Saturday, July 10, 2004

notes from in-between: (portland to eugene)

I'm sitting in the train station, waiting to embark on an ill-advised and poorly-coordinated trip down to Eugene to go to the Oregon Country Fair and see Anne-Marie, who I otherwise wouldn't see until next week sometime. Physically I don't feel up to the trip, but my body is a secondary concern right now - it always says the same thing anyway, so I feel like I can (try to) ignore it for a few days.

Train stations are weird... not proper places at all, but in-between places, points that hold down the ends of long straight parallel lines. Portland's Union Station is a large hall of marble from a different age, with wooden church-pew seats and vaulted ceilings. You'd think it would be a majestic place. It's not.

I started riding the trains when I figured out that there was a huge cultural divide between the average Greyhound rider and the average train rider. Unfortunately, either someone let the secret out or (and I'm being charitable here) the average traveler in this country has degenerated into a rude loud cellphone-using cigarette-reeking dipshit. I am the only one in the station that doesn't have a cellphone, and therefore the only one that isn't loudly broadcasting the sordid details of their pathetic little lives. (Instead I'm quietly posting the sordid details of my own pathetic little life, but somehow that seems more polite... you don't have to come here and read this stuff, whereas if I want to get on the train I do in fact need to stay here.)

The woman on the bench behind me is describing in intricate detail the punishments she is going to inflict on 'you little fuckers' when she gets home; occasionally she laughs and displays a sardonic grin. After ten minutes of this I'm not sure if she's abusing her children or running a phone-sex line for clientele with, ummm, very specific needs.

There is a smell in the in-between places, this ashen grey brimming from the lungs of people who have spent their lives smoking, hacking black-spotted sputum into the corners *inside the building* as they return from smoking outside. I hate humans.


Blogger krishna said...

Hi. Sorry for the faux pas. I could not stop blushing! Mushika is not a common name and not many people, including many Indians , know what it stands for. As both of you( Mushika, the poet and Foobario) are Americans and seem to be fairly knowledgeable about India, its culture and mythology, I thought you are the same person. Incidentally, there is a lot of affinity between your ideas and thoughts.

"The average traveler in this country has degenerated into a rude loud cellphone-using cigarette-reeking dipshit. I am the only one in the station that doesn't have a cellphone, and therefore the only one that isn't loudly broadcasting the sordid details of their pathetic little lives."
Your observation and reaction brought a smile to my face! Privacy is a western concept and we, in India, are used to strangers sharing the intimate details of their lives. When you travel by a train, you meet people who would be discussing/gossiping about their relatives, acquaintances, bosses etc. and few hours would be sufficient for the entire compartment of people to know details about others. I do not readily share my feelings in such scenarios as I am an introvert but I do not mind such conversations and I am a good listener. We all want a little warmth, a feeling of kinship and some one to listen to our woes, imaginary or real and if a human interaction provides such opportunity, what is wrong with it?
If I were in your place, I would have tried to deduce things about the person in question and her relationships from her conversation over the cell phone or I would have concentrated on something else. It amuses me to realize that something that I accept as matter of fact infuriates you. "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet."

Blogger Foobario said...

The first time I went to India my whole concept of 'personal space' got blown away... in the US, you usually won't get within a foot of another person when talking to them, but in India people would talk with their faces like 4 inches apart. Also, in the US, you shake someone's hand for a second or two, but in India they don't let go of your hand, they just keep holding it. Extended eye-contact isn't common here either, but it's fine in India and apparently compulsory if there's a white guy (moreso if there's a white woman) nearby. It took awhile for me to figure out that my American ideas about personal space had no meaning anywhere outside of America.

(At one point I decided that I could probably get rich by making a little booth with curtains on the front, and charge people 10 rupees to look at the white guy. In New Delhi I actually did charge the people who wanted me to come look in their shops - right up front. "Come see my shop." "I'll come see your shop if you give me 10 rupees." Most of them would think I was crazy and leave me alone [the desired effect], but some of them would be so surprised by the idea they'd actually give me the money. They basically bought my lunch every day.)

Now I'm having the same issue here in the states... the technological revolution has caused changes in the culture that break the model I grew up with, and like a dusty old grandfather complaining about how much better things were 'in my day', I don't like all of the changes. I sometimes wonder if there's really been that much of a change in the culture, or if my travels have changed me to the point where I see the stereotype of the rude loud American from the outside.

Either way, I just don't feel good hearing people express anger or hatred at all, and in a public place it seems very rude to me, disrespectful of those around them. It's a contextual thing... I guess I haven't yet accepted that my personal ideas about polite behaviour have no meaning anywhere outside of myself.

(My friend Richard is amused to no end at my continued optimism/naivete, that I would still after all this time continue to expect better of people; when I bring up issues like this, he always says "okay, I'll play your silly little game..." before joining the debate.)

As for Indian trains: Imagine being a 2-meter tall white guy with long red hair and an American sense of personal space, sitting in a train compartment that is supposed to hold 6 people but currently contains myself, 4 men (two of whom are soldiers with rifles, the other two of whom are constantly changing as others decide they want to come stare at me for awhile), 3 mataji's (all of whom are armed with myriad little stackable tins of food and lacking the knowledge that I knew some basic Hindi terms ['sweta bandar' seemed to come up quite a bit in their conversations]), 3 or 4 children (who soon learned that I knew other terms, like 'aage jao, yaa mai tumko ek tuppa dunga' [hrmmm, much easier to write that in Devanagari than in English, hope it made sense]), and a goat. This was a 3-day train ride from Kolkata to Chennai, the 'express' [which apparently is a Sanskrit word meaning 'very slow method of conveyance']. I was blessed with continual opportunities to revise my ideas about personal space :)

As for the cellphone woman in the train station: unfortunately I did try to deduce things about her and her relationships from her conversation... and I was terrified by my conclusions. For her kids sake, I hope I was wrong. I come from a very abusive family, and I'm pretty familiar with being on the receiving end of the words she was saying, and with the actions that inevitably followed them. Part of my revulsion was due to what she was saying, and part of it was due to the fact that she had no sense of shame about saying such horrible things in public.

I've noticed that our discussions that follow posts here tend to be much longer than the posts themselves, and often more interesting... I'm glad you continue to visit.
  Post a Comment
return to front page