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Tripping: India

Fluorescents reflecting on the inside of the train windows make it impossible to see out as we pull into the New Delhi station around 10 pm, back from a day-trip to the Taj Mahal. So we have no clue. We file slowly out of the air-conditioned first-class car into the sticky, 100-degree heat and onto a dusty concrete platform that is nothing less than carpeted in humanity: sleeping, sitting, eating, talking, standing, lounging, smoking, cradling, shuffling, cuddling, walking and, frequently, maneuvering a large bundle of belongings, in sandals and saris and ballooning shorts, open shirts and khakis, over every square centimeter. We edge, mostly sideways, through this density toward the pedestrian overpass that will deposit us on the opposite platform that leads outside the station. We hold hands, like we never do anymore, tightly, but functionally. We’ve read about stampedes in those undifferentiated foreign places that seem exotic to gringos. We don’t talk about it. But we’re all pretty sure that one spark and people would die. And maybe some of those people would be us.

The stairs are impassable. But somehow as you lift your foot to the first step you find a toehold that you didn’t see a moment before or that wasn’t there. Like some gelatin river, the crowd haltingly, imperceptibly flows around you, even when the crowd is not moving, and you flow around the crowd. You make it to the overpass and glance back down the stairs to see who you’ve lost, maybe forever. Where’s your friend from Australia? Where’s the Indian account executive who’s been assigned as your guide? No time to do anything about it. You have to hold that hand and keep flowing.

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