Thirty seconds ago, I wasn’t sure if I was going make it back to New Delhi at all.
When the travel agent in Bodhgaya hands me the train ticket, I’m still not sure. It’s a crumpled up piece of paper, a little sweaty and starting to wear at the folds from being in his back pocket for I don’t know how long. I had made the reservation the day before and paid him most of the money then. It was an act of faith.
“Come back tomorrow. Same time,” he said.
I knew I could trust him. I could see it in his eyes. In any case, I had no choice. That’s just how things like this work in India.
So, today, he hands me the ticket. I look at it. It looks legit. There’s the name of the train, the time, the date. Wait. The date reads the day before I had wanted to leave.
“That’s when it leaves Purni, not Gaya,” he says. Then he takes a pen and crosses out the printed dates and times and writes in the time and date we had talked about. He hands the ticket back to me and is about to walk away.
Are you confused yet?
Well, it gets better.
“So what’s my seat number?” I ask. There is no seat number printed in the little box marked “seat number”. I think this might be crucial.
He turns and gives me the little Indian head bobble that, as far as I can tell, means one of three things:
1.) Yes, I will take your money especially since it’s four times what I’m charging the guy behind you.
2.) I think you’re nice.
3.) I don’t want to answer that.
At first I think it’s #3 but then he says:
“It’s a RAC ticket. Half seat.” He says it matter-of-factly.
“Oh,” I say like I understand, like I’ve bought hundreds of “half seat” train tickets in India this month alone. Heck, it’s what I do.
“So it’s like a shared seat,” I say confidently.
This is too much for him. I am wearing out my welcome. He pretends that he doesn’t understand but then says:
That’s it. We’re done here. He walks away. This time for good.
I fold the ticket and zip it safely away in my money belt. This ticket is gold. There are 200,000 other people gathered here in Bodhgaya and each and every one of them will be leaving once Kalachakra is over. Most of them made reservations months ago. Every train, bus, plane and taxi is booked for days after the event. I’m one of the few who didn’t plan ahead.
So I feel more than lucky. Hell, I feel chosen. I feel the sweet caress of divine intervention. I feel the planets, the stars and the constellations all honing in on my tiny corner of the universe just to make things work out for little old me.
“Hot damn!” I say to myself as I walk back into the chaos and the crowd.
“I’m gonna get back to Delhi after all.”
In the end, I was right. I could feel that in my bones. What I didn’t expect was that I would learn so much along the way.