filtering golden sun. The waves crashed quietly, peacefully, the laughter of friends wafting in with each tide. Afterwards, we poked our way through several shops that lined the sand cliffed road that cut through Verkala beach. Every salesmen had some pitch line, something to sell, something so special to show us. We listened, we sat, we watched… Hundred year old silver jewelry pieces were presented, Kashmir pashminas were waved and pushed in our hands to show the lovely material made from a goat’s beard… Uninterested, I left to traipse down the street, and found refuge in the water of a fresh coconut, sliced open with a machete by a sareed woman who handled the blade quite swiftly with grace. When you are done with your drink you hand it back over, where they slice off a “scraper” from the bottom of the fruit and then chop it open where then they proceed to scrape off the “malai” which is the meat of the coconut. It has come to be one of my favorite things here in India and I snap up the opportunity everytime I see a little coconut-selling hut on the corner. Later, we returned to the Taj hotel at which we were staying at… Sitting on the deck outside of our room, the sun was setting… A large flying creature swooped through the sky in front of me into a tree. I squinted, my head to the side, I wondered what kind of bird it could be. Another silhouetted animal followed, then another, expanding their wings across the sapphire sky. The wings were hinged in three places… Bats. The biggest ones I have ever seen in my life… And if you know me and a little bit of my Woodstock background then you’d know I have a little history with bats… These midnight creatures flying to and fro from tree to tree could easily have been mistaken for Batman. The North Star appeared in the sky, a sign that it was dinner time. We were to return to the same luncheon restaurant… The electricity had gone out in the neighborhood, creating a widespread blackout but no panic. The tables at the restaurant glowed with various glass lanterns. Waiting for our food to arrive. The latern suddenly burst, sending flints of burning glass onto my legs. I was on fire. Okay, not really. But it hurt and I knew I was being burned. I sort of yelped, alerting the waiters who hurriedly came to my side- opening their cellphones to be used as lights onto my upper thighs… They asked, “Hospital? Doctor?” I shooed them away and laughed, waved my hands about in a “it’s not a big deal” gesture… The food was sure to make up for such an injury. The softest, most buttery naan, flaky tuna, crimson tandoori chicken, eight inch prawns and coconut rice settled perfectly into our tummies. Enough to put anyone to sleep. The next day, traveling in a shiny white Fiat, our driver with his excellent English drove us up a windy dirt road… He made an impromptu stop at a banana stand and threw a gaggle of yellow fruit into the backseat. We pulled into a lot that housed four elephants: a mommy, a daddy, a baby and an estranged fellow who was parked far off in the distance from the others. The dad was at work, providing, maybe, most likely, unwillingly, trips to tourists. The mother tended after the baby- they both were chained up by the leg and chomping away at leaves. I had the pleasure of encountering a complete nutcase at his best… A Spaniard, who resembled Krusty (of clown infamy via The Simpsons) was lovingly taunting the baby elephant. He reminded me of a brainless Dr. Doolittle, trying to be at one with nature’s beasts. For some reason he thought he was Mr. Animal Planet and the Dog Whisperer all rolled into one, clicking his tongue, smooching his lips, putting out his palm to get a lick from the baby heavyweight. I was on edge, just waiting, that hopefully, just maybe, the elephant would lose his mind and trample him. But to wish such thoughts is wrong (but fun) and I just sat there watching him, whilst the compound owner kept pleading with the guy to back off, to which Zorro refused and kept at it anyway. This became annoyingly amusing and I began calling him funny names in Hindi so that the workers and my driver could laugh with me and nod in agreeance… After some time, the elephant would swing his little trunk all about and eventually gave the guy a good thwack in the face but it didn’t phase him at all. At this point it was time for me to take, what would be my second ride on an elephant since being in India… Mounting the elephant this time around was a lot more difficult cause there was literally no seat to be sat on… It was like riding a horse, bare-back, except that it was an elephant. I grasped his prickly little neck hairs for dear life and we sauntered along the dirt roads… The master leader guiding the way, shouting snippets to the elephant in an unrecognizable dialect every now and then and hitting his bamboo stick on the ground in front of the elephant’s path. Before I knew it, my hand was in the elephant’s mouth and I was swallowed alive. This is untrue. I can’t help but lie, it makes for a good story… When we returned from the ride, we had the exclusivity to feed the elephant the banana treats purchased earlier in the day. This was fantastic, slimy, a little slippery but so fun. He was such a good little guy, he held his trunk up, opened his mouth wide and waited patiently to be fed. Stomach full, he was led to his bathing area… I was given the opportunity to shoot a hose of blasting water into his trunk so that he could spout it behind him and shower himself. What fun. The crazy Spanish man was still lingering around and insisted on helping the daddy elephant eat his food… Cause apparently the foreigner didn’t think the elephant was strong enough to break an entire tree on his own… This last scene was a laugh. After a few hours, I would set sail on a speedboat through the backwaters of India… Lovely, calm… No one was out there but us… The teal waters swooshed as the boat cut through the waters in an unrushed hurry. Amazing eagles soared above, eyeing the waters below for their next meal… There were huts scattered along the banks, where cows served as lawn gnomes, children watching their parents fishing for something, fish perhaps? It was brought to my attention that a group of jellyfish were swimming alongside us. I scruntized the waters until I finally saw one of the mysterious and translucent creatures… I sat back, amazed that in such a short period of time I had the pleasure of witnessing a wide array of animals. These moments are always bittersweet when you know they are coming to an end… After a few short hours, I was in an aiport, dining by myself (thanks Ashley) in the restaurant, chomping away on the best French fries ever. Then on a plane… Heading to Bangalore…

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