Usually, traveling presents a unique set of horrors. We are all familiar with lost baggage, delayed flights, and the general incompetence of airlines. I experienced all of this on my voyage to India, which lasted 24 hours longer than it should have. But travelling in India presents its own unique constellation of troubles. For me, it started in Frankfurt with an army of sari-clad grandmothers clutching an even more formidable clan of screaming children shoving their way to the front of the line to claim their pre-boarding status. It was as though I was stuck in a scene to recreate an overcrowded train with people hanging out windows and sitting on the roofs of its cars. However, this minor inconvenience was nothing compared to next voyage.
It all started with a desire to escape the solitude of Rishi Valley and visit my grandparents in Bangalore. My intended route was not overly complex: a public bus would pick me up at the gates of the school and deliver me to another bus, which would bring me to Bangalore. But appearances can be deceiving, because in rural India, a public bus is actually an autorickshaw meant to seat three people that held seven. I hopped in the backward facing seat at the rear of the auto. Holding on for dear life, I was terrified as we travelled at breakneck speeds over first pockmarked paved roads, then unpaved roads, then off-road rocky terrain. I was amazed at the fact that a 70-year-old patient from the health center was able to clamber in the back with me and endure the bone-jarring journey.
The auto came to rest in a small village about 30 minutes later, and it was clear that this was not my destination. I asked the driver where he had taken me, and though my Telugu was a little rusty, he told me he had brought me the wrong way and tried to extort me to take me to my real destination. Luckily, the patient had recognized me and offered to bring me the right way. At the time, I thought he too was trying to scam me, but I had no choice but to follow him.
The old man took me on a series of buses that eventually brought me to my original destination: Madinapalli. The city acts as a hub for this rural area in Andhra Pradesh. Autos zip through the streets that teem with shops, peddlers, and beggars. As I boarded the bus, I couldn't help but think that the age-old Indian tradition of karma was at work. Even a mere association with the doctor who helped this man was enough for him to pay it forward. I thanked the man and handed him an unsolicited cash reward. However, my troubles were not yet over.
This bus was also overcrowded and a middle-aged businessman was forced to sit next to me. He asked me if I was, "Amreekan" and I nodded. A look of glee shot across the man's face. He informed me that he liked to make sure Indian Americans were aware of their heritage. A shot of horror shot across my face as he commenced a three hour-long lecture on all things Indian: from yoga to Ayurvedic treatments to Hindu rituals. I answered his questions because I was trapped. As it turns out, I learned some interesting "facts" such as how the Europeans forgot to add a descending scale to their music until the Indians taught them, and how Americans would die out in 100 years if they insisted on living in sin and avoiding marriage. Though my Bus Guru was more of a pest than preacher, I can't help but look back upon the memory with fondness. Compared with the Boston T rides I had taken just weeks earlier, where if you so much as look at somebody funny you invite trouble, this trip was far friendlier.
I arrived in Bangalore and bid farewell to my Bus Guru, found an auto and clambered in. He refused to take me to my destination, and left me three blocks away so he could chat with his friends. I walked the remainder of the distance, and collapsed in my grandparents' home, five hours after I had left. Two days later, they asked me to find the bust that would take me back to Rishi Valley. Despite my stories of horror, my grandfather retained his love of public transportation that borders on the romantic. I politely informed him I would take a cab.