Rush hour on Highway 76
Sometimes it’s good to be lucky.
By the time you receive this, I will be on a train back to Hyderabad. I have just wound up four days of field visits in rural India to capture the stories of farmers. Of course, I had to take a train to get to the villages so that’s where the story begins today.
Last Sunday evening, I was driven to the train station via the airport. There was a man from Germany, Carson who was returning home after a visit to our offices. He has been in the humanitarian aid business most of his life and has travelled and worked extensively in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. He does financial audits to ensure that foreign aid is being delivered efficiently. He has concluded that most foreign aid does not reach its intended target group a great deal of the time.
We decided to go into the airport as rumour had it that their ATM’s were actually dispensing cash. False. Nobody was able to get cash from a bank or ATM all weekend long. I can just imagine getting of a flight after travelling for 30 hours ( like I did ) and not being able to get the currency that I needed to get ground transportation in to the city. The demonetization crisis continues, folks.
We left the airport and headed to the train station. I have seen lots of traffic in my day but this was the worst by a factor of 10. It took us two hours to go 9 kilometers. And when my driver turned off the air conditioning to open the windows ( I think his son , who was travelling with us, was ill ), I thought I would gag on exhaust fumes. And the noise. The vehicles, motorcycles and auto rickshaws were jammed together like sardines. At one major intersection, ( 6 streets converging ), my driver simply turned the car off. I’m rarely claustrophobic but this was pretty intense.
The train stations in India are busy… Heathrow or O’Hare airport busy. Even though this was my third train trip, I was infinitely grateful that Govind ( my driver and caretaker of the building where I work and live )escorted me through the maze of people, helped me find the correct car ( there are 60 or so ) and even showed me to my seat. What a saint. After the exasperation of the previous two hours, I was so relieved to plunk my arse down. Small problem. I was told by someone that I was in the wrong seat. I only had to move one seat away. No big deal. Once again. “ Sir, you are in the wrong seat.” I had this vision of standing up for the next 11 hours. The porter came by and beckoned. He waltzed me down the aisle to the only private, first class car of the 60. I ended up in a large, air conditioned room with three of the nicest people you could possibly meet. And my bed was made for me before we turned out the lights. I could have cried I was so overjoyed.
I can’t and won’t bore you with the details of the field visits but it was an awesome experience. You can find the most wonderful people in the poorest of places. I had an amazing conversation with a group of landless women farmers. They greeted me with flowers and served me tea and cookies. After the meeting, I went to the home of the group leader to do a one on one interview with her for a Faces in the Crowd piece. Alert: there is no such thing as privacy. I swear the entire village followed me like the Pied Piper. They crowded in to her living room and those who couldn’t fit in, stayed outside. Every question that I posed through a translator, was answered by anyone in the room. Remember… “ it takes a village.”!
One last thing. I almost made a huge Freudian slip. When I boarded the train last Sunday, someone asked me where I was going. The name of the town is called Puttaparti. I almost answered Porta Potty!
Oh yes. There is an amazing temple in Puttaparti. I went to attend one of its twice daily ceremonies of worship. No cameras aloud. The place holds…. 20,000 people. My guess is that there were only 6-7,000 that evening. Hard to describe. Glad I had a chance to go.
Have a great week.