Posts Tagged ‘Transportation’

The saga of a Chicago Cubs baseball cap

June 29, 2011

24 May 2011

There is not a possession of mine with more sentimental value to me than my Chicago Cubs baseball cap.

The hat is actually the third Cubs headpiece of mine, but the first was merely a visor, and the second was lost sometime in 6th grade. So for six years this cap has marked my loyalty to Chicago’s more popular baseball team. I’ve worn it on the grass of Wrigley Field in Chicago. I’ve worn it in some of the most beautiful cities in North India. Lately, I’ve taken to wearing it daily around Nagpur, a necessary weapon against the searing sun.

The cap is facing forward on my head as I enter a rickshaw sawari se, as I’ve grown accustomed to in the last two months or so – with others. My placement in this rickshaw is more awkward than usual, and both my knees are sticking out in the open air. Without a backpack, my Hindi copy and water bottle are perched precariously on my lap, and I use my free arms to keep myself in the auto. My head is facing the stiff wind as the rickshaw accelerates, and I can feel the air tugging under the bill of my cap.

The rickshaw turns a corner, speeds up, and my cap flies backwards off my head into the road behind us.

My first thought was whether or not it was worth telling the auto-wallah to stop.

My second thought was an immediate “yes”.

I instruct the driver to stop. It takes 50 meters or so for him to understand what I’m trying to say, but he eventually comes to a halt. I pay him and walk back towards the spot where I’d lost my cap. I can catch another auto later. Right now I needed to find my cap as quickly as possible.

Just after getting out, a lady on a bicycle tries to tell me something. She doesn’t speak English – only Hindi. I understand a bit of what she’s trying to say, but her speech is too quick and frantic for me. I think she’s trying to tell me she saw someone take my cap. Whatever her message, I’m in a hurry to run back and retrieve the headgear, and I turn to go and get it. But she keeps talking. Is she trying to tell me it’s out of my hands forever? That I should just let it be taken?

I walk back, moving as quickly as possible given the traffic and the absence of functioning sidewalks. Passing through a dimly lit tunnel makes my journey back a slow one. It takes two minutes for me to arrive at the spot where I’d lost my hat, and I scan the street left and right. Am I two minutes too late?

I look at the people in the surrounding shops. No one is wearing it.

I look for a flash of royal blue and a red “C” on every surface. It’s not there.

I begin to contemplate the fact that my hat has been lost forever.

It isn’t the beauty of the cap that I would miss. Jagged white stains cake the outside, salty preservation of my perspiration. Threads are missing or sticking out awkwardly at every angle, colored much darker than they were on the day of purchase. The bill has patches of something black and grimy – perhaps oil from the many times I’d adjusted the chains of bikes in our convoy of foreigners before adjusting my hat. My name is written, underlined, and accentuated with artfully drawn initials on the bottom of the bill – the novice art skills of my 14-year-old self rendered immortal with a Sharpie.

This cap isn’t just about my support of the Chicago Cubs – Lord knows it hasn’t done anything to help them win many baseball games lately. Rather, it’s about the things I’ve done with it on. I’ve played tennis in it in Champaign, and I’ve played cricket in it in Nagpur. I’ve been to baseball stadiums in it in America, and I’ve been to cricket stadiums in it in India. Friends have worn it. Family has worn it. My cat’s worn it. Even a goat in Jaisalmer wore it once – (though the knowledge of that would make my friends reluctant to touch it for some reason). In both America and India, the best moments of my life had come with it on, or not far away.

This hat meant more to me than it meant to anyone else in the world. And that’s why losing it felt so bad.

I finish looking and walk back where I came from, beginning a secondary sweep of the area in case I’d missed it earlier. It isn’t lying in the street. No one is wearing it. It isn’t to be found anywh…wh–

What’s that?

A 20-some year old mechanic is holding my cap in his hand, the adjustable Velcro strap in the back having been tightened to its fullest. Whoever had just been wearing it undoubtedly had a small head. My heart leaps. I call after him.


He turns and looks at me, the blue-billed cap still grasped firmly in hand. I point at it and ask for my cap in simple Hindi. “Mera cap! Yeh mera. Haa, yeh mera cap hai.” My cap! It’s mine. Yes, it’s my cap.

The man seems sad to relinquish this treasured symbol of Western culture. His expression is akin to the one of the man who picked up my watch when I dropped it in the road one day. Then, too, I came back looking for it, and spotted it quickly. The man had responded with a somber “okay”, as if I was supposed to tell him to keep it. Most Indians love the idea of America, but they love America’s stuff even more. The man with my cap seems as let down by giving up the valuable as I had been just 30 seconds earlier. Reluctantly, he hands it over.

This cap has been through a lot lately. So have I. But we’re both still here – weather-worn but intact. This cap, like me, has survived another day.

Before I flagged down another auto, I fastened the cap around my head more tightly than before.

From now on, it will be staying firmly on me.



North Tour: Howrah to Nagpur: Not the end – not yet, anyway

May 30, 2011

I leave India June 8.

Since I published my last entry, I’ve done a substantial amount of writing. I have 22 blog entries in the queue, some of which have been there for some time, and many of those can be split further into several entries. Many are over 1,000 words long. Chances are I won’t publish everything here in the coming days. But I’ll put up plenty of excerpts. Rest assured, I haven’t stopped writing, and I won’t stop for a long, long time.



Saturday, 26 March

NAGPUR: Friday was supposed to be the last day of the tour.

We were supposed to have left the day before at 8 p.m. We were supposed to have arrived in Nagpur in the mid-afternoon, greeted by searing summer heat. We were supposed to be all alone that evening, sitting at home and feeling sorry for ourselves.

Indian Railways, however, doesn’t always place much importance on prompt train timings. Thus we got, though not quite a day, at least a little more time together.

Even for a tour where nearly half the wakeups were before dawn, 2:30 a.m. seemed a ridiculous time of day for a wakeup call. But you have to do what you have to do when your train leaves at 5 a.m. After stowing my suitcase beneath the seat, I made my bed as quickly as possible.

I’m pretty sure I was asleep before the train even began moving.

I was awoken again at 10:30 for breakfast. Nikolas and I, the two gobblers, ate the leftovers from the other compartments, of which there were plenty.

I was back asleep within half an hour.

Sometime around four, I decided the opening and closing of the door next to my bunk would make falling asleep for the fourth time that day impossible. Sadly, our bunks were in four compartments of three different cars, a fact most agreed to be mood-dampening. I made my way between them for a couple hours in search of good conversation, occasionally finding some, but always in a group of five or less. We were 13. Why couldn’t we all stick together on this night, of all nights?

Then it happened.

Tears were rolling down my cheeks, but they were of laughter, not sadness. My face was contorted, but from hilarity, not rage. I don’t even remember what was so funny. But we’d managed to all fit in one compartment, someone had just told a joke, and my smile was in temporary paralysis. It was like being intensely tickled; I was laughing so hard it hurt.

I never wanted this train to stop. We had just an hour until 11 of us got off. Serenity and Olivia would stay on and continue to Jalgaon and Nasik, but for everyone else, Nagpur was our last stop. I knew I still had a day until I’d say goodbye to everyone here but Anaïs, Brii and Franzi for either a month or an indefinite amount of time. But that didn’t make getting off the train any easier.

Nagpur wasn’t as hot as I’d expected. Saket-dada was waiting on his moped to drive me home. I arrived home sometime after midnight, and it was as if nothing had really changed.

But the tour wasn’t over yet. Not really, anyway.


North Tour: Darjeeling: Just an ordinary, everyday beautiful hill station

April 24, 2011

Friday, 18 March

DARJEELING: I feel like I’ve been here before.

First came Ooty. Then came Munnar. Already on this tour we’ve been to Dharamsala, Manali and Rishikesh. All high in the mountains of different parts of India. From the Ghats to the Himalayas, each hill station we’ve visited has something to offer.

Now I’m in Darjeeling, and I’m getting a strong aura of déjà vu.

The rides to each of these places have generally been the same. From foothill to peak, a long winding road takes us on a journey of at least 100 kilometers that would take about a fifth the distance could our jeeps or buses safely traverse 45 degree inclines. India’s hills and mountains are all home to spectacular panoramas, and the views from our rides up never cease to amaze. We’ve grown accustomed to rickety jeeps on gravel roads, potholes that appear to have come courtesy meteor showers, and turns so sudden, sharp and steep, the intimacy between you and your neighbors is unavoidable and inevitable.

But although today’s car ride dropped our jaws, it wasn’t because of the view. Moreover, our eyes were often closed, and our minds were typically turned off. We weren’t unimpressed by the outside view, just more deprived of sleep than spectacular things to see. The thin clouds below us blocked most of it anyway.

Darjeeling’s familiarity, however, doesn’t make it any less pleasant a hill station to visit. I’ve yet to go to one in India that I don’t like.


North Tour: Manali & Shimla: Driving through the Himalayas

April 19, 2011

Friday, 11 March

RISHIKESH: North India is a pretty big place.

Himachal Pradesh is about as far north as you can get in India, and it’s not an easy state to navigate. It’s beautiful, but like with most things in life, that beauty comes with a price.

In Himachal Pradesh, that price is its roads.

Most roads in India are of the 2-lane variety, but on the way from Manali to Rishikesh yesterday, there were never more than one and a half. Thus as we swerved through the mountains, rarely driving straight for more than a few seconds, our car slowed or stopped every couple minutes to let larger vehicles pass. Already forced to meander given the delicacy with which mountain roads are placed, it didn’t help that the roads were made of gravel and potholes which made our ride a jarring one.

Two eight-hour journeys sandwiched a 90-minute dinner break in Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh (H.P.). Something about the nighttime light and cool mountain air reminded Nikolas and I of Switzerland. It would have been nice to have more time there, but our stop was for no other reason than to satisfy our stomachs. Between two colon-jarring car rides, the brief rest was compulsory.

We slept on the bus to Rishikesh with as much legroom as we could manage. I was lucky enough to acquire two seats in the front, an arrangement that would make coach passengers on airplanes envious.

But aboard an airplane, you don’t have potholes and blinding lights jolting travelers awake at regular intervals. I think it’s safe to say air travel would be much faster, too. One 20-kilometer stretch of the H.P. roads took two hours to traverse.

Unable to do anything more than pull my Cubs hat over my eyes, I attempted to sleep.


North Tour: It begins

April 14, 2011

Monday, 28 Feb

NAGPUR TO JAIPUR: It’s 10:47 p.m., and no one on this train is awake but us.

Actually, that’s not true. In Car No. 8 of the Chennai-Jaipur Express, the lights are still on in some compartments. One man is standing idle by an outlet, charging his phone. The Indians in neighboring compartments are covered in blankets and look like they’re sleeping. But every so often someone’s covers will ruffle in a telltale sign of failed sleep. A baby is crying. Someone’s cell phone just rang. A chai-wallah is calling into the silence, his day of sales continuing through the night.

But I think we’re actually the reason everyone is still awake.

Yes, the RYE students’ 26-day tour of North India is underway, and thus far, nothing could be better (save Franzi’s ankle, which has left her on crutches). The internal chemistry – so good during the South Tour and at Christmas – has picked up right where it left off. There was no need for group introductions this time. We’ve been able to jump right into the stories of our two months apart.

Our group is smaller this time. Sebastian and Sabrina have since gone back to their home countries. Aafreen is busy with exams in Yavatmal. Dascha, Jakob and Michelle, for various reasons, are staying back in Nagpur. New to our group is Samantha, a student from the American state of Virginia being hosted in Hyderabad. Having had seven months to get used to each others’ quirks, and more tightly knit than ever, I anticipate we’ll all get along quite well.

For probably the last time this year, I enjoyed nice weather in Nagpur today. While the climates in our homes across various ponds will go from bad to better, that of Nagpur will go from better to worse. But weather is nothing to worry about. In fact, thanks to the people I’ll be spending the next month with, there’s really nothing to worry about.

Will I sleep well tonight? Probably not.

But I could care less. I’m with the right people. All is well.