Cairns – Shards – Pieces

Going down to Bangalore, the wild ride filled with shenanigans and welcomed surprises ­that accompanied it,
allowed me to work and achieve much of why I came to India in the first place.

A big thanks to everyone I met and who helped me,
who supported me
and who followed me
on my vision.

Thank you …

Thank you …

Thank you …

you know who you are … and I look forward to seeing you again.

Here is a brief look at what I did in South India:

Samuel Nigro, India, Sculpture India south – Cairn II India south – Cairn III

Project I – Cairns

I came to India to find quarries that would allow me to work with upwards to 50-ton blocks of granite – done.

I made a series of Cairns out of 10-30 ton blocks of various types of granites. In total, I visited 4 quarries and moved about 120 tons of granite. The three Cairns above are each about 15 feet high and are just a sampler; and there’s more. I have two additional companies who are willing to work with me, and 10 MORE quarries to visit; I just didn’t have the time this trip. Would love to make 10 more Cairns.

These Cairns will go through another process
of transformation to relocate them.

To make this possible, I am looking for suitable locations
and people interested in furthering
this field of sculpture.

India south – shard iii a India south – shard iii bSamuel Nigro, India, SculptureSamuel Nigro, India, Sculpture

Project II – Shards

I took the discards – the unwanted, the dismissed and disowned – and gave another look.

I focused on a few shards of stone – castaways, really – and ended up developing seven.
The two shown above can fit in the palm of your hand.

These seven deserve additional attention through drawing, video and performance.

I now need the time and space to take these seven
through new stages of development
that will run a gossamer thread

through a series of triads, cycles and opposites … and … um … a bunch of other stuff I’m curious about …

Samuel Nigro, India, Sculpture India south – pieces 2 India south – pieces 3

Project III – Pieces

In addition to finding quarries where I could work with large blocks of granite, I needed to find people who understand the delicacy and finesse and care this material requires; and I found them … and spent much time with one man in particular … He knows …

Granite – light and liquid.

This is only a sneak peak of the sculpture I made at his place. It’s about 26 inches high, consists of 5 pieces, about 300 pounds
and representative of a wealth of connection and transition.

As we were finishing up with Project II and III at his place, I decided to describe my Project IV to him to see if it was possible at a later date, to see if he and his studio could handle it; and, of course, he could (he’s making a 20 foot high Shiva sculpture, way out in the countryside – he drove me out there – with seven jumbo cobras, each of which seems like it could swallow my whole head. The block of granite must have been 60 tons when he started 3 years ago). But, he then beckoned me to a hidden section of his field, which houses scores and scores of blocks from the size of a shoebox to the scale of a Range Rover.

At this point with my process, I see these sorts of stones, and I know immediately what to do with them. I could still be down there working. This man hardly speaks English, but we worked together long enough to have our own kind of communication. In his Indian-English pidgin, open brachial gestures, and, most importantly, a gaze in his eyes that connected with my own, he made it know to me: “Use whatever you want. It’s all available to you.”

Wow. I, now, look for the means to go back there, and soon … more to come.

 

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Bangalore – Granite conference and aftermath

Samuel Nigro, Bangalore, IndiaSamuel Nigro, Bangalore, IndiaSamuel Nigro, Bangalore, IndiaSamuel Nigro, Bangalore, India

found stone … as planned …

more soon …

 

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Monkeys … Trains … and The Secret of High Energy – part IV

Samuel Nigro, Bangalore, India

7 am, Wednesday – the 34th hour

I wake up on Day Two of my train journey to Bangalore, my first Indian train ride, which is scheduled to be a 39 hour journey. The train is way late, but I don’t seem to care. I’m on the train and that’s all that matters. I slept well for a second night in a row. I get out of my bunk before Ved and Raj pull their tan, train-provided blankets off their heads …

“chai chai chai chai … CHAI … coffee coffee coffee CHAI …”

Yeah, I can’t sleep through that. Anyway, I brush my teeth and clean up … er … the best … well, minimally … and proceed with my culinary plan.

See: from the beginning, I knew that Day One would be the day of the bananas and Day Two would be filled with orange delight. I ate the number of tennis ball-sized oranges that I imagine Andre Agassi would use to warm up on his day off – a sensible and respectable breakfast as I remember the negotiations I went through to get them. It was starting to be a good day and the rush to get to the Train two nights before has already started to fade. I am well on my way toward a new phase of my India Project, and the only thing for me to do was to continue reading Fantastic Voyage, by Issac Asimov.

1 pm, Wednesday – the 40th hour

Fantastic Voyage is the story of five people getting shrunk down to microscopic level to enter a patient’s body to perform life saving surgery as the geopolitical balance of power hangs over a precipice, and – you guessed it – that balance hinges on the technology of miniaturization, itself, and which side can make it permanent and de-miniaturize at will, which, as of now, our side can’t but their side … well … just maybe. See: miniaturization, according to the story, has a limit of smallness (which the crew is at), but will wear off in an hour; so, they not only have to complete the surgery, or the patient dies, but also get out of the patient’s body before they grow back to normal size, or, again, the patient dies. And, have you guessed it, yet? The patient they are trying to save is a scientist from their side who holds the secret to controlled de-miniaturization, but he is unconscious with a blood clot in the brain and can’t reveal his scientific knowledge! This is pure excitement. Of course, you can understand that if one side has the power to de-miniaturize at will, they have a distinct advantage, like they could fit an army of a million men and their equipment and provisions into a snuff box and … well … transport them anywhere undetected, and you can take the implications from there … like de-miniaturizing them in the middle of enemy territory etc … it is an arms race … with the threat of the worst parts of the bible coming true … Anyway …

Because of problems right when they entered the body, the eclectic group of miniaturized explorers cum surgeons were running out of air – miniaturized air, that is! (They obviously can’t breath air that you and I breath, duh. That’s why they miniaturized a submarine, along with its oxygen tanks, for them to travel in) – and had to make an emergency stop in a capillary right by a lung. The plan was to exit the submarine, cut into the lung and push in a tube that would then suck in air as they miniaturized it. This would give them the necessary oxygen so they could travel to the head and cut away the blood clot in the brain and save the scientist so our side could then get the secrets of controlled miniaturization and balance our technological deficit.

But, wait, there’s even more excitement: You may be wondering that if they are already miniaturized then how are they going to get full-sized air molecules and make them small enough for them to breath? The answer: they had a miniaturizer ray-gun miniaturized with them! This is awesome!

A discursive thought: One of the caveats to this story is that the miniaturization can only go so far with the shrinking, and the group of 5 is already at that limit, but since they miniaturized a miniaturizer, what would stop them from miniaturizing themselves … again! Then, they could miniaturize another miniaturizer and take themselves down even smaller! In fact, what would prevent them from shrinking more and more of these ray-guns and send them and themselves down the line into smaller and smaller realms, creating an infinite regress of smallness! (Remember: I  < 3  infinity!) What would happen then? Would you just go smaller and smaller where an Hydrogen Atom became the size of the Sun, the size of the known Universe?!?! Issac Asimov dismisses this point by saying you just can’t, which helped him shorten the book I’m sure and stay to the point, because it has nothing to do with saving the scientist, waking him up from a coma and find out his secrets, but it is something I immediately thought of. Why?

because it’s fun …

… and this blog is about curiosity and so I share it with you, as promised. So, forgetting for a moment that miniaturization is not possible and Issac dismisses this point, what would stop them? If you thought: “Well, Planck’s constant would stop them.” Yes. That’s my answer, too!

However, neither this geopolitical tension, nor the implied infinite regress of smallness is why this story is such an appropriate, fortunate and albeit random choice for me. I found Asimov’s descriptions of what the universe would look like at the microscopic scale fascinating – capillary walls yards thick (relative to the shrunken person, that is), surface tension of water that will hardly budge, boulder-sized debris in the lungs, a slowing of time and a vibrating, graininess of the new, enlarged universe because you begin to make out the wave patterns of moving electrons and the particle properties of atoms, all of which looks hazy due to their mercurial nature and the relative largeness of the light you are using to see. Wow, and that’s more fun than any infinite regress or political brinksmanship, and I don’t mind saying that this may be a relevant pointer for me and for where I go next and what I do … but I digress.

One thought I had to come to India was to push the idea of breaking stone to the very big and the super small. Of course, I won’t be able to push it to the astronomical and microscopic – that would be something else – but I love thinking about it; and, besides, the quantum world versus the cosmic world is a boundary, a horizon line, of knowledge of our current scientific thinking and where many of the relevant questions are. How it plays out in my field of sculpture? I don’t know. It may not … I don’t have to worry about it now, because now I just play.

7 pm, Wednesday – the 46th hour

We stop at Chennai, a major East Coast Southern City.
In 6 to 7 hours, heading due west, the train
should make its final stop ­– Bangalore
and where I need to be.

Ved goes: “Come on let’s get some coffee …”

I guess we will be at this station for a while, so I follow.
We exit and it feels so good to get outside.
It is dusk and much warmer and stickier
and you can taste and feel the ocean
with each breath.

We walk a long, long way down the track. Nothing seems to be open, but people are everywhere.
We head towards the main station, and it is the first time
I notice how incredibly long the train is.
We turn off our platform and towards the station.

“Hey, Ved, we are walking far from the train … uh … how will we know if it leaves?”

“Don’t worry we have time.”

We are on the edge of the main station and there is a kiosk of sorts… and the only word that comes to mind is “madness.”

I mean: so many people ordering food and drink and paying and moving to different areas to pay, order, get food,
parry left, baulk right … pushing, jockeying, positioning. I don’t know what I’m looking at and if I was alone,
I probably wouldn’t bother. I am amazed how Ved picks his opening and hardly waits to order.
The guys in the kiosk, serving, are working it. They are busy: slinging chai, rice, dosas, chips.
It’s a rush of madness
and somehow it flows,
it all works.

Ved orders, he pays, and

“Wait!? My turn …”

“No, No … I got it.”

I appreciate the gesture and put away my wallet and we move to another location to get the drinks.
I think: “Yeah, I would have had no idea to move to this location to get our order …”
Once again, it tastes great to get a hot drink.

We get back on the train and eat dinner.
With the help of Ved and Raj, we finish off my oranges.
They have a dinner they buy from the train.
I have pistachios and honey.

9 pm, Wednesday – the 48th hour

The train is moving and Bangalore is the last stop; so, there is nothing to do, but to sleep as much as we can.
I finished my Asimov book and switch off my reading light.
Sleep.

2 am, Thursday – the 53rd hour

Lights on and a sudden influx of Hindi I don’t understand. Finally, we arrive!
Speeding towards the conclusion: We exit the station,
and Ved points me toward the taxi stand.
We say our good-byes …
We wish each other well.

I have my list of Bangalore Hotels in my hand and now I need to find a taxi to take me to one of them.

3 am, Thursday – the 54th hour

Finally, I lay my head down on a hotel room pillow….

You may be wondering why it took me an hour from train station to hotel room pillow, especially when I tell you that the Hotel I checked into was blocks away from the train station. Well, I’ll save the full story for the book, but it includes taxi shenanigans, language barriers and the inability of a taxi driver to a read map, but his ability to ask for directions and the allusive Indian way of giving and getting directions – it’s a mystery to me and maybe more later – and … this part I’ll tell.

I finally get to the hotel. The lobby is deserted and only once the receptionist wakes up can I go through the ritual of checking in.

I think: “I just want to take a shower and lie down …”

I get into my room, sit on the bed, and breathe a sigh of relief that I actually made it, that I am now firmly on the path of finding Indian Granite to work with.

As I kick off my shoes and go to unzip my bag, a clear and unmistakable sound breaks the otherwise silent and sleeping city:

The bells, whistles, drums and all the wind instruments you can think of, erupt like a college marching band at an All-American Football game … I am on a high floor and it sounds like they are in my room! I listen amazed for a few minutes and even make some movements as if I am just going to move on and ignore it, and it goes on and on and on … then … out loud:

“Yeah, I can’t deal with this …”

You don’t have to …

I call the front desk.

“Yes, hello. I just checked in … and well … what’s the marching band doing practicing at 3 in the morning?!?”

“Oh that’s from the temple from across the street … “

“I’m guessing this happens every night …”

“Oh, yes, Sir. It does…”

“and probably more times through out the day …”

“yes”

“and through out the night, again …”

He hesitates: “Uh … yes”

“Look. I just need to sleep. I’ve just traveled …”

He cuts me off: “Of course, of course. I’ll move you to the back of the hotel right away.”

“Thank you”

It is this second room that I finally lie down to get some sleep for a few hours,
before I venture off on another journey to find the Stone Conference,
which is the whole reason I came to Bangalore
in the first place.

More later …

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Monkeys on a Train … or … The Secret of High Energy – part III

Samuel Nigro, India

7 am, Tuesday – the 10th hour

I wake up and light is shining through the compartment window below me. The man in the top bunk across from me is gone and the bed below me is made with sheet, pillow and blanket. Clearly, slept in. I guess I was dead asleep and there was significant movement in my cabin throughout the night or early morning. I breathe, because this is truly an adventure. First train trip in India, all my stuff just thrown into my luggage, I’m totally disorganized. I have six bottles of water, a water purification system, 5 hands of bananas, a sack of oranges and at least two pounds of nuts and dried fruits – mostly of the pistachio variety – for my nutrients for two days.

After I bought my train ticket to Bangalore at Assi Ghat yesterday, I did find time to run into a bookstore to grab a book of fiction. This was going to be a long trip and I wanted something fun to read. I had been eyeing works by Isaac Asimov for a few years and decided to just go for it. I wanted to find The Relativity of Wrong, but they didn’t have it. I was rushed because I had to get back to the residency to pack, so I took a chance with Fantastic Voyage. A story about 5 people who are shrunk down to microscopic size to enter the body of a man to perform a life-saving surgery: “At stake … the fate of the entire world.” as the blurb on the back explained. I was sold, and it wasn’t until this morning that I recognized the symmetry. I am nervous beyond the visible world about what is happening and what I am doing, engaging with my unknown: a stone conference, which only happens once every two years, is happening right now and I almost didn’t find out about it. I dropped all my plans and activities that I had been working on for two months, somehow got a Train ticket in a system, the Indian Railway Transportation system, that is notoriously overbooked and overcrowded; and, I’m in the middle of the Indian countryside on a stationary train. We’ll see how fantastic this turns out to be.

A few minutes after waking, I spiderman down from my bunk and the guy in the bottom left is still wrapped tightly, head covered, in his tan blanket, the guy in the top left is still gone and the newcomer below me is siting up by the window. We nod a hello, more like a simple acknowledgement of other: it takes a few beats to exchange names, hellos, keeping emotional distance which I bet there is some evolutionary theory about how this plays out for strangers in close quarters – longer than in an elevator, let’s say – that has to do with slowly revealing your self to someone because you have to develop trust but your not sure who the other is and there are conscious actions and unconscious clues to read/communicate along the friend-enemy continuum etc…

 Don’t worry about it: you’ll research it later…

Right. I unlock my bags and I have to rummage through them to find a toothbrush (“ugh – it’s in the suitcase. Should have put it in my easy carry on bag”) and …
I step in something wet … great!? … and socks,
I’ll need to find new socks.

The train is stopped in a field, and there is no sound of metal wheels churning over metal rails to mask our voices; so, we both speak in dulcet, quiet tones because people are still sleeping around us including our third neighbor – and probably because we are both being overly cordial due to close quarters and the intimacy of the space and we don’t know each other and – in a reptilian-brain fashion – we are sizing each other up. My monkey-brain makes a quick assessment that we both want cooperation and these beginning steps are all good. My new companion:

“Don’t worry about what you stepped in. It’s just chai that dripped from the container, when it was poured into a cup.”

“Ok. Thanks …”

See: Early this morning I was introduced to the Porters, who go through the cars selling chai and coffee with a chant like: “Chaaa-EYE! chi-chi-chi ch- AY -EYE! coffee CHAI!” over and over again, and later – I might as well mention now – it will be soup and snacks and dosas and masala and some other stuff … always with a chant of some sort to get peoples attentions … “dooo … SA!” “dooooo … SA!!” and ““masala, masala, masala … MA…SA…LAAAA!!”  … kinda like at an American Baseball game: “BEER, HERE!” “PeaNUTS … Peeee – NUTS … POP-corn!”

I indicate in supplicating fashion that I have to place my luggage on his bed/bench.

“yes. please. not a problem.”

“my bags are a mess. I packed in a rush. I don’t know where anything is”

“Hmm.”

I find my toothbrush, pull out some socks, toss my bag of fruit and bushels of nuts onto my top bunk,
and quickly close my luggage and slide it back under
the bunk, lock, and wipe off the dust it left behind.
I hesitate and remain standing.

My companion extends his arm with an open hand to share his bench with him and quietly says:

“sit. yes”

“uhm…”

I think: you know what?! What’s the fussing around? Take stock in where your at. Socks be damned …

I lurch up to my top bunk in an ungraceful and embarrassingly un-spiderman fashion and grab my i-phone that was placed in this mesh pocket screwed in to the wall (a detail every sleeper location has, I soon notice) the night before.

I, then, sit at the edge of the bed and I point my i-phone camera toward the window and snap a picture. The phone makes the ersatz sound of a shutter opening and closing, which is disruptive compared to the silence of sleeping people and motionless train. I look at my companion and smirk like a Curious George that just got caught knocking over the cookie jar. After a short pause, I say:

“It’s my first train trip in India, and thus my first view out of an Indian Train…”

“Huh, really … hmm…”

We exchange names and a few noncommittal, unmemorable but grammatically sound sentences.
I remember Universal Truism Number 2-a-71828:
“Brushing your teeth is not optional.”

I excuse myself to do so.

[This is where I have to explain something. I’m not going to go into my stuffy nose and sinus problems, in great detail. I bet you’re probably glad about that. Yes, the dust from the taxi ride to the train station got me and I was snorting and rationing my dwindling supply of nasal spray the whole trip and I’m going to forgo a lot of other details about the other passengers etc … maybe these things will be in there when the book comes out… ha … and just a warning: this story, this train trip, may be longer than 3 posts … I mean after all: this is a long ride. I’m only at …]

8 am, Tuesday – the 11th hour

I come back to my compartment, and my companion, Ved, is still in his same position. The other compartment fellow still has his blanket pulled up over his head. I sit back down where I was before, and I recall Universal Truism Number 3-c-14159:
Breakfast is tasty and good for you, too!
So, that’s the next right thing:

I peel a banana:

banana …

banana …

eating banana …

Curious George, samuel nigro

What to do with the peel? I don’t want to just throw it on the floor, we are going to be in this compartment for a while; and, I think putting it on the bed/bench is, well, presumptuous and rude; and, I need to find a place for it because I’m about to eat another. Breakfast momentum has begun. I fold the peel so only the outside is showing and I … well … place it on my knee.

banana …

banana …

eating banana …

Oh, tasty. Place peel on knee.

banana …

banana …

eating banana …

I’m in a rhythm now. Place peel on knee.

banana …

banana …

eating “Huh?” …

Ved:

“you are going to soil your pants.”

He’s right, but a little more uptight than I am.

“Yeah, well … I don’t know where to put them … and …”

“Just put it on the floor.”

“But, we are going to be walking around here for a while … and …”

He grabs the brown paper wrapping that the sheets came in that was lying on the floor. It really is a bag, and he hands it to me.

“Here, use this.”

“Aw … great … pants saved. Knee freed.”

I smile.

He chuckles.

9:30 am, Tuesday – the 12th hour plus 30 minutes

The train is moving now. I begin Fantastic Voyage, and eventually move up to my top bunk and lie there and read.
Everybody in the car seems to be up. “ch- AY -EYE! coffee coffee coffee coffee CHA-EYEeee!”

11 am, Tuesday – the 14th hour

I need to speed this up. It is now mid morning of the first day. My compartment mates are brothers: Ved, 23; and Raj, approx. 18 or 19. They are nice, cordial, well-mannered and, although there is a language barrier, (and here is a little preview) we are able to have detailed conversations about various subjects … um … mainly with Ved, the older one. Some of them a bit heavy, but mostly they are about America and India and our experiences of each. Most of the time we go about our personal business and we respect each other’s personal space … uh … according to our cultural norms. Even though I have a hard time concentrating because I have a headache from lack of caffeine, my sinuses are congested and not to mention because of the weight of this art project I am embarking on – I read most of the time and switch positions frequently. This is the best time to add that, like the first bridge I crossed in Old Delhi, I could write a whole book about this first train trip. I’ve written about 10,000 sloppy words about it already, and I am only giving you a few highlights. Hopefully this is coherent and isn’t too rough.

I descend from my bunk. Ved is to the left of the window, Raj to the right. I sit on Ved’s side at the other end of the bench. Light conversation: why am I going to Bangalore, my last minute trip, why I am in India, what they do … etc … Couple hours later, I eat a few more bananas, finish off my American walnuts and have some bread and honey. Raj and Ved had a homemade Indian meal they brought with them.

3 pm, Tuesday – the 18th hour

I’m in my loft. Raj is laying down on the right bottom platform, below me. Ved was gone and, so, I get down once again, and I sit with my book where he was sitting, up close to the window because I’d like to see some of the countryside.

Ved comes back and I make as if to move.

“No, no … you stay. I have seen India. If I was on a train in America for the first time, I would like to sit by the window, too.”

And, he sits down next to me … no, more accurately … right on top of me. I mean, full body touching full body. I find this funny only because I’ve experienced this Indian closeness before and in this context, I am not annoyed, just momentarily nonplused.

It comes down to proxemics … pure proxemics … the cultural differences of proxemics. Indians can and do tolerate a much smaller private, personal space and so will often get much closer than I, as an American, who has a much larger sense of personal space, is comfortable with. Again, it’s contextual and you have to read the situation. There have been times when a man is standing right on top of me and I need to physically push him away, like when I was buying food for this trip. Still – I need to add – trying to stay in the mode of perceiving, rather judging and comparing.

The hilarity here is that I am sitting on a 6-foot platform/bed, plenty of space, right next to the cabin wall, leaning into the window with my book in my lap and Ved sits right next to me – legs, hips, shoulders, arms all touching. I am smushed between window and Ved. I feel like I am sitting in a crowded NYC subway car and I don’t even have space to turn the page of my book. Raj is reclining on the platform/bed/bench across from us, watching a movie on his computer with headphones.

The Train has been stopped for a while in a huge wide-open landscape. Ved leans forward, I now see the inside of his ear, he stares out the window, looks at me and says, “This train is very late …” He leans back and I still can’t turn a page.

“Really. That’s a drag … but an hour or two in a 39 hour journey is not that bad …”
“‘39 hours’ is the official length of this trip. Says so on my ticket.”

“39!?” says Ved, as he moves his head in a slow Indian cork screw. “more like 45 or 50.”

Pause.

He continues:

“Tell me what America looks like from a window of a train.”

“Well, train travel is not that well used in America. Most people fly. I’ve taken a few trains, but only for short distances.”

“Like, one or two hours.”

“That’s right…”

“Well. Tell me about the Extreme American.”

“Um … by … what?”

“Yeah. The extreme of America. You know, the environment, the world, the land…”

“Oh, like the landscape … that sort of thing.”

“Yeah.”

Little does he know how much I actually DO know about the American Landscape and Wilderness – and what we have done to it – and he triggers my brain into hyper-drive to construct a compendium of exotic, extreme Wilds of America and the way we have become a geologic force that has changed it all so much.

“Ok. Well … there’s Alaska, which …”

“No. No. Not Alaska that’s different isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is … So, America – the continental 48 states – is quite large …”

I modulate my thinking and decide to keep the personal stories to myself and to just keep it to landmarks and unique areas of America. I rattle off a brief list each with a few adjectives: Death Valley – hottest, driest, lowest; the High Sierra – tallest Mountain range in the 48; the Great Lakes – largest bodies of fresh water in the world; the Mississippi River – 5th longest river in the world … “even the Hudson – where New York City is – is a very large river, tidal actually.” I add. I talk about the Ganga and my time in Varanasi, and although it is only the 34th longest river in the world, it is judged by some to move more sediment than any other river in the world. I mention the evidence at the Ghats of Varanasi, “they are covered with what is essentially sediment from the Himalayas that they then clean off every season.” Ved nods in agreement because he has seen the power of the Ganga and the sediment it leaves behind. He seems satisfied; and, even though I am dying to talk about Deuterium and the increased concentration of heavy isotops of elements like hydrogen and oxygen as we move into the lower latitudes, I refrain. (Again, another promised post that I had to put on hold because of this trip). He sits back and the train starts to move. My eyes shift from book to window to Ved and back again. The distances are about equal.

The conversation turns into a new neighborhood, a new time zone – really! … Ved goes;

“That woman who came in here this morning to talk with you. She was from Israel, right?

“That’s what she said”

[-- an aside --

Before I go on: when I was waiting for the train the night before, I decided to meander around and try to strike up a few conversations with people, make some connections in the strange world I found myself in. I first looked for westerners because I thought it would be the easiest way to start a conversation and bond over the traveling in India theme. I considered myself to be in the unknown, a boundary transition zone, and this is where dramatic change (interesting, exciting and dangerous) can occur. There are many models for this: just ask, chaos theory. Anyway … I wanted contact and connection during this transition, and, besides, I think it is prudent. I was standing on the platform the night before and I felt such a gulf between me and everyone else … well everyone, per se. It was not just Indians; that’s not precise enough because there is this diversity in this country that I can barely begin to recognize, I hardly know how to describe it. But, this feeling is nothing new for me. See: I often feel this gulf with people from my own culture when I’m in my own country, but now this is different, different reasons – and I’m just gonna leave it at that for the sake of keeping this post going.

I will add, however, that, when I started making art, it was a way to strike a new order, come up with new solutions, a way to answer old questions and generate new ones from a different starting point; now, I see making art as a way to build connection and understand transition. I walk around and see two vaguely westerner looking people. I approached the man and asked him if they were waiting for the same train. He was, they were and … anyway, it was a short convo … never really took off … it was late and the train was late … they were from Israel … we were all tired and buttressing our patience for the late train … I said, “Nice talking with you and have a good trip.” “Yes, you too” I walked away. When the train arrived, we discovered we were in the same car with one compartment between us.

The woman had come into my compartment in the early morning and asked if I had any hand sanitizer. I gave her my extra one. We talked about our home countries and our travels in India, then she left.

-- end of aside --]

Ved: “Is she Jewish?”

“Uh … ?! … I don’t know.”

Ved continues:

“I have seem many movies”

Ved hesitates.

“There is this movement … and … I don’t …”

“Many movies. I have read some books too”

I can tell Ved’s brain is working.

“See, Hitler did these things … I don’t understand.”

pause, and Ved continues:

“Schindler’s List. I saw that movie…”

“So did I …”

“Yeah, I mean … how could this happen?”

So, to talk about genocide on a train trip in India is one of the last things I thought I’d be doing. I so wanted to take his question as rhetorical, even if he didn’t mean it as such. I almost preferred if he asked me what the meaning of life was … that would have been easier. I decide to practice restrain, and stayed quiet, but he kept talking. I wanted to keep my comments general and, instead of relaying our disjointed conversation, I think it is better if I just lay out a rough – and much more coherent – summary of what I said to him:

“Hitler didn’t do it alone. He had a group of people around him who helped craft the take over of the German political system. It took years.

Wars start through a decision made by a small group of people who have the power to then inflame the raw, irrational passions of a population and harness it. Wars are rational choices.

Next, you need to harness a nonrational, creative, amoral part of your population to organize and form a plan to carry out the war. Don’t be mistaken: the military is just a small part of this. In Nazi Germany, there were many factions and institutions that were created and utilized to terrorize the dissenters and outsiders and techniques to sway and organize the population … You need all three elements for a War, and these elements exist on the opposing side too. War is actually a form of communication. Genocide is merely a tool in that communication; it is a type of grammatical construction to conduct the conversation of War. We don’t have to engage in this kind of communication, but once it starts it is hard to stop. War … just doesn’t appear out of thin air, and it is not inevitable. But it is sometimes too hard to see those beginning stages of this kind of communication, when it can be prevented early on. Many times people with the power to do so, don’t want to stop it … they are part of the rationale for war. So, it is important to know how it begins in order to know how to divert the conversation. At any rate, War begins with a small group of people who make the choice.”

My two cents, anyway. He then says:

“I’ve read Mein Kampf, and …”

“You’ve read Mein Kampf … ?!”

“Yes, and …”

“Well, there are some answers for you right there. I mean …”

“I still don’t understand how he could do those things … get away with it …”

I decide to cool off the conversation, and say,

“Yeah, I don’t understand, either …”

I get up out of the middle of the sandwich and go to the bathroom.

5:30 pm, Tuesday – the 20th hour plus 30 minutes

 My head is killing me from lack of caffeine and stuffed sinuses, and Ved has promised when we come to a station where the train will wait for a while, he will take me out to get a cup of coffee. “We’ll be there soon. I’ll let you know.” I say “yes,” but am hesitant to eat or drink anything even at the railroad station. But, my head is killing me. The risk will be low because it will be a hot drink. We are in our positions of equilibrium: Raj to the right of the window, Ved to the left, me at the end of Ved’s bench, and a free flow of conversation and privacy and movement.

Ved and Raj ask me about why I am going to Bangalore, again. I tell them I work with granite and I am in India to work with Indian Granite. I show them for a second time a catalogue of my work that I brought with me and spend a little more time explaining what I do and what it is like to work with granite. I mention the life cycles of the planet, but don’t go that deep. I tell them about my time in Varanasi and they tell me about the town they are from which is a short distance north.

The conversation dies down, and I go back to reading Fantastic Voyage. The characters are now shrunk, zipping through the circulatory system of the patient, in a research submarine made for deep-sea exploration that was shrunk along with them. The initial fear before they were shrunk was that there was a traitor, a saboteur, among them. Now, they just ran into trouble: the submarine was initially injected into the jugular artery so they could zip right up to the head and excise a blood clot in the brain that is the reason for the surgery in the first place, but as they traveled up the artery they got sucked into an arterio-venous fistula, which is an abnormal connection between an artery and a small vein; and, with this one detour, they bypass the head entirely and get catapulted into the jugular vein and they are careening toward the heart which will surely crush them with just one beat .. “the mission has failed.” Or, has it! Who was responsible for this screw up?!? The fear of a saboteur gains credibility, but Grant, the protagonist and the leader of the miniaturized team, can’t be sure. He is on a mission and has to solve the new problem of somehow getting to the brain … by passing through the heart without getting crushed.

I need a break.

“Ved, so how many times have you taken this trip”

“A few”

“So you know the stations well. And this station where we will get coffee… You’ve stopped there before?’

“Yes”

“Huh … are we half way to Bangalore, yet?

“No. Ha. No.”

Ved and I begin to talk about the specifics of train travels in India and Stations and stories.
Then, it wanders to important and beautiful sights in India
and whether he’s been or whether I’ll get a chance to go.
We look at my guidebook and pass it around.
Raj occasionally gives a glance.

“I’m not sure if I’ll go to Hampi, now that I’ve changed my plans suddenly and am going to Bangalore. I have no idea whom I’ll meet or if anyone will be interested in working with me. My stone project takes priority over sight-seeing.”

Ved asks me questions about my first days in India. I start to tell him about my first visit to the Ghats and about the Kingfisher I saw flying around the Ganga and how it is different from the North American Kingfisher and how I’ve come to know this bird. Raj is listening. I wonder what sorts of animals are further south. I’m interested in the big animals of India: elephants, tigers, rhinoceroses, leopards and wolves. I ask what their experiences are with these animals. We get a little boisterous, talking about the National parks of India and the remnants of the megafauna left. I try to explain my interest:

“See, in North America, when humans migrated there … oh … about 10,000 years ago or so – in mass. (There may have been other smaller migrations, but doesn’t matter). It was very easy to hunt and kill the big animals because they where not used to these kinds of predators, human predators, and the megafauna of North America went basically extinct due to over hunting. You have some remnants left in the Grizzly Bear or Big Horn Sheep, but no more Mastodons, no more giant sloths or huge reindeer. In Africa, where you had the side-by-side evolution of Man and the big wild beasts, there was a less lopsided relationship with the predation of the megafauna. I bet something similar happened in India… You’ve seen elephants often, Ved, right?”

“oh, yeah, sure …”

Then, out of nowhere, Raj declares:

“Mr. Sam … You are the Secret of High Energy.”

Ved bursts with laughter. I am dumbstruck. I freeze, and not just because I am positive this sentence has never been uttered in all of the history of the English language, but really because my brain is doing a transderivational search, trying to figure out how to take, how to understand, this. The mind started to unfreeze with “Is he making fun of me? Well, yes, but not maliciously.” “Is he saying in a playful way that I am intense?” “Won’t be the first time, but …” I am confused and floored …

“Wait a minute …”

Ved and Raj are both laughing, speaking Hindi.

“Yes, you are the Secret of High Energy”

“High Energy, yes”

They are laughing …

“Wait a minute … you don’t even know me?”

They roar!

“I mean: I have just sat in this compartment and read!”

Hindi, laughter

“We’ve had only a few conversations … I mean: I’ve just sat here?!”

Raj: “Sat there!? … All you’ve eaten is 10 bananas and …

Ved interrupts and laughs: “15!”

Raj: “… 15! bananas and a piece of bread … and … and … you are still going!?”

Again, I am dumbstruck.

That’s it. It’s the bananas, Sam.

“Ok. Bananas. Don’t forget the walnuts and honey I ate …”

Raj guffaws.

“But, still … We’ve talked only a little … I’ve just sat here … that’s it … reading?”

Ved: “Exactly, you’ve read 100’s of pages in like 5 books….”

A note to the reader: this is a bit of an exaggeration

“Yeah. Ok, Bananas. Reading… Ok so I just sit and… I really don’t have a clue how people … and … Ok, then, I’m the secret to High Energy.”

“NO. NO … ‘of’… of High Energy!”

and uncontrollable laugher.

6:30 pm, Tuesday – the 21st hour plus 30 minutes

We arrive in a busy station. Ved says, “let’s go get a coffee”

We exit the train. It feels good to walk around and get fresh air.
The atmosphere is different, and not just warmer.
We are clearly in a different weather zone.

The station is packed. Ved asks someone in Hindi, and gets a direct answer.

“Come on, this way”

It is a small vendor in the middle of the track, not that far from where we exited the train. I’m surprised that the vendor is not that busy. Everyone one is either exiting or boarding a train, constant motion, and there are plenty of people who work for the Train Authorities, doing whatever it is they do. We get two coffees, pronto. I have no idea where we are and I don’t care. It feels great to drink something hot.

“So, how will we know when the train is about to leave?”

“Well, it might blast its horn, might not, but we will definitely see it moving …”

I find that funny.

“… there’s also a light at the end of the platform …”

He points, but I don’t see it.

“… Don’t worry. We can just hop on anywhere. We have time.”

It was a short stop. We get back to our compartment.
I am grateful. Ved wants to look
at my guidebook, again.

9 pm, Tuesday – the 24th hour

Dinner time. I finish 5 bananas, take a spoonful of honey, and, now, I’m on to my main course:
pistachio nuts with a side of banana – shelling and eating one at a time
and they are tasty.

shell – pop … chew … crunch, crunch

shell – pop … chew … crunch, crunch

shell – pop … chew … crunch, crunch

I really made the right choice with these pistashios. I offer them to Raj
and pour a generous helping into his hands.
Ved declines, but eventually takes a few.

shell – pop … chew … crunch, crunch

… crunchy, crunchy …

I peel a banana:

banana …

banana …

eating banana …

“Hmm …”

I spy my banana and I get an idea.

shell – pop … shell – pop … shell – pop …

I put down my handful of unshelled pistashios, pick up the partially peeled banana
and with the dexterity of a jeweler, I push the three, shelled pistachio nuts
into the banana – “it’s the strategic placement of pistachios,” I ponder.
I take a moment to admire the arrangement
and take a decisive bite.

banana …

banana …

chew, crunch, chew, crunch … uh … crunchy, smooth …

banana … what?!

So, the ratio of banana to pistachio is not quiet right and the textures are just too different.
Ok. So, I’m not doing that again.

shell – pop … chew … crunch, crunch

shell – pop … chew … crunch, crunch

shell – pop … chew … crunch, crunch

OH! another idea … I open the honey and dip the banana in …

banana …

banana …

eating smoothie, delicious banana … Oh, yes that works…

Back to pistashios:

shell – pop … shell – p— …

I see a mouse flit past along our baseboard.

Did you see that!

 Oh, yes I did! I declare with the satisfaction of a bank teller
gracing the customer with a withdrawal:

“And, there is a mouse…”

Ved looks at me.

“Right there. It just passed.”

Pause.

“Mice. Mice on a Train.”

I look at Ved. He looks back.

“Have you ever seen a Mouse on a Train?”

Ved kind of wiggles his head and shrugs his shoulder.

Ved: “Ah … um … not a big deal …”

“Hmm …”

I contemplate the genetic success of the Mouse. I have questions that I can’t hold back.

Raj: “They just come up through the bathroom or something … it’s fine.”

I stop shelling pistachios.

“Where does he think he’s going? The mouse doesn’t have ticket.”

Ved: “What!? … the mouse doesn’t need a ticket!?!”

Raj and Ved just look at one another.

“Hmm … how are we to understand the motivation of this Mouse? Is he a stowaway, a free-loader, an opportunist. Is he our new traveling companion? Or, does he harbor other, more nefarious designs for us?! He is clearly a maurader, but is he belligerent? Is there enough room for us all. We may need to take action…”

Raj: “Huh …”

“Raj, are we going to have problems from this mouse? You know – this is a long trip.”

Ved: “He’s probably just hungry.”

“Yes, and there is PLENTY of food for him in this train!”

Ved and Raj look at each other.

“We have a mouse in our mists and … Isn’t this the symbol of Ganesh?”

“That’s a rat…”

“Ok. Whatever … Let me ask you … Have you ever seen a mouse on a train before?”

“well … uh …”

“I never have … Of course, I don’t take the trains very often in America and when I do they are relatively short trips, like I said earlier.”

Ved: “Trains are not common in America, but they probably …”

“… Hey … Do you think they are in the other cars. Because you KNOW he has companions”

Ved: “What Mice? … Well, mice don’t have a caste system … so, yes, they are probably in the other cars…”

“Well … ok, then …”

Raj hit his forehead with is hand.

Pause. Raj is looking back and forth from me to his brother…

“Raj, we may need to take further action … you know … asset the situation if we see more of him … See: I once had Mice steal my socks when I was asleep”

They just looked at me. Raj is leaning forward with his mouth open. Ved is doing his best to recline and to show no reaction.

“True story … um … well …see … I was high up in the mountains, camping and … but this is for another time. Right now the important matter on hand is that we have a mouse in our compartment … For now, we’ll just let the matter drop. Ok?”

Ved: “Well, really … it’s not that  …”

I ignore him:

“So. Are we going to have any other surprises on this train. Remember this is my first trip on an Indian Train …”

Raj sits up. Ved looks.

“How about Monkeys.”

“MONKEYS!?!” in unison.

“Have you seen Monkeys on a Train?”

Ved garbles through his muffled discontent:

“There are no monkeys on this train.”

“Maybe not on THIS train, but have you ever seen a Monkey on a Train.

Ved: “There are no Monkeys on the Train.”

“Hmm …”

I give Ved a look of skepticism that’s a cross between Buster Keaton treading water
and Walt Whitman, who just had his hat knocked off … or, something …
Ved has the forced coolness of Bhuvan,
throwing the final pitch in Lagaan.

“Have you ever seen a Monkey on a Train? We don’t have Monkeys in a America, you know … Monkeys are wily … Hanuman Power … back in Varanasi … you, know … I had some run-ins. Again, another story.”

I hear, again, the smack of Raj’s hand against his forehead. Some Hindi.

Ved: “There are no Monkeys on the Train.” 

“I mean: your telling me there has NEVER been a Monkey on a Train anywhere in all of India?”

Ved: “Well look the Monkeys don’t ride trains.”

“Really … Ok, fine.”

We look at each other, head bobbling on both sides. My hands are now empty of pistashios and I fold them together with a rugged individualism that would make Theodore Roosevelt proud, but gently swish my feet like a Fred Astaire warming up. Raj rubs his chin as Srinivasa Ramanujan would, comtemplating set theory, and does his own foot tapping but with an Indian quietude of a Mahatma Gandhi plotting his next act of non-violence.

Pause.

“Monkeys … Never?”

Raj sounds like he is beginning to hyperventilate with a disconcerting, uncomfortable Ha Ha Ha laughter. Ved is looking at him shaking his head in disbelief. They speak to each other in Hindi.

I go back to shelling pistachios.

shell – pop … shell – pop … chew, chew, chew, chew, chew …

shell – pop … shell – pop … chew, chew, chew, chew, chew …

A long Pause, where it seems like we all forgot the previous conversation.

shell – pop …

Unprompted, Ved begins: “Far North in Uttar Pradesh. There is a train station that is well known. It has a lot of Monkeys … all around … hundreds … and people feed them and take pictures and stuff …”

I stop shelling, look and listen.

“Sometimes a group of monkeys will enter a train that has stopped for a while, parked, and walk down the isle and then just leave.”

“And, you’ve seen this”

“Yes”

“AH … HA! … @!?!? … Monkeys on a Train! I knew it!”

Raj laughs out loud. I see the rapid rise and fall of Veds shoulders as he speaks to his brother in Hindi.

“Now we’re getting somewhere. I knew it: Monkey on a Train … It’s pure Hanuman Power … you know this, right.”

“Yeah, right … Ok …”

“Moving on …”

I look directly at Ved and say:

“Snakes …”

and, right when I say this, I shelled a pistachio and the naked nut flies up in the air making a grand parabolic arc, reaching its height at our eye-level. We watch motionless and silent as the surprised nut moves as if in slow motion and decelerates to the top height and seems to linger just for a moment. It begins its descent and we watch it fall to the ground and bounce and flit out of sight under Raj’s bed.

Silence and I stay in tempo with the moment:

“And, we’ll leave that one for the mouse …”

Raj roars with laughter, and nearly fall off his platform. Ved leans forward, elbows on his knees head in his hands, shaking…

shell – pop … chew … crunch, crunch

shell – pop … chew … crunch, crunch

I pause.

“Now … Snakes on a Train. Ever see them?”

I wait. They speak in Hindi

Ved: “There are no snakes on the train.”

“That you know of.”

Ved: “There are NO SNAKES ON THE TRAIN.”

“They may help us with the mouse.

“You have never seen a snake on a train…”

Ved and Raj just stare.

“Ever”

Pause.

“… in all of India …”

Pause.

“Come on: Snakes on a Train”

They ignore me.

I ignore them.

banana …

banana …

eating banana …

dip!

banana …

banana …

eating smoothie, delicious banana … Oh, yes that works…

Back to pistashios:

shell – pop … chew … crunch, crunch

shell – pop … chew … crunch, crunch

Ved rustles. I sit back, and he begins, again unprompted:

“India has different railway lines. Some are less traveled than others and are not better maintained and have different sorts of people ride them, different experiences. There are some train lines that will stop at a station and sometimes people will get on to beg for food and money …”

I listen. He hesitates …

“Sometime you’ll get people with different ways to beg, like different performances … like … um … like …”

I wait. Pause.

… like a basket filled with … snakes.”

“I knew it! Snakes on a Train. I knew it!”

“Look, they just bring it on the train to show people so they will give them money. that’s all?!”

“First, Monkeys. Now, Snakes … Snakes on a Train.”

Raj calms his laughter and grabs his laptop and leans back to do some computer stuff in an attempt to ignore this whole conversation.

The reason why I was so confident that there would be snakes on a train in India is because I’ve already had run-ins with snakes in a basket in Varanasi. The subject of another post, I promise, if I ever get back to writing about my time in Varanasi.

Ved: “Look, there are NO monkeys on this train and there are NO snakes on this Train.”

“Ok. Ok … yet!?!”

Ved is exasperated.

“One more question: Cows.”

Raj lurches forward, mouth wide open.

Ved: “COWS! come on!”

Raj: “There are no cows on the Train.”

“I … don’t … know … ? First no monkeys, then no snakes and Ved, here, has confirmed the presence of both on trains in India …”

Pause.

“Really …  Cows are everywhere in India … Everywhere in Varanasi. you have never seen a cow on a train …”

Pause.

Ved: “Tell me, how would they get on the Train, Mr. Sam?”

“I … don’t … know? …Ved …

I …

don’t …

know?”

Ved seems satisfied.

“Really. No stowaway Cows on the Train?”

Ved: “How would they get on the Train, Mr. Sam?”

“You tell me: it your country …”

Raj speaks in Hindi, and then to me in English: “There are no cows on the Train.”

Pause.

“So, cows ….

In quiet unison: “There are no Cows on the Train, Mr. Sam.”

“Do dare ask about the Mouse, again?”

In emphatic unison: “No”

Pause.

shell – pop … shell – pop … chew, chew, chew, chew, chew …

shell – pop … shell – pop … chew, chew, chew, chew, chew …

“Would you like some more pistashios?”

Raj takes some. Ved declines.

The finale of the train to Bangalore to follow:

A parade at 3 in the morning

or

Internet Shenanigans ….

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Monkeys on a Train … or … The Secret of High Energy – part II

Samuel Nigro, Varanasi, India

I exit my room at Kriti Gallery for the train station, which is an hour-ish away.

(I find out about a stone conference happening in Bangalore, Monday at 2 pm.
I rush around trying to prepare for a trip that got thrust upon me.
I am acting before I am ready
and this I decide is
a good thing.)

9:30 pm, Monday – the 0th hour plus 30 minutes.

My taxi drives down the main road the residency is on that heads due east toward the Ganga and the Main (and what could be described as the Middle) Ghat, Dasasvamedha Ghat. I am very familiar with this road because I’ve traveled on it almost daily for the last two months, and I am now comfortable to walk back and forth between the river and the residency. It is about 4 km to the Main Ghat and like an obstacle course (subject of future posts). I am familiar with the intersection where the taxi turns north and heads around the city towards the northern most Ghat, Raj Ghat, where there is a highway and from there, I’m breaking new ground. We are on a highway for a very short distance and then we get on backcountry roads, dirt roads, dusty roads, but this last quality sinks in too late. The driver has the window down to let in the cool night air. It feels good, and then, 30 minutes in, I realize I’m breathing all that dust, too. I ask him to close the window. I fear it is too late to prevent some future sinus problems, an issue I’ve been dealing with off and on since I arrived in Varanasi.

10:30 pm, Monday – the 1st hour plus 30 minutes.

I arrive at the station. I’ve heard nightmare stories about taking trains in India and missing trains and late trains. This is my first time in an Indian Train station, and I am already rushed and I want to stack this in my favor however I can; so, I take Olga’s suggestion and ask the driver to come in with me and help me find which track my train arrives on. See: when trains arrive, they stop for minutes and if you don’t get on, that’s it … bye, bye train and bye, bye reserved seat – back to square one, which for me means finding – and negotiating – a ride back to Kriti and not making it to Bangalore in time for the conference. One train to Bangalore a day, that’s it.

The driver and I park and exit the taxi. After dodging a swarm of Indian men who want to carry my bags, sell me chachka, give me “direction and help” and otherwise try to get my rupees: “No,” “No,” “Get away,” “No.” We enter a cavernous station: approx. 60 x 100 ft., and a grid of people sitting, laying and lounging right in the middle of the floor with bedding, baggage, pets and food splayed everywhere. Rough guess: 150-200 people sitting/lying on the ground? I position myself out in the open so I can see the wide expanse of the digital arrivals and departures display. I stand out and I don’t care what I look like. I ask the driver:

“Can you help me find my train and the track it is on?”
“Please”

I show him my ticket … and … well … I don’t want to fixate on too many details of an Indian Train ticket (there are all sorts of train numbers, car numbers, route numbers and confirmation numbers; the train station is Hindi in text and sound, movement and hustle – and I need to just cut through it all to make sure I get on my train), because I’m sure with some experience this sort of travel can become routine, but if this driver leaves and I miss my train for some reason … well  … I’ll do everything I can to make sure that does not happen. He looks at my ticket and points and rubs the Train number: “This,” and nods his head to mean: “This is what you have to be on the look out for.” English is not going to be our main avenue of communication. He looks up at the board and points, thinking … I follow his gesture … and:

“What are you looking for? Can we help you?”

There before me are two Indian men in their late 20’s, speaking very clear English,
dressed in casual western cloths.

“Yeah, I’m just trying to find my train and my track number”

“Ok. Where are you trying to go? You have a train ticket, right?”

“Oh, yeah definitely … Bangalore.”

A third Indian man comes up, 40’s, clear English and these three fellow travelers explain the track system and the station lay out. They are sincere. They are helpful. I explain this is my first train trip and I need to get to Bangalore – posthaste – and pepper them with questions.

“Yeah, wait at the track and get on your train immediately. In this station, it stops for a few minutes only, then goes.

“Nice. Ok.”

“If you can’t find your car, don’t worry, just get on, you can walk through them all and find the right one. There will be conductors.”

“Yeah, ok, sure …”

“There are a few stations that a train may stay for a while, and you can get off, but don’t wander far … trains won’t wait for you.”

“Which ones … which stations will they stop for a while?”

A naïve question, but I don’t care. I just need more information and appreciate their help.

“You can ask someone when you get on the train. Don’t worry; it will be fine.”

“And track changes? I’ve heard they can change them
at the last minute without any announcements…”

“Hmm… Maybe… That would be very rare, I think … Look your train is coming soon, so the likelihood that they will change the track is low.
Just listen to the announcements … watch the other people.”

“Ok. Thank you for you help.”

“Sure. You’re set?”

“I’m set. Thanks again and have a safe trip.”

“You too …”

The older man and the taxi driver speak in Hindi, and the driver looks at me, satisfied. I give him a big smile and lead the driver back out of the station to a marginal place so I can pay him. He is another friend of Kriti and at the last minute showed up to take me to the train station. I couldn’t make this trip without him; and, thus I am grateful for all the help to make this last minute trip possible.

We do an amalgam of a good-bye in Hindi-English.

“Thank you for you help. Thank you for the last minute ride.”

He says something in Hindi and gives the Indian Head bobble. I bobble back and bring my hands together to the prayer position, directly in front of my chest and give a slight bow while maintaining eye contact. He does the same but with one hand. I try my darnedest to say “Dhan’yavāda,” which is thank you in Hindi:

“TeeHAN-yee-DOT-tatty-VAH”

Ugh … a complete butchery of the pronunciation, I’m sure. He smirk/smiles and gives a deeper head bobble.

“Ok. Good-bye”

and – another double-bubble bobble.

I breathe and walk back into the train station and stand right where I was before. Seems as good of a place as any, I make no pretense to conceal myself or fit in … I have very little experience with this rhythm, and I don’t care: I’m getting on that train. Young kids running around: some probably just hanging out nowhere to go; some just bored waiting for their train. There’s bare feet everywhere, dogs roaming around, people well prepared with containers of hot food for their trip and their favorite blankets wrapped around them or folded up under their arms; and then, let’s be real, lots and lots of people traveling, some in groups, some as families, just trying to get themselves and their luggage to their destination. They all have their own logistical problems and routines: people just making their way to point B.

Pay attention, Sam. Yellow warning flag at half-mast.

 There’s a man in a turban and dirty dhoti and shirt, whose been circling and hovering ever since I entered the station, sometimes from a far, sometimes just without the perimeter of normal, “western” conversation. I picked him out of the crowd moments after I entered the station. He is very thin and has deep lines in his face, like many men in India, making it hard to tell how old he is, brown teeth from sucking on paan. In another country with his mild herky-jerky movements and directional changes, I’d guess he was a heroine addict, but 40% of India’s population don’t get their daily nutritional requirements, so that could be it … I don’t know … doesn’t matter … still don’t know what I’m looking at most of the time … then, what happens next is important: He turns and walks directly towards me speaking what I think is Hindi and makes to take my bag … I can speculate about his motivation, but decide, again, that it doesn’t matter. I aim for his center of mass, and boom:

“NO. Get away from me!”

He stops and we lock eyes. He hesitates and walks away never to approach me again.

All right, so I’m not standing in a good place. Let’s think about this …

“Stay out of the flow of traffic, find a place populated with people with your same needs and motivation, that’s best … avoid transitional areas and boundaries – that’s where clash and action happens; the marginal and dark are no good, either – you want to be in this mix, not hidden; and you’re in no mood for liminality – that’s the stuff of a Shakespeare tragedy and mythic transformation, too much to handle at the moment … “

or so you think… Wait: what are you talking about, anyway… would you just move somewhere else …

Yeah, right, ok:

“… Ah, ha! There’s my place.”

I stand off to the side – a handrail, which creates a right angle used as a guide for lines at an unused ticket counter, protects a little corner from the flow of traffic and creates my eddy of calm. I move among a hand full of people, who all look like they are doing the same thing I am: waiting, some sitting on their luggage, some standing, motionless; waiting for time to click by because it seems too early to go to the Track. I wait and watch the currents before me.

1:33 am, Tuesday – the 4th hour plus 33 minutes.

The Train arrives, two hours late.

(I eventually moved from my eddy of calm to the designated track, where I’ve been standing since 11:15 pm. The train was supposed to leave at 11:30 pm, but it was only at 12:30 am that the Train Station Authorities acknowledges this with the digital readouts along the track that displays my train number and “2 hours late.” – an announcement that itself was late. I continued to stand and watch, and I wandered with lukewarm motivation.)

When the train arrives, people scurry to find there assigned coach, the numbers of which are displayed along the digital readouts, and I am amazed and heartened that everyone boards in an orderly fashion. We are all tired and just want to get on the train, and the collective feeling is that there is no reason to make this more difficult by pushing to get on. I realize the wisdom of reserved seating. As described, the train starts to move only minutes after it arrives. I have a Class 2-AC ticket, the highest class, which means I am in a compartment that has two long benches that face one another, one window at one end of the benches and a curtain that offers a thin veil to the body-wide corridor just outside the compartment, opposite the window. This is a compartment for 4 people: the two benches each serve as a sleeper platform for a person, and there is a platform above each bench, making sleeping space for two more. There is enough room to sit up on whatever platform you have. I was told they provide bedding.

I find my compartment and my position is the top-right.

The lights in my compartment are out, but the dull yellow light from the station platform shines through the window and the harsh brightness of the fluorescent, nighttime lighting configuration of the corridor peeks through the curtain. I can make out a lump of a figure in both the top and bottom left positions.  They are each wrapped with a light tan blanket around their bodies pulled up around their heads that says: “don’t disturb me.”

My bags are way too heavy with food and water and books … probably too much of each, but I’m not worried and yet I feel totally unprepared for this. I pull out my lock and cable that I brought all the way from the States for this contingency and locked my baggage to the bottom, right bunk, like it was suggested I do from what little pre-India research I did in New York. These are close quarters and I will probably be traveling with these two for the next two days. I push away any thoughts of how this will go, because prejudging does not help and now the next thing to do is to lay down and fall asleep: it is a long journey and I might as well have as much of it pass while counting Zzzz… or, I think, it’s sheep, nope – I’m gonna count cows…

Cows, really Sam?

 Hey, it’s India, you know. All right, Monkeys then. I’m becoming quite fond of them and …

Monkeys are pretty energetic. Try again…

 Oh, you’re right … Ok … I think … it has to be the water buffalo.

Nice.

They are such noble beasts – gorgeous. See: a hallmark of domestication is specialization for a specific function. All cows are descendants of one species, the Aurochs or Bos primigenius, from which come the Bos indicus, the common ancestor of all Asian cow species, and Bos taurus, the common ancestor of all European and American species. This domestication started at least 10,000 years ago and we have many, many subspecies of Bos, some that are highly specialized and some who cannot survive without the aid of humans. I think of the American Dairy cow: a highly specialized subspecies created by the selective pressures of breeding for specific traits through the intelligent designs of humans. The water buffalo, in contrast, is Bobalus bobalis, a different genus entirely! Its domestication didn’t start till about 5,000 years ago (for the Indian species, it was about 4,000 years ago for the Chinese species). This late domestication, it is my guess, didn’t allow for as much specialization to occur; so, to my untrained eyes, they seem more primitive. Now, this is probably not the right word, it doesn’t have scientific value as far as I understand. Maybe better is ancient, but better still is that there was less time to develop stark specialization than let’s say the American Dairy Cow, and thus the water buffalo maintains many of their original, ancestral markings and traits (there phenotypic attributes and older morphology that came about from natural selection and Darwinian evolution and not by human intelligent design). There is much interbreeding and hybridization among Bos, but they cannot breed or hybridize with Bobalus. So, when you see the water buffalo there is no genetic mixture with cows and I imagine when I see water buffalo that I am looking at a scene straight out of the turn of the last ice age. These water buffalo are beautiful: herds move around Varanasi like they are one organism, they seem to be connected to one another, moving in unison, and to think together, unrushed by the human melee around them. They are technically domesticated, but hardly specialized and they do just fine without humans.

I already miss the herd that wanders around the residency. This is a long train journey and might as well have as much of it pass while sleeping, and counting water buffalo will be an a appropriate homage.

As quietly as I can, I push my baggage underneath the bed-platform, undo my shoelaces and place my shoes underneath the left bunk. I pull out my warm shirt and winter hat (yup, it’s sorta cool) and put them on. I follow the top guy’s lead and forgo taking my bed sheet out of its brown paper wrapping and I use my Spiderman stealth techniques to silently migrate up to the top bunk. I unfold the blanket and do as my new companions do and give myself a tight, full body wrap with the blanket. As I pull the blanket around my head and make sure my feet are well covered, I note that the pillow is about the size of a collegiate dictionary and just as hard. I think:

“This is it: you are on your way to Southern India! … Well before you had planned … three weeks before you thought you were going to go! This is why you came to India.”

This whole project – To come all the way to India to work with granite, is this foolhardy? I know what people think: “Plenty of granite elsewhere …” So, it is not just about the material, then … it is about the connection of material. “You work with granite?! Isn’t that hard and heavy. Whoa!?” – That’s what many think when I tell them that granite is my material of choice, and there are various subtexts to these conversations: whatever. But, that reaction is incomplete at best, prejudiced at the heart. I’ve worked so long with the breaking of stone that granite now feels like a liquid, and given the life cycle of stone, the life cycle of carbon, the life cycles of the earth, granite really is not heavy at all and moves in unexpected ways.

Granite flows like a liquid and floats as a thin crust on top of the planet – that’s right, I said it, granite is light and is like a liquid. This is where I’ve come to … This is where I am …

Granite – light and liquid.

Exactly: One just has to think in deep, geologic time.

The scale of granite on our planet is huge, and is evidence of long-term, planetary-scale fractional melting, which is the distillation through heat and pressure and chemical processes of mantle rock where by certain elements, like silicon, sodium and potassium are concentrated. Basalt, the ocean floor, can be created by one revolution of fractional melting. It takes granite multiple revolutions of this heating, melting, cooling to form the concentrations that exist today. Another way of stating this is that because of the super hot radioactive process at the core of our planet (that makes our planet tectonically alive, btw), the mantle churns and moves, heats and rises, cools and falls, just like the cycle of a full-flowing lava lamp. Through this churning and the fractional melting that occurs because of it, what rises to the top are the lighter materials. These lighter materials make up the crust of the earth; and, now, after multiple revolutions of the mantle mixing and sorting over billions of years, this crust is basically granitic, and made up of basic minerals like feldspar, mica and quartz (for traditional granites) and with plenty of amphiboles and pyroxenes thrown in. There is evidence of many different stages of all these cycles – of melting and flowing and sorting – with various mineral compositions and crystalline structures being created by the ways materials are cooled, hardened and crystalized, all throughout the crust; for example, granite is an igneous rock which means it cooled from a melting of some kind – if from lava, it’s volcanic rock; if deep underground and cooled very slowly, it’s plutonic rock – there are granitiods that got frozen in many stages of development and metamorphized into another type of stone called gneisses, which are some of the oldest rocks on the earth (in the order of 3.5 billion years old!), and the classifications can go on and on. The important point is that all of this floats up and rests on top of the surface of the planet, giving a matrix for everything else, including us (and other rocks, too), to interact with; and this granitic crust, in turn, continues to move and play with the rest of the life cycles of the planet. Granite is unique to Planet Earth and evidence of tectonic robustness.

Well, this is what divergent thinking and curiosity is about: Spiderman Stealth, water buffalo encomium, the rumblings of our planet and how to come to terms with flying to the other side of the world and traveling to a strange city at the flip of a switch, all to work with some new granite. It all flows together and I’ll leave it for now….

There is more flying around my head as a wiggle into a comfortable position for sleep; like, I wonder how traveling so farther south will affect the weather and climate and flora and fauna of India. It will be the furthest south on the planet I ever have been. For example, there is a species of kingfisher that fly around the Ganga. It has a powerful refulgent blue and rust colored plumage – so different from the North American species. I discovered one of these tiny gems my first day in Varanasi. I have always loved kingfishers and seeing one at the Ghats my first day was … umm … I felt happiness and nostalgia. It centered me, but – ahem?I owe you all a post about that first day. The kingfisher of the Ganga riff will have to wait. I’ll get to it, I promise.

As I laid my head down on my collegiate-dictionary-like pillow,
thankfully, at this stage, I am pretty good
at turning all this thought off,
and I fall into a deep sleep.

To be continued.

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