This past weekend, I had to go back to Santiniketan to figure out my housing situation and meet with my advisor. My time here in Kolkata is coming to a close! I’m officially ending my Bangla classes in 10 days after which I will head off to Hyderabad to see my grandparents for a bit and then spend some time traveling before officially beginning my research.
Anyway, I decided to take the train up to Santiniketan for the weekend–on the journey there, I reserved a seat and had a hassle-free journey, arriving in just about 2 hours. On the way back however, I couldn’t manage a reservation. I decided to travel in the general compartment to get the “authentic” Indian experience. (Authenticity is something I think about often in India–after all, there are plenty of Indians who only travel in AC cars and their experiences too are “authentically Indian”) Anyway, my general compartment experience was definitely one I’ll remember. Upon deciding to have lunch with a friend, I decided to take a later train than planned–while waiting to buy tickets for said train, it left the station and I had to wait over an hour for yet another train. The train I finally ended up taking happened to be a local train which meant that there were over a dozen stops and the entire journey took over 4 hours! I had to stand for over 2 of those hours and by the time I got to Kolkata, I was exhausted.
That being said, the general compartment is a lively place. I met a group of girls–all PhD students in agriculture–and we talked for quite some time and even exchanged phone numbers to meet up later this year back in Santiniketan. At each station, different hawkers boarded and the snack selection really was top-notch. And really, I was touched by how much people looked out for each other! Upon sensing my exhaustion, some kind women spoke with some others in the compartment and managed to arrange for me to have a sliver of a seat. Meanwhile, on the way to Santiniketan, my compartment was completely silent–everyone just read their newspapers and napped.
Otherwise, my trip was quite successful. I met up with my advisor, saw a few friends from my earlier visit in late August, and enjoyed the fresh air and soft breeze away from the bustling city. I really am looking forward to a bucolic life where I can cycle everywhere, live in a university town (my favorite size/type of city), and concentrate on my research and on my creative endeavors as well.
In general though, I was most glad that the trip helped me feel confident in my ability to navigate the Indian train system! Trains here are heavily subsidized (I paid less than 400 rupees-or $6-for my roundtrip) and really are a wonderful way to travel around the country. Now that I will be on my schedule, I expect to travel a bit on my own and know that trains too are a viable option for transport. I also was pleased at my ability to communicate in Bangla. On the train (and especially in Santiniketan), I managed most interactions in Bangla and really was pleasantly surprised at how far I have come from that first harrowing week I spent in Bengal.
On a rather amusing note however–I was speaking (in Bangla) to a co-passenger. After a few minutes he asked me, “So, where in South India are you from?” I was a bit shocked that he knew my origins (everyone can tell just from features!) but told him that indeed, my family was from Hyderabad.