Sunday, March 6, 2011

R.O.U.S. in India

Buttercup: What about the R.O.U.S.?
Westley: Rodents of Unusual Size? I don't think they exist.
[Immediately, an R.O.U.S. attacks him.]

{a happier moment on the trains}

“Do not be afraid of the rats,” the gentle Indian man in the second class waiting room tells me. “They're just being friendly.”

I look up at the ledge above my head, at the row of tiny, sharp-featured rat faces that fearlessly stare back at me. I see the flash of a thin, straggly rat tail as one of them turns and flees.

“But I don’t want to be their friend,” I reply, with a tinge of panic that causes my voice to rise. I draw both legs under me, crouching at the edge of my seat like an anxious gargoyle.

Katie and I have had only had one small meal all day and were munching on snacks at the train station when I first noticed the movement above us. I freeze in place, marsala potato chip only half in my mouth. I am afraid to finish chewing it. Katie notices my strange behavior and her eyes follow mine. She freezes too. Rats. Quietly, we put our uneaten food back into our backpacks. Let's go to the next room, we whisper, as though we are in a library of rats.

We move to the edge of the adjoining waiting room, which is packed. I am so tired and all the seats are taken. I put my backpack on the floor and slump into it, closing my eyes. Katie sits down the floor beside me. We are only been there a few minutes when Katie jumps to her feet. Some of the rats have come down the wall, scampering around people on the floor and to the doorway that is just a few feet from us.

When the Indian men see that we are afraid of the rats, they laugh. A couple of them kindly offer their seats. It is at this point that one of them tells me the rats want to be my friends. I take the chair, but decline the philosophy.

Katie and I are stuck for hours at the train station, as the "super-fast express train to Jodhpur" (actual title) is running over 5 hours late. Earlier in our trip, when I mention the perpetual lateness of Indian trains, one young man replies, “Ah, well. India is like a little girl. Sometimes she is very bad, but what can you do with her?” The Indian passengers are prepared for late trains. As the shadowy evening darkens into night, more and more people unpack threadbare blankets which they spread across the floor for bedding. They lay across the blankets in piles of families.

For a while, this new room seems safe, so long as we keep watch on the door. Then we notice that the affable rats have moved onto the ledges above the walls in this waiting room. Or else a more undesirable scenario: There are even more rats in this room.

I begin to miss being afraid of cows. Cows! What was I ever thinking to fear cows? Cows bring good things like milk, which, in turn, means ice cream, yogurt, and lassi. Why, cows should have been my BFFs. Rats, on the other hand, bring nothing to the table – except sometimes the plague.

Katie and I gently argue.

"Come to the platform," Katie says while standing in the middle of the room, the place that she feels best enables her to monitor the rats. "There can't be any rats on the platform because there aren't any walls for them to hide in."

"No," I stubbornly insist, though she presents this plea several times. "We don't know that. There might be more out there."

When the staticky intercom finally blares our train's approach, we warily walk onto the platform.

"See?" Katie says triumphantly. "No rats."

I point to the tracks below. There, just before the train's approach, runs a shadowy wave of rats, hundreds of them.

"Oh," Katie says.

Then she says, "When I get back home, I think I'm going to start watching horror movies. They can't have anything on this."

Appreciate Your Life
{train toilet = metal-rimmed hole that empties directly onto the tracks}


  1. That tourist ticket office was an amazing shelter from this type of experience. I got to eat my masala munch in piece.

    I have to say that compared to Vietnamese overnight trains, the bathroom on the Indian train was not that bad... it may have drain onto the tracks, but at least it wasn't flooded with and inch of pee...

  2. Ewww, now I have something to dread, err prepare for, regarding Vietnam. (And I only wish we'd thought about hiding in the tourist ticket office.)

  3. I could probably deal with the rats not that I would want to but I know my mom and family would be flipping out. It wouldnt be an enjoyable trip at all. That toilet while what can I say it serves its purpose.

    Bluegreen Kirk