I was worried about my first overnight train journey alone, going from Mumbai to Bangalore, but when I was introduced to Tanvi, her kind, sincere face instantly calmed by nerves. She too was unused to the lone journey and I found myself bonding with her instantly. She was innocent, open and generous. I admired her warmness to everyone. Before eating anything, she would offer her food to those around. She engages in conversation with anyone and has an unreserved helpfulness for anyone who needed her. She is 23 and working as a software engineer. We talked throughout the journey, about friends, life, and love. Her love takes the form of a former colleague, a fellow software engineer four years her senior. The story saddened me and highlighted a negative aspect of modern India - the caste system. The two wished to be married but her parents are staunchly against the union. Both are Brahmans (the highest caste in Hinduism), but he is from a lower sub-caste. His parents agree - hers are yet to be convinced. She said it is only a matter of prayers now and I said I'll pray for her. I found it poignant as I said this, that though we are praying to different gods, I felt it was somehow the same.
It's the little pleasures in life that give me so much joy. I still smile at the memory of one such moment on the train. My phone needed a recharge but my charger refused to work on one of only two sockets on our carriage, by the doors of the train. Someone from my seating area was nearby, ready to charge his own phone but gave me the use of his charger instead. A man sitting by the door gave up his seat so I could sit and wait with my phone. And so in that perfect moment, as I was sitting in the doorway of the train, looking out into the beautiful rural landscape of Karnataka from a seat offered to me by a kind man, using the charger of yet another, with the cool breeze blowing over me, I felt such a wonderful contentment. Only Tanvi's presence could make it better and she joined me a moment later. We squeezed next to each other, watching the setting sun, both appreciating the simple beauty before us.
I saw workers in the fields; I spotted women carrying large bundles of goods on their heads; I noticed people heading home on a path that seems to lead to nowhere. Distances between places were vast, but people walked on nonetheless, at a pace so leisurely it seemed they were only going for a short stroll.
As darkness fell, Tanvi and I settled back in our carriage. By this point, the 5 of us that traveled together from Mumbai felt like a family to me. There's 'Dad', a business man working in oil in Mumbai that was wise and helpful. There's the seemingly self-absorbed but beautiful 'older sister', a young woman who was covered arms and legs in Mehindi who had just gotten engaged in Mumbai in a love marriage to a man she met on the train (Jab We Met will be my next Bollywood movie, mentioned by both her and Tanvi separately about two lovers who met through a train journey). He looked after her while she was ill on the journey and was calling her non stop after that. Very sweet. She came out of her shell when talking about her story and only then did I get to see her sweet vulnerability and an openness starkly contradicting the proud air I at first thought she possessed. Then there's the protective 'older brother', the man who leant me his charger and who remained quiet but kind throughout the journey. And finally the twin sisters, myself and Tanvi. Our little family. Captured in a beautiful picture that I will have in my memory for a long time to come. A particular memory remains with me - 4 of us bought idlys at a station stop (Tanvi and I in a panic as the train started moving while we just finished our purchase!) and in true family fashion, we ate our food together. The 'older sister' who did not purchase food was made by the other two to eat a spare one that was bought. So we all ate jovially as one, smiling at each other.
The Music Group of St Patrick's (Shane and Kharissa)
I arrived in Bangalore on Sunday morning. The area of the city that I walked in was filled in English-speaking people. I also saw many who seem to be from the North-East - those that look like me! The city was a lot less crowded than I had expected - maybe it was just the area I was in?
I stayed in Bangalore only for Sunday mass. I waited for mass at a Protestant church at first (silly me for not checking) then was late for the Catholic mass nearby at St. Patrick's. My whole morning was spent waiting. But it was all worth it. I ended up attending the 11am Youth mass at St. Patrick's church, where the young choir made me miss my little group in Rotherhithe. They spent 10 minutes practising before mass, at the end of which they stood together to pray. It was a beautiful image (Eugene - that's what we need to do in our group!). Their music was vibrant and… young! How else to describe it? They had speakers, a keyboard with a mixer and a guitarist. The keyboard produced beats that made me want to dance. The singers sang in beautiful harmony - their 'shu-bap-bi-do' jazzing up a hymn that I liked. I talked to them afterwards. I asked Shane about getting the bus to Mysore or Coorg. He and Kharissa started telling me about a certain Volvo bus which to me translated to expensive. I asked them what the cheapest option was to which Kharissa looked rather puzzled. These youngsters certainly weren't living in the lower income bracket. Shane interjected with a "ah… it's because she wants to experience the real India" in a tone that was a little too patronising for my liking. He failed to consider the possibility that I was just skint and wanting to save money.
Walking to the bus stop, I reflected on all the masses I've come across thus far. It was all in English. Christians I've met were well versed in the English language, something Bastien had alluded to. "Your English is very good" I had commented. "Of course… I'm a Christian". As though being a Christian immediately implies knowledge of English. It saddened me to think of Christianity, Catholicism in particular, being a rather elitist religion for the few who spoke English. That's not what it's about! It's only later that I learn that away from the big cities, Catholicism is very much for the local people and in the local language.