As the train picked up speed, the conversations also slowly picked up. Naturally, the first question I tackled was "you are from?"
Over the past few weeks, I have come to understand that Indians immediately see me as a foreigner who once grew up in India, while foreign tourists are sometimes even surprised that I am a foreigner. One Australian couple, who seemed to be in their late sixties, thought that I didn't have even a little bit of any American accent to show for the twenty-five years I have been in the US.
So, when the older Indian fellow passengers asked me that question, I promptly said "from America." And then added after a pause "my parents live in Chennai."
"Do you speak Hindi?" was his follow-up, perhaps calculating that he might find conversation in that language easier than to continue on in English.
"So, only English and Tamil?"
"Yes" I replied with a smile.
After a few minutes of a lull period, he began "Chennai was good until Kamaraj Nadar. MGR was ok. Even the lady now is ok. But that other fellow, Karunanidhi was bad for Tamil Nadu."
I agreed with him. I didn't want to qualify my agreement with how much I think MGR was also bad for Tamil Nadu. I recalled the Nagercoil taxi driver strongly declaring that the state went to the dogs ever since the rise of the DMK and ADMK.
He then switched over to talking in Telugu with his relative, and from the names of people used, I understood that they were discussing Tamil Nadu politics.
He turned to me again and wanted to know where I was going. "Aurangabad. I want to see Ajanta and Ellora" I replied.
"I am very happy you are going to those places even though you are now in Amrika." He appeared to be genuinely happy over the fact that I was going there. "We are going to Shirdi" he added. I suppose we were on our own versions of pilgrimages.
I was very happy he asked the question as "your family?" as opposed to "your wife?" With this question, I didn't have to deal with any lying, and I simply said "in America."
"You traveling alone?"
I smiled and nodded a yes.
"Arre, what is the मज़ा (fun) when you travel alone!" he remarked.
I merely smiled. I didn't want to tell him that such traveling anymore is a reflection of my single status, and not something I had worked towards. And, internally, I know that there is a lot less मज़ा when alone, and a lot more anxiety as well. But, we play with the cards we are dealt with.
As long as the मज़ा is more than the stress, my travels will continue. And, of course, until there is money in the bank. No money, no मज़ा for sure :)