My train is set to arrive in Agra any time now so I begin to double check all of my departure information. As I am comparing my ticket information with the updated arrivals on the marquee a man walks up to me and says “Let me see your ticket.”
Unfortunately, my recent experience with Hussein has really put me off Indian men for the moment and has made me feel defensive so I reply, “No,” but with a polite smile.
But he insists, “I help, where are you going?”
I relent because I realize, he’s trying to be nice and help the tourist get on the correct train so I oblige and respond, “I am going to Mohaba and I see that my train is coming in a few minutes, shukria.” Now you can leave me be, I am thinking to myself.
“MOHABA? Why you go to Mohaba? Nothing in Mohaba!” He is clearly shocked and wondering why the hell a white woman would be traveling to such a remote town, deep inside one of the most corrupt states of India alone. However, I am confident. I have told myself that I am a documentary photographer on a mission to capture the images and stories of the women who make up the Gulabi Gang. I am a huge believer in affirmations and this whole “I am a documentary photographer” affirmation is my latest. You, strange man, have no idea what my plans are and wouldn’t understand. However, instead of saying all that I simply tell him, “Yes, Mohaba, then I go to Banda.”
Now his face screws up uncomfortably and he cocks his head a bit and says, “Banda? Nothing in Banda. You come to Khajuraho, this is my village, very nice, very clean.”
This is just what I need, another bossy man trying to push me around India. Sigh. He continues, “How you get to Banda? What in Banda?”
“I have a hotel in Mohaba and then I take a taxi to Banda tomorrow.” I tell him as our train comes into the station and we begin to walk towards the train cars.
“What your seat? Let me see your ticket.” He demands gently. So, I show him that I have no seat assignment yet in hopes that he can help me figure that out.
“I help, give me ticket.” He takes my ticket and starts walking on to the train so I follow close behind. I would be less than happy if I lost my ticket after all the trouble it took to acquire it.
He finds the conductor who reminds me of the “Papa” I met on my train from Delhi to Agra—this makes me realize that “Papa” was probably a train conductor at one point too. He is also large in stature, friendly and everyone buzzed around him like a swarm of young bees. The conductor and the man with my ticket begin to speak in Hindi and I have no idea what they are saying other than the man who is holding my ticket is clearly concerned that I am going to Mohaba and keeps mentioning Khajuraho to the conductor. Then, the conductor gets up and walks away, carrying his gigantic book of dot-matrix printed paper in one hand and a sweaty handkerchief in the other that he continually uses to wipe his brow and neck.
The man hands me back my ticket and tells me to sit down while we wait for the conductor to return. I am strangely calm and not the least bit annoyed. This man has good energy, he makes me feel relaxed but I am still a bit edgy after bossy, Hussein. However, I feel confident that I’m on the correct train and am sticking with my plan, for now.
He finally introduces himself as “Yasen” (pronounced Yaseen) and I tell him my name is Kristin as we shake hands.
Once again, Yasen expresses concern over me going to Mohaba. He thinks this is a mistake and continues to try to persuade me to come to his village.
“Mohaba no good. Not safe, why you go there? You arrive very late, in dark, no taxi in Mohaba. You come to Khajuraho, my village, very nice, very clean. I find you good hotel, Kristal. I work at good hotel in Khajuraho 10 years.” He says.
“Thank you, Yasen, I saw that Mohaba has a hotel and I am only going there for work. I am a photographer and I am meeting with Sampat Pal of the Gulabi Gang and she lives near Banda.”
He smiles, “Gulabi Gang?! You come to Khajuraho! I take you to see Gulabi Gang.” Then, he picks up his cell phone and calls someone to tell them what I just said. I’m wondering who this guy is and what he knows about the Gulabi Gang. I am happy that he knows of them and their “take no shit” attitude towards men—at least he knows that I respect them. The more he talks about how bad Mohaba is, the more I begin to doubt my plan. For the first time, I am worried about my safety and thinking that it might not be such a great idea after all. Our train arrives in Mohaba around 3AM, this is not a good time to be alone in a strange place that a local says is “not safe.”
Yasen hangs up his cell phone and tells me, “Kristal, my sister work for NGO in Khajuraho, you come to Khajuraho, she take you to see her NGO then we take you to meet Gulabi Gang.”
Screw it, “Ok, I come to Khajuraho!” I smile and he laughs and responds, “Good! I talk to man to change ticket, you wait.”
I guess, I’m going to a town called Khajuraho (never heard of it) with a strange man whom I just met in hopes of finding a hotel and eventually meeting with Sampat Pal. Why don’t I feel more nervous about all this?