So, I’m on the train with the new plan of stopping at Khajuraho, a town I’ve never hear of with a man I just met—why not? His name is Yasen, don’t remember his last name but he felt obliged to show me his official government identification–as if that meant anything to me. He is a physically small man, approximately 5’8” and probably weighs about 140lbs soaking wet. He is clean with a fresh shave, short, thinning hair and the rest seems stereotypical—dark hair, small, dark eyes and brown skin. He has a kind smile with stained teeth and although he is quite small, he does not look sickly or malnourished like many of the people I’ve seen. His maroon polo shirt and khaki pants are tidy and casual and I guess that he is from a middle cast but I don’t pretend to know squat about the cast system. I’m taking in all these details in case I need to describe him someday if all this goes awry…or if I just want to blog about it.
The conductor returned to our car approximately 30 minutes into the journey and plopped down with the massive book of passengers and seat assignments. I wonder how many trees they destroy each day creating these ridiculous manifests when one iPad per train would suffice.
Yasen explains to the conductor that I have decided to change my destination from Mohaba to Khajuraho and the conductor explains that I will have to pay him the difference in price since Khajuraho is one stop beyond Mohaba (I have to pay about $10 to make the change). Yasen translates the information and also tells me that his seat is in a non-air conditioned section of the train and that unless he pays the difference to move to this class he must leave now. He also tells me that I may choose to stay where I am or the conductor said I may move to a more private car (even nicer) since I have paid so much for my original ticket. I get it—Yasen is passive aggressive. He wants me to pay for him to be upgraded while I pay for my change fee (so we can continue to sit together) but he is unwilling to come right out and ask me. His body language speaks volumes as he shuffles around in his seat as if pretending to get up and leave (touching his bag and rifling through his papers as if to be packing things up without actually packing things up). His seat is in one of those horribly crowded cattle cars where I imagine people are strewn about with crying babies and sweaty kids trying desperately to get comfortable.
I take pity on him, after all, he has been kind to advise me and he seems polite enough but I vacillate because I am desperate to be left alone for a while, especially since he is a man and there are no other people in this car with us. Besides, his upgrade will cost me less than $5.00, which makes me sad that he must hesitate to pay this amount.
I chose to “buy” Yasen’s company and stay put, rather than sit in the “upper class” area. I saw no reason to move, this was an air-conditioned car and I had the whole bench to myself, plus my bags were already stowed and I was too tired to bother moving. Yasen was very pleased and assumed that I was not only generous but happy to have his company—honestly, I felt a bit uncomfortable but that’s what solo travel does to a girl…takes you out of your comfort zone.
Then it begins to get weird.
Yasen and I make small talk about what I am doing in India and why I am meeting with Sampat Pal (I tell him my documentary photographer story again and he seems to be amused by my obsession with the Gulabi Gang). He has clearly heard of them (and Sampat Pal) but I wonder how much he knows. Yasen’s English is quite understandable though not good. Of course it is better than my Hindi (which is pathetic as I only know how to say about 3 words) so I am grateful we can communicate at all. It was not possible for me to learn more before this trip since I was finishing my masters in fine arts, packing up my home for an overseas move and wrapping up my consulting job only days before making this trip—way too busy to learn Hindi!
Yasen was visibly giddy that I decided to come to Khajuraho and I soon learned he considered it his responsibility to host me now throughout my stay. He smiled a lot and rubbed his hands on his knees when he spoke. I remained small and tried to keep my ‘bubble’ protected the entire journey.
After about an hour of small talk and smiling, he begins to talk about how Indian men treat women. He has a very thick accent and I struggle to understand all of his words but sometimes pretending you don’t understand is easier than acknowledging what someone is really saying…
“Kristal, you know ‘ayurveda healing’?” Yasen asks (it took me a while to understand that he said ayruveda).
“Ayurveda, homeopathic healing? Yes! I know this, it is good.” I respond.
“Good. I know this,” then he goes on to explain how nature heals and how they have trees in Khajuraho that have good healing abilities if you rub the leaves together and I’m intrigued. He continues to say, “Indian people are not educated about sex and the men are finished in minutes. The women are not satisfied and it is also because they are too hot. They are too much hot, you understand?”
Wait, what? We went from homeopathy to sex? I just about choke and respond slowly, “um, yes, I think I understand.” Now please change the subject!
“The Indian man don’t eat the pussy,” Yasen says to me.
I am squirming inside now thinking, pretend you didn’t understand what he said and maybe he will never say this again. Just nod, smirk a bit and make your bubble tighter, Kristin…pretend he didn’t just say that.
“You understand, pussy?” he repeats.
I am screaming inside my head, holy shit, if he says pussy one more time I am going to throw up and then run! Why the fuck didn’t I take the upper class cabin? I would be sitting alone, happy and probably drinking a lovely cup of chai right now…fuck!
“I, um, are you talking about a woman’s part?” I ask, knowing he is NOT going to let this go now.
“Yes, pussy!” he smiles.
“I really do NOT want to talk about that.” I am so grossed out and wishing I had Sampat Pal sitting next to me with a bamboo stick to whack him with right now. Seriously, why me?