Trains run as often as Yorkshire Terriers bark, and they go everywhere. However, once on the train, there are no signs, no announcements, and no maps concerning stops. For one journey, I inquired how many hours the ride was when purchasing the ticket. I was told eleven hours. Twenty-two hours after initial embarkation it arrived at my stop.
Reliable procedure involves irritating ticket monitors, food vendors, rail attendants, and peer passengers with a constant mouth-current communicating the desired destination. Ticket monitors are the most trustworthy, as they possess the sacred writ of arrival times in a packet as broad as a horse penis. One can expect arrival within three hours. Passengers are also reputable. As multiple sources have notified me, over twenty million people travel via train every day in India. If the ticket supervisor says 3:30pm and the passenger pronounces between 2:30pm and 3:30pm, expect arrival between 4:00 and 5:00pm.
Boozer's inebriation, money-seeking transvestites, and my late-departure overnight train to connect with Pakistan in Kolkata deferred my arrival time interrogation until the next day.
Every train invariably awakens at six in the morning with peddlers howling like missile launches, "Chai coffee chai, chai coffee chai." The roars reverberated in my head like a sloshed sobbing howler monkey. If you are an exceptional bawler as an Indian baby, if all else fails, you have a crowning career option.
"Kolkata?" I asked the five people sitting next to me, accompanied with a pointed finger in the direction we were traveling.
"Kolkata? No," came the counter.
"Kolkata no?" I asked, questioning my pronunciation like hermaphrodites question their natural sex.
"No. Last stop Howrah. No Kolkata," one man said, then asked to see my ticket.
After bulldozing into my backpack with my movements motivated by the kind of terror I tremble with every time my period is late, I produced my ticket with professional ice skater spirals.
"Howrah is your destination. Look, see? Not Kolkata," the man with Nicholas Cage's monotone informed me.
"Well, where is Kolkata? How do I get there?"
"You have to take a train an hour," Mr. Cage clued me, and then spoke hurried Hindi with the other four. I expertly interpreted the words "Howrah," and "Kolkata," as they all shook their heads, scrutinizing me. One man clicked his tongue at me like I was a nine-month-old who had just regurgitated food on myself while managing to miss my bib.
I said, "Thank you," as if they had just told me I won first place in a banana slug-impersonation contest, and asked a train attendant.
"No. Last stop Howrah," Stalin said.
I returned to my seat as dejected as when my eight-year-old self called my house the morning after my parent's annual Rock-&-Roll party. My dad answered. I said hi and asked how the party went.
"Who is this?" my father demanded.
"Your daughter. Kara."
"Hey, we have a daughter?" I overheard him ask my mom.
When the train trailed to a stop, I ejected myself with my luggage and approached an information desk.
"I need to get to Kolkata," I explained. "I bought a train ticket for Kolkata, and this is where I ended up. I need to meet my friend."
If I had been spewing biblical Hebrew they might have understood me. They pointed upstairs. I asked a security officer how to get to Kolkata. He shrugged and pointed to the second story's booking office.
To get to the staircase I exited the station and was about to scale the stairs when I noticed a sign: "Welcome to Kolkata. Howrah."
This made as much sense as Santa Cruz, Bolivia's law that forbids a man to have sex with a woman and her daughter simultaneously. However, I don't question.
I was so elated that I provided my friend Pakistan's street and hotel name to the yellow taxi driver who spoke the best English of the multitudes that swarmed me. I even agreed to the exorbitant expense of two hundred rupees, a night's stay at most hostels or hotels.
"Do you know where Sunflower Guest House is? It's on Royd Street?"
"Yes, yes, I know Sunflower Guest House," he assured me with a smile.
"Are you sure? You know Royd Street?"
"Yes. Royd Street. Sunflower."
Within four minutes his inquiries to other taxi drivers, pedestrians, bus drivers, and policemen evidenced his knowledge of Royd Street and Sunflower Guest House.
One pedestrian pointed to the left, a driving citizen motioned to the right.
Taxi Driver recharged his cell phone so we could call Pakistan for directions. Taxi Driver spoke with a hotel worker. He then ran the range by inquiring directions from a sixty-something homeless man and a six-year-old uniformed schoolboy.
Fifty-seven minutes into what should have been a fifteen minute drive, Driver located Royd Street. I spotted Sunflower Hotel.
When I handed him two hundred rupees, he commanded five hundred because of the drive time and the phone call.
"Phone call was five rupees a minute. That's twenty-five rupees."
"I am not paying you five hundred rupees for wasting an hour of my life! Here's two hundred and twenty. Sorry for your trouble. But you lied to me when you said you knew where it was, it was your own fault you couldn't find it, and you never even apologized to me for the waste of time."
"Five hundred rupees!" he shrieked, his face paralleling a two-year-old's desirous of a new toy. His hand outstretched like a baby bird's neck.
People passing paused and oggled.
"I think two hundred and twenty is fair. In the future, you should apologize to your customers if you drive them around unnecessarily for an hour. Not demand more money!" I tossed out my hand in dismissal to emphasize my feigned frustration.
I had just toured the city.