A long journey across northern India.
Lucknow, Pratapgarh, Banaras, Patna.
People flow in and out of the aisles of the train as if choreographed.
I share a smoke with a masala magnate from Calcutta. He is actually Punjabi but his family moved to Calcutta from the Lahore area over a century ago. He never goes back to Punjab.
I like Calcutta because it’s the cheapest and safest place in India. You have no riots, no gharbard. The loadshedding is tolerable–nothing like in Banaras. The price of everything is cheap: living, food, transport.
He’s a real Calcutta booster. At one point he tells me,
Yes, the police are corrupt but at least a Bengali will do what he’s bribed to do. You give him some money and your work is done. It’s the honesty I like.
He speaks in soft tones. He begins to tell me about how he used to drink like a madman. Always drunk. Always looking for a drink. He was, as he puts it, at the ‘last stage’.
He sought the help of a guru whose name is drowned out by the clacking of the rails as we whish through a dark Bihari village.
The guru freed my friend of his addiction.
He pulls out an amulet with a hand tinted image of his guru.
Whatever he says, has to happen, my companion tells me as he places the image back against his chest.
He relates more miraculous acts to a couple sitting next to him.
I climb up to the top bunk and fall asleep.