January 20, 2012


After a overnight train journey from Mumbai, I arrived in Ahmedabad at around 5 in the ante meredien. I had foolhardily booked the lower bunk in a sleeper compartment of the train. Lower berths are recommended for security reasons. It is easier to notice if someone is purloining your luggage from right beneath your bed than when you are two bunks up, far detached from the happenings below.

The drawback is that you get little to no sleep, as a continuous stream of passengers without beds, seats, tickets, or manners uses your bed as their own. I was forced against the interior wall of my compartment, able to maintain possession of approximately 40% of my allotted sleeping area. The remaining 60% of the property was captured by a rotating set of 22 different individuals of various ethnic backgrounds during the 9 hour journey. Thankfully, the maximum number of people sitting on me at any given time did not exceed 5.

I groggily tumbled out of the train at Ahmedabad Junction and walked into the station's waiting room. The seats all seemed to be occupied. A strange mix of a hospital waiting room and a morgue, I wandered around the piles of bed sheet covered bodies sleeping on the floor and found one man taking up two seats. I grunted and he grudgingly moved his duffel bag as I took a seat. I reached into my backpack and dug out my trusty blue travel pillow. As I inflated it with several deep breaths, the sleepy eyes of the other travellers suddenly shifted towards me as if I was the most peculiar sight in the room. I placed it around my neck and slept soundly until daybreak.


"Man should forget his anger before he lies down to sleep." ~ Mahatma Gandhi

January 05, 2012

Hands On Experience

Indian guy: Are all you foreigners like this?
Me: Yes.
Indian guy: This is weird, yaar.

A conversation about cultural differences between India and the West that had centred around the usage of coconut oil versus gel for hair styling had segwayed into man's favourite topic.

Indian guy: I had heard before that abroad people wipe their a** and don't wash their a** but I never believed it until you confirmed it.
Me: It's true.
Indian guy: This is very unhygienic. You know, after going to the toilet you should wash.
Me: I always wash my hands afterwards.
Indian guy: Not just your hands...
Me: I use toilet paper for that. I wipe and I wipe until the paper is white. That way my hand stays clean for when I eat. No poo stuck in my finger nails.
Indian guy: We don't use the same hand for eating. God gave you two hands for a reason! And what about your underwear? Do you wash that?
Me: Once in 3 months.
Indian guy: Ugggh. What about in airplanes? Are there Indian style toilets there?
Me: Nope. 
Indian guy: Not even on Air India?
Me: No. Maybe you can use the water from the sink and slosh it around.
Indian guy: My god, this is horrible. I am learning new things today that I never imagined before.

After several moments of quiet contemplation, he had the last laugh.

Indian guy: You know all the pretty Indian girls. They also all use their hands.

January 03, 2012

Arnab's Year in Cities, 2011

The year 2011 began with New Year's celebrations in Seoul with my hostel mates. I soon returned to China, wrapping up my 2.5 year odyssey at the end of May. I came back to Canada in time to attend a friend's wedding, and spent a few months there job hunting and soul searching. After securing a position at Teach For India, I set off on an expedition through Southeast Asia. A couple of months later I was in Mumbai, joining the noble movement to end educational inequity.

All told I stayed overnight in 25 cities in 2011, far fewer than in 2010 or 2009. I atoned for this by reaching double digits in countries visited in a year for the first time:


A whole new world
Don't you dare close your eyes
A hundred thousand things to see
Hold your breath - it gets better
I'm like a shooting star, I've come so far I can't go back to where I used to be

~ "A Whole New World" from Aladdin ~

December 21, 2011

A Man And His Dicos

Dicos is the premiere homegrown fast food chain in the People's Republic of China. Whenever I was in a Tier 2 or Tier 3 city and spotted a franchise, I would rejoice. At some point during my stay in that town, I would dine at Dicos. In a strange place the hint of the familiar is enough to calm the nerves. Be it at the beginning of the day before I braved the unknown, for a lunchtime break in the midst of adventuring, or to wile away the hours until a midnight train arrived to whisk me back to Beijing, Dicos was always there in my hour of need.

The heavyweight duo of KFC and McDonalds dominated the big cities, so Dicos focused on areas where they had yet to set foot in. Some of my travel partners sulked while I enjoyed each zesty bite of processed goodness, while others refused to enter the outlets altogether. During Ramadan in Kashgar there was barely a restaurant open, yet my fellow traveller Preston steadfastly refused to entertain the thought of obtaining sustenance at Dicos. Fortunately, most readily embraced the joy of Dicos. Friends would send me an instant message from afar, saying they had stumbled upon a Dicos in Inner Mongolia or some such place.

The staff at any Dicos, being Chinese, found me completely incomprehensible. Once I pointed to a combo I wanted to order, but they only gave me the burger. I again pointed to the combo I wanted and they gave me another burger. The manager came out to see what all the fuss was about. He figured out I wanted a combo, so he added it to my increasingly long bill. Other travelers had similar experiences, often accepting the items they received (but had not ordered) with serene expressions on their faces.

Physically a Dicos outlet looks like a cross between a McDonalds and KFC outlet. The format and presentation of the food is similar. It tastes somewhat better, but not in any discernible manner. Perhaps it was the knowledge that my days in Dicos were limited to my time in the far reaches of China that made it so enjoyable. To know that no other foreigner had defiled the premises before I was an uplifting thought. I estimate I visited about 25-30 Dicos in my two and a half year stay in China.


Go: Dinner at Yoshinoya.
Preston: Why? 
Arnab: No Dicos nearby.
Preston: You are shameful.

December 11, 2011

I'm Daman

Only a few hours north of Bombay are the union territories of Daman and Dadra & Nagar Haveli. They are accessible via Gujarat, where the nearest rail head of Vapi is situated. I grabbed a rickshaw to Daman. The driver asked me which Daman I wanted to go to. I looked at him blankly and told him to take me to the one that had hotels. It turned out the main town is called Moti Daman (Fat Daman) while the secluded beach side resort community is called Nani Daman (Small Daman). I found a hotel fitting my meager budget in Nani Daman, ate lunch by the rocky beach, and negotiated a tour of the surroundings with a rickshaw driver.

We ventured to the two Portuguese forts in the region, one in Moti Daman and one across the Damanganga River in Nani Daman. I climbed to the top of a lighthouse to admire the view, the rickety spiral staircase shaking as violently as the disturbed man who had sat beside me on the train. The four hundred year old Church of Bom Jesus was my next stop, before capping of the day at Jampore Beach. Gujarat is a dry state, so its borders are demarcated by a string of boozeries rather than barbed wire fencing. I imbibed at one of Jampore's many beachfront watering holes with my driver. The next morning, I found myself having breakfast at his home.

After sobering up, the driver had taken me home to meet his wife. The rest of his family would be visiting the next day, so he invited me over for breakfast then. Despite being in his early forties, he was already a grandfather. They fed me chapatis, eggs, and sauce. Post breakfast, I said goodbye to Daman and headed to Silvassa, the capital of Dadra & Nagar Haveli. While Daman is to the east of Vapi, Silvassa is to the west. I walked around the sleepy town for several hours, checking out the tribal museum and local gardens before catching a shared rickshaw back to Vapi. My bus back to Bombay was scheduled to leave after midnight, so I asked to be dropped at a local movie theater where I could pass the time.

Vapi is the fourth most polluted city in the world. The rest of the cities on the list pretty much map to the ones I visited in China. It was fitting that in this dirty city I would watch a movie called Dirty Picture. The film was about a voluptuous siren's rapid rise to fame in the Indian movie industry, and subsequent fall from grace. There were no females in the audience. Every time the lead actress displayed an ounce of flesh, the local men started baying like a pack of hyenas, cheering, whistling, and yelling obscenities that would have offended my delicate sensibilities had I been able to understand them.


"Bootiful?" - Rickshaw driver, after examining the photo he had clicked of me on my camera