January 24, 2018

The Crane Dance – Excerpt

Prologue. Passage to India

THE TRAIN STATION IN DELHI IS TEEMING with people, suitcases stacked three and four tall on heads of coolies, huge bundles of goods waiting for loading, small fires smelling like burnt charcoal at the edge of the platform. The driver from the five-star Delhi hotel, where I had attended a meeting, is striding in front of me, determined to get me to my train. He guides me through throngs of people as thick as the afternoon dust. In his crisp beige suit and chauffeur’s cap, he is as conspicuous as I am – a six-foot-tall white man a head taller than most of the Indians jostling on the steps of the bridge that leads to the second set of tracks.

Passengers hang on to luggage and to each other as they press along the steps, moving toward the exit or with us toward the departing trains. No one seems to notice the person sleeping with a thin, dirty wrap across him on a step. Perhaps he’s a holy man, I think, or maybe he’s dead. A scene from my visit to Calcutta more than 30 years earlier dashes through my brain, a dead body on the street not far from the railroad station. But there’s no time for staying with the past, that year I spent in India as a Peace Corps volunteer. I need to concentrate on staying with the driver and finding the Gondwana Express, scheduled to depart at 14:30.

Walking across the bridge and onto the Gondwana track, I realize now that the driver is as lost as I am. His usual job is to take guests on tours of the city, to and from the airport, or sometimes on an all-day trip to and from Agra to see the Taj Mahal. The train station presents a challenge with its swarming chaos holding out the promise of order but only if you can decipher the code.

Dodging mounds of baggage, coolies, children, and animals, we see “Gondwana Express” on the lists posted on the cars to our right. I begin searching for my name next to a seat reservation but see only a long list of Indian names. The driver and I look on a few cars with no luck – all Indian names. The line of passenger cars stretches as far as I can see. The train is due to depart in less than 15 minutes now, and I can feel the adrenaline boiling up. I do not intend to miss my train to Jabalpur. I left there in 1970. Now, in 2003, I am on my first trip back. I have come too far not to make it back to see the family with whom I lived for nearly a year.

Holding out my ticket, the driver tries to ask a conductor for directions to my car. But too many are asking the beleaguered conductor questions at once, and he points vaguely down the track towards the second-class cars. We go back where we have just been and see another conductor. The driver repeats the process with the same result.

Adrenalin pumping now at full force, I grab the ticket from the driver and look more closely, seeing the “A1” under the column “Coach” in small print under the Hindi script. I run back to the first conductor again, lift my ticket over the shorter Indians surrounding him.

“A1, kahan hai?” I shout, pressing my ticket under his nose. He points two cars down in the direction opposite from where he had sent us before, his Hindi a blur of sounds but the meaning clear enough. At the entrance to the car, I scan down the list and see my name with the seat reservation number that matches my ticket, clear and organized. The famous efficiency in the train system, built in the English colonial era, appears as rock solid as ever in the midst of this chaos.

The driver and I confirm the pick-up time in two days on the return train and I watch him walk away. I am on my own, back to the resources that I relied upon in 1969, when I joined the Peace Corps organized through the vision of John Kennedy. Now, at age 56, on my occasional trips to a developing country for my job, I am accustomed to staying in well-heeled hotels in capital cities and having my company’s local office available for backup needs. But now I am boarding an overnight train in India, a laptop computer hidden in my bag, no food, and basically no Hindi.

Moving down the aisle, I see mostly Indian men and a few families settling into the seats that will turn into beds before too many hours. No Americans. I find my seat, push my backpack under me on the floor, take a deep breath, and glance out the window at the harried conductor. The scene minutes before comes back to mind.

Kahan hai. Somehow, I remembered how to say “Where is it?” I had long forgotten the basic Hindi I had learned so long ago. If someone had asked me how to translate that phrase, I could never have conjured up the answer. Nevertheless, buried somewhere deep in my memory, the Hindi emerged. I smile, thinking that it came from a soul or spirit place, where important life messages and deeply rooted patterns of behavior lodge.…

MY SECOND PASSAGE TO INDIA offers an opportunity to return to the place that launched me into adulthood without the anchors of home, family, school, and culture. My return to Jabalpur means revisiting that place and the Razas – and to some extent, the emotions of that time. This trip provides a chance to help me frame the central theme of my adult life.

The transitions in my life, both large and small, have triggered what I have learned are symptoms of depression – worry, lack of hope, workaholism, irritability, and sleeplessness. Ironically, in 1969, I was far more prepared for the challenges of going to India than I was for the transition back to the States. The trip to India proved difficult, but the return home triggered a depression that sent me spiraling down a tunnel.

Even so, in 1971, I regained firm ground. And when other major transitions arrived, I continued to sidestep recurring cycles of darkness, as if in a children’s dodge-ball game. Not until I lost my job in 1988 at age 41, with two young children, did the direct hit occur. Only then did I address the patterns long ingrained in my brain and behavior. Only then did I realize the stakes in changing deep survival patterns and face the task of rediscovering the unique spark that arrived on earth in me.

(end excerpt)