Foreigner no more

Last Tuesday I took a train to Jaipur to meet my parents. Sat opposite me in the same berth were two teenagers, one boy and one girl. They were immaculately dressed; they seemed wealthy. The boy wore a pristine white t-shirt. It was made of fine cotton and fitted perfectly. His designer jeans hung loosely, beautifully clean, off the rack.

I looked down at my off-white (soot blackened), desert blasted, hooded shirt. The cuffs were frayed and stretched, it was littered with torn holes and decorated with mild brown chai stains. Further down, my jeans now proudly display both lime green and sky blue paint blotches that refuse to come off in the wash. Worse yet, the dirt around the ankles is now embedded in the denim.

I was under no illusion which of us looked more Indian.

Neither was the train conductor, who opted to speak to me in Hindi while issuing me with a Rs. 350 fine (I had taken an express train while only holding a ticket for a mail train only – a rookie mistake). I think because I spoke in Hindi he showed no leniency; there was a time when the combination of my ‘fresh off the boat’ agrez persona and limited English conversation would have allowed me to escape the fine, but not now. The perils of acclimatizing to India, foreigner no more.

India’s recent census counted a population of 1.2 billion people (about 20 times the population of the UK, four times the population of the US). There’s 62 million people in Rajasthan alone, that’s more than the UK or France.

On Tuesday morning at 6am I filled one seat of sixty on my carriage. There were maybe thirty carriages on my train, so I figure there could have been up to 1,800 people traveling with me. It was a little odd when the lady opposite, friends with the well-groomed young man, asked me if I was from Chachiyawas. Did I have it tattooed across my forehead? Or did my dirty attire give it away? Was Rajasthan that small?

It turns out she had visited our campus at RMKM last year. She was a student at Mayo Girls’ College and had listened to me give a short talk on the differences between special education in the UK and in India. It was nice of her to start a conversation, particularly after the hefty fine, in English too.

Later that week I took a train from Sawai Madhopur back to Ajmer, and I bumped into the niece and nephew of my mentor at RMKM. This was at a train station over 200km from Ajmer. This time they weren’t sat opposite me, but they did find me on the platform.

I should keep track of all the rogue encounters I have across Rajasthan with acquaintances, friends, and colleagues. I’m not famous and I certainly don’t know many people, but it seems that wherever I go I meet someone that knows me. In a state of over 60 million people and in a country of over 1.2 billion people, what are the chances?

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