even though I'm back in Canada I've been reflecting on and writing up more of the India Adventure. For those of you still interested I'll be posting these stories up in instalments.. to keep the creative process rolling. Happy Reading.
Change: One More Day in Amritsar (part 1)
When I arrived at the Departures at 3pm, seven hours ahead of on-time the same station façade greeted me with nothing overly memorable as it had three days prior. There was general chaos of hundreds of Indians bustling about the Amritsar train station; an abode for eight platforms of nomadic track not content with being housed so constantly running off into the horizon. And I was here alone, just trying to find a luggage locker so I could take advantage of my last day in the city of The Golden Temple, but being shouted at “ma’am! Ma’am! Hello!” I was no novice to the calls of unwanted sales persons, tour guides and photo-mongers. I kept walking towards my soon-to-be incorrect assumptions of the location of the luggage lock-up.
I didn’t expect anyone would remember me let alone see me off. Especially not him… how could he recognize me? I was without my original distinguishing feature. Granted I had a few other subtle differences from the mass around me: solo blonde-foreigner with too much luggage and the wearing-the-same-clothes-as-yesterday well-travelled look. But what I did not have was the Girl-Who-Has-No-Change look. The only reason I had assumed myself to be memorable yesterday. Something that had been accurate for fifty four of my fifty eight days in India. At the Amritsar train station this Saturday it was decidedly untrue. So it was with only the slightest of annoyances and very true scepticism I halted apprehensively, turned my head and readied my negating reply to “ma’am, do you remember me? We met yesterday!”
I was on guard. I was wary of the old “we met yesterday can I take a photo?” and “we met yesterday, 10 rupees please” ploys. Despite my best intentions to be disinterested I looked around for the source of the voice. The man’s face looking eagerly at me from a long white tunic and baggy white pyjamas smiled to help my recognition process. I hesitated to reach into my memory bank for fear of being caught off guard looking pensive in a stolen photograph or being perceived as an interested customer for wares I had no interest in.
Surprising only myself two minutes later, I had found a match for this man. Luckily, only to me, it was only because he had the sense to inform me where it was exactly we had met yesterday. He had been the friendly one just outside the Maharaja Ramjit Museum (of battle-scene dioramas) at the gate of the Company Gardens who was thrilled to find out I was from Canada and laughed that I didn’t have the correct change for the entrance fee. It was he who had organized a bicycle rickshaw afterwards too, and insisted on sharing lists of Punjab natives who were now experiencing great personal and professional success in my home country. In the words of the rickshaw cyclist he recommended and I hired, “he has beautiful English, doesn’t he?” I had to agree. The well-informed and good-humoured fellow was the sweetest old(ish) stranger I met in all of India (in my rather limited scope of it). It appeared as though he was a cycle rickshaw operator too. As he stepped away from his bike I gave him a smile, acknowledged the commonality of our previous day’s paths, and then caught up on the last 24 hours since we’d last spoke. Mr. Rickshaw asked me what I’d seen and wanted to know where/where my train was headed, “10:15pm, Dehradun.” I almost had a chance to say I was looking for the luggage lock up when my newest friend exclaimed with an untranslatable mix of shock and delight, “Oh! Oh, you have a whole day left in Amritsar! You can still see so many things! Oh! You must lock up your luggage and come with me. I will show you all of Amritsar!”
Since that was precisely my plan, I was happy to have it validated with such exuberance. My next steps were, instead of struggling lost, directly escorted to the chaotic-looking but ridiculously orderly Luggage Lock. And I only had to step over two piles of gushy garbage to get there! That’s when I learned the 7 Rules* of Luggage Lock-up-ing:
1) Must have OWN lock (double check)
2) Must show passport (no prob)
3) Must pay 10 Rupees per item upon pick-up (fine)
4) Must provide a COPY of passport (in #2)
5) Must carry own bag to designated, dirty shelf
6) Bags are assigned a number for itemization
7) Bags are tagged with the number (as per item 6) with semi-permanent or permanent ink (permanency directly proportional to owner’s fondness of said bag)
*note: these are not actually, officially listed but rather are learned-as-you-go rules.
Further to item 4) photocopies can be procured at the bag/passport owner’s hassle, expense and bafflement of the improbability of locating a photocopier in the area of the parking lot that was indicated by the Luggage Lock-up official with a vague wave-of-hand.
Exit Lyndia with all her bags.
Enter Mr. Rickshaw. Both meet in the photocopier-free parking lot.
Mr. R – Why not leave your luggage? What happened?
Lyndia – I need a photocopy of my passport. I don’t have a photocopy.
R- Oh! Is that all? I know where just come with me.
Lyndia is cycled through the parking lot (see! NO photocopier) across one busy street and is let off in a haphazard strip of parking and led down a side street, turned down an unmarked unlit alley and through a door that has “ICP, STD. FAX. CELL. PHOTO STAT.” stencilled on it.
We go in.
They have photocopiers (two). I pay 2 rupees and my problem is solved. It is also explained to me by the ICP, STD. FAX. CELL. PHOTO STAT. owner that the passport copy is for Verification, Authenticity and Security – all words I appreciate on the topic of Me and My Luggage.) Back down the alley and across the main street, I am re-dropped off at the Luggage Lock-up. Over garbage pile #2, since I found a way to avoid the first fetid puddle, and learn lesson number 7. It went a little something like this:
I passed over my newly acquired passport photocopy and answered three questions about the bags I wished to drop off I was made to fill out a little slip of paper. I was required to write out all the information from my passport and visa (exactly what was ON the photocopy I’d just handed-over) into the little government boxes on the sheet. Next I looked up to see the results of Authenticity, Security and Verification and ran smack into Lesson 7. I was surprised when I noticed that my black backpack had a chalk 212/2 on the bottom and I couldn’t help but shout when I noticed that my purse had been tagged with the same number but in black permanent felt marker. Needless to say, I was shocked and demanded an explanation along with “THIS IS NOT GOING TO COME OFF!” However, due to language barriers and bureaucratic functioning in place of actual intelligence the only clarification I received was a shrug, a smug smile and an ambivalent power-wielding, “compulsory.” With that, I downtroddenly transported my 2 212/2s to an empty dirty shelf that, I mumbled under my breath, “had better be Verified, Authentic and Secure.” At least my purse and I would never be subjected to the oh-so-common dinner-party problem of identical-purse-identical-contents, thanks to my Bag-Tattoo of 212/2.
Lyndia Without Luggage finds Mr. Rickshaw and hops back onto his cycle with only the essentials: camera, wallet/passport (with a Medusa-face pin as a criminal deterrent) and my journal with a third class train ticket bookmark. I am free to explore! Even more than that I am happy to have a friendly transport operator/tour guide that also assisted in my current luggage-free status. I’ve already determined I will buy this Cyclist-in-White a chai. And ask him his name… again? I can’t believe I’ve already forgotten, but then again so much has happened. Since I’m already on the back of the bike and we’re back on the road again, it seems I won’t be needing his name just yet anyway.