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In Search of an Indian Shower

Forget searching out Hindu gurus for enlightenment – or discovering the four noble truths within Buddhism. There are more essential things to learn in India first. ‘Transcending western notions of cleanliness’ is a self-taught class every traveller needs to undertake.

Once you’ve shed your head of the mental demands for a daily shower and fresh clothes you will reach a state of traveller nirvana which makes your existence one of less suffering (and you haven’t even started on the four noble truths!). Having reached this state you are free to explore a powerful concept: relativity as applies to cleanliness. Or put more simply: I am dirtier, so everything else seems cleaner. It comes as quite a revelation, and, as with all revelations its simplicity belies its power. The practical implications are: You are free to sleep, eat, drink, and sit wherever you choose…in absolute comfort!

The twenty three hour trip in second-class sleeper from Chennai to Bhubaneswar was a breeze. Slightly fouled, but a breeze none the less. Each carriage contains nine semi-enclosed ‘rooms’ with two triple bunks and a double bunk creating a theoretical maximum people-sleeping capacity of…72. Don’t forget to bring your own bedding and toilet paper. I would speculate – on first-hand experience – that the theoretical maximum is practically exceeded every time.

It makes for a much more enjoyable journey though. Watching the families come and go and chatting and smiling and laughing and, being Australian, fielding cricket questions. and fielding cricket questions. and fielding cricket questions. A smile and mumbling ‘Tendulkar’, ‘Dravid’, and ‘Warne’ seem to be enough to get by on my limited knowledge of the state of play today.

The selection of train food is astounding. Every thirty seconds a new face lugging some new tastes comes hollering down the aisle. Samosas, chapathi, dhal, cashew nuts, ice cream – a human-powered sushi train (without the sushi). Reclining on your plastic bench-cum-bed with your clean clothes tucked into your back-pack as a pillow and a sarong laid out as a bed sheet you almost feel Raj-esque in your sense of satisfaction.

Of course the terminal patient lying on our bunk with tubes in his nose accompanied by his distraught-but-resigned wife kept the inner-joy to a respectable minimum. To see a poverty-stricken soul taking on the role of nurse and doctor to administer medicine, and liquid food through a syringe and into the tube. To hear the death rattles that accompanied the sounds of the rhythmic track-clicking at night. To see how our life-clock has a hand that ticks all the way round to midnight.

It was all a reminder of this circle of life. India – she is very good at this. She seems honest and unflinching in laying out on the table everything it is to be human. The poverty, the madness, the deformaties, the desperation, the joy, the colour, the spiritualism, and above all the life. All being delivered in equal proportions. All in perspective. No wonder nothing at all seems to faze these people. They have a well-balanced sense of what it means to be alive.

We got a chance to see some of this life as Hindus around Bhubaneswar prepared a celebration in honour of the Goddess Durga. On every corner there were large sculptures representing Durga, Ganesh, and other Hindu deities surrounded by worshippers burning incense, praying, and making a musical ruckus. Every street scene was full of life and colour and celebration and I agree that I am liking India a lot.

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