"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Forty Eight Hours – a short story from India.

48 hour train journey from Fort Kochi to New Delhi.

In March 2004 I was 25 years old. With not a care in the world, no particular place to be and zero commitments to speak of, I packed up a rucksack and headed off to India. The future lay sparkling and I thought it would last forever.

“Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet!” The vendor paused outside our carriage door with a hopeful smile, a wide tray of the aforementioned snacks hanging from his scrawny neck. ‘‘No thank you’’ said Lisa and with a subservient nod he was gone, though we both knew he’d be back again before too long.

Dropping my book onto the blanket, I shifted myself up into a sitting position and peered out the window at the countryside rushing by. “Forty seven!” announced Lisa cheerfully from her bed. ‘‘Huh?’’ I responded. ‘‘Hours!’’ she laughed, ‘‘one down, forty-seven to go”. ‘‘Ah yes’’ I grimaced and it suddenly hit me that we’d made a monumental mistake. Forty-eight hours on a train! What were we thinking?

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

I turned back to my book with a sigh, bracing myself for the challenge ahead. I’d been put through some tricky tests during my time in India and it looked like this one was going to be the final reckoning. In fact, our route from Fort Kochi up to Delhi would take us through two thirds of the country, a staggering 1666 miles!

Train from Fort Kochi to New Delhi.

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

Our last night in Benaulim turned out to be a blast! Phil, Lisa, Allan and I had one beer too many at our local restaurant and ended up doing what we’d resolved never to do: pay a visit to Dominick, the town’s sole nightclub. It was little more than a wobbly shack with a dance floor of pure golden sand. We got pretty drunk on cheap beers and spirits, thus I found myself raving away to the likes of Y.M.C.A, I Will Survive, D.I.S.C.O and all the other crap I’d normally run a mile from. Inhabited by just a handful of local boys who were clearly die-hard regulars, one of them was so thrilled by our presence he literally went nuts!

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

I remember him dancing so close to me we were literally eyeball to eyeball! The kid knocked out some seriously funky dance moves right into my disbelieving face, his arms and legs flailing in all directions. It’s an image I’ll never forget, although my defining memory is of Allan who was laughing so hard I feared he might pass out.

Dominick Restaurant and Bar Benaulim Goa.

Dominick Bar & Restaurant, Benaulim.

“Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet!” He was back outside our door, so I gave him an empathetic nod. Once again he took the rebuttal in good humour, sauntering off down the train with his aromatic goods. ‘‘Thirty two hours’’ said Lisa, nibbling on a cookie. ‘‘Shall we play eye spy?’’

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

It was tough to leave Benaulim behind, its sleepy atmosphere having made for the most relaxing leg of my travels. Happily, we’d also chosen wisely for our next destination. It was a draining fourteen hours down to the state of Kerala and then a further three to Kochi, a major port on the south west coast.

Allan and I decided to rent an apartment in the city’s charming Fort Kochi neighbourhood. It was a big old building with enough room for Lisa and Phil, who would be arriving separately over the coming days. Until then there was plenty to be getting on with and we slipped easily into local life. Actually our days were idyllic, with regular beach walks and delicious seafood dinners. Moreover, every night we enjoyed fine views of the giant Chinese fishing nets dotted across the shore.

Visit Fort Kochi India.

Fort Kochi, India.

Photo courtesy of thebetterindia.

When Lisa joined the party, the three of us spent a day touring Kerala’s rural backwaters in a wooden boat. Our captain was a chatty local called Saab who, with great effort, heaved us along a series of emerald green canals using a cumbersome bamboo pole. “Is easy!’’ he lied, with a breathless laugh.

Eventually, having passed a few villages and several grand houseboats, the narrow waterways broke out into a wide, blue-grey lake where we jumped out for a refreshing swim. Clambering back onboard, the group was welcomed by a tasty lunch of vegetable curries served on a giant banana leaf. “Enjoy!” ordered Saab and with exchanged smiles we dutifully obliged.

Kerala backwaters cruise India

Cruising The Kerala Backwaters.

It had been a fantastic day and I was in fine spirits that night. Hence I felt totally unprepared for the news Allan gave me back at the apartment after dinner. ‘‘I’m heading home’’ he announced with a regretful smile, before launching into an explanation that involved a number of problems with an apartment he was renting out in Edinburgh. The situation was now in need of his presence and, he admitted, it felt like the trip was coming to a natural conclusion anyway.

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

While I told him that I understood, internally I was gutted. The news had come so suddenly that I was in a bit of a daze the next morning when he left after breakfast. With a brief hug and one last wave for the camera, Allan turned, headed down the lane and disappeared from sight.

Fort Kochi India.

Allan bids us farewell in Fort Kochi.

“Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet!” Highly disoriented and confused, I bolted upright, smacking my head on the metal springs of the top bunk. “Bollocks!’’ I cursed and it actually took me a moment to get my bearings.

‘‘Twenty seven hours’’.

‘‘Lisa, you awake?’’ There was a long pause followed by the rustling of a blanket. “Yeah, what time is it?” she asked, as cutlet man, barely visible in the darkness, gave up on us and moved on. ‘‘Three a.m.’’ I managed through yawn-speak, before cursing again and burying my head under the blanket. ‘‘Twenty seven hours’’, came her muffled voice.

Vegetable cutlets India

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

“They’re so beautiful!” cooed Lisa, peering out at the seemingly endless row of decorated elephants. A procession of swinging trunks, glittery headdresses and towering parasols. ‘‘Must be a bugger to get them all ready” noted Phil, fiddling with his camera. He’d arrived the day before in a blaze of glory, singing the theme tune to Top Cat and sporting a massive scabbed leg wound sustained during a moped accident back in Goa. “Well, I crashed the bloody thing” he explained, with a philosophical shrug.

Visit Kodanad Elephant Training Centre Kerala India.

Kerala Elephant Festival, April 2004.

We were at Kerala’s annual Elephant Festival and it was a sizzling hot day, the ever-swelling crowds absorbing what little oxygen there was. In a somewhat pointless attempt to protect myself, I’d fashioned a headdress of my own from a scarf bought at a local market.

Kerala Elephant Festival 2004.

Trying to keep cool at The Kerala Elephant Festival.

Luckily the searing heat didn’t spoil what proved to be another wonderful experience, the elephants performing a graceful march to a backdrop of flag-hoisting and thumping drums. In the evening there were fireworks and live music, not to mention the eventful process of trying to get home. It took us an age to flag down an available rickshaw and even then we had to share it with another group. Consequently, the vehicle was so horribly overloaded Lisa, Phil and I found ourselves hanging off the sides like primates.

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

Charmed by the beauty and character of Kerala’s elephants, Lisa and I were keen to see more. And so we headed out to a nearby sanctuary for some up close and personal time. Set in a verdant riverside village, the centre was home to twelve elephants, including a pair of adorable babies. It was touching to observe the bond between animal and trainer and a real treat to get to wash and feed them. In the minivan back to Fort Kochi, it struck me how much kinder the second half of my trip had been to me and how the skulking claustrophobia of Jaipur now seemed as far away and trivial as a bad dream.

Trainer with baby Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary Kerala India 2004

Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary, Kerala.

‘‘How’s your vegetable cutlet?’’ asked Lisa, taking an uncertain bite of her own. ‘‘I don’t hate it’’ I replied, gazing out the window but not really looking. I was in a foul mood, with a bad case of cabin fever that no amount of pacing up and down the train could cure. “Fifteen hours!’’ she said. Reaching over to the little table between our beds, I opened the box of Scrabble we’d brought and began idly sifting through the letters. ‘‘Good idea, let’s go!” enthused Lisa, but I was not feeling social.

‘‘First person to spell cutlet is the winner!’’

‘‘No, I’m just gonna play on my own’’ I muttered, oblivious to the ridiculousness of what I was saying. “Oooooook” she replied, returning to her book with an incredulous shake of the head. It took a few minutes for me to realise how stupid I was being and then the guilt set in. ‘‘Come on then!” I said at last, determined to break out of my malaise, ‘‘first person to spell cutlet is the winner!’.

Short story India

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

When the Kathakali performance finally finished Phil and I shot out of our seats and scurried out of the theatre as fast as our legs could carry us. ‘‘Oh my god, I really hope we didn’t offend anyone in there!” I was still laughing hard, my ribs still sore, tears pouring down my face. ‘‘Dear god!’’ puffed Phil, wiping his own eyes with a snigger.

A traditional southern Indian dance, the Kathakali show we’d just seen incorporated colorful masks, gaudy costumes and highly dramatised, mimed facial expressions. We hadn’t meant to be insensitive, but Phil and I had found the whole thing so silly we’d begun chuckling to ourselves. To this day I don’t know how it spiralled so far out of control, but we’d at least had the sense to get ourselves out of there before someone ejected us.

Kathakali India.

The Indian art form of Kathakali.

Phil and I were still calming down when we got back to the apartment. It was late and yet the three of us sat in the kitchen drinking wine and chatting. It was then, completely out of nowhere, that the realisation hit me like a cold slap to the face. Lisa and Phil were in the midst of some deep discussion but I was completely detached, unable to focus on anything but the details of what had to be done next. Unsure as to whether the sensation might be a temporary one, I decided to sleep on it and see if I might feel differently in the morning.

“I’ve had enough, it’s time for me to go home”.

However, from the moment I awoke there was an instant understanding that only one course of action lay ahead. ‘‘Can you pass me the milk?’’ asked Lisa. The two of us were rustling up a makeshift breakfast, Phil still fast asleep. As we sat there eating I mulled over the different ways in which I could break the news. Finally, taking a leaf out of Allan’s book, I opted to be as blunt and honest as I could. ‘‘Lisa…’’ I ventured, bowl of cornflakes in hand, “I’ve had enough, it’s time for me to go home”.

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“Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet!” 

“Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet!” ‘‘Sod off!’’ I mumbled from under the blanket. But he obviously didn’t understand, because I could hear him standing there sniffing and shuffling his feet. When at last he was gone I emerged from my bed and gave Lisa a shake. ‘‘Four hours!’’ I grinned, but my heartening news fell on deaf ears: ‘‘I’m so done with this’’ she croaked.

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

We were certainly on the same page, I was fed up with it all too. Not just this stupidly long train journey, but the trip in general. I was tired of living out of a bag, jaded by the draining heat and the endless negotiations over hotel rooms and taxis. I’d begun daydreaming of a Sunday roast at my parents’ cottage in rural Scotland, of Yorkshire pudding, white sauce and cauliflower. I thought of the rolling green fields around Sweethope and pictured myself taking Inde for a walk up the hill. I could almost feel the cool afternoon breeze on my face and a book under my arm as we made our way.

48 hour train journey from Fort Kochi to New Delhi.

Daydreaming of not being on a train. ‘Somewhere’ in India.

When we eventually hobbled off at New Delhi Train Station Lisa and I were a pair of gibbering wrecks. Having booked into our guesthouse on Paharganj, we eagerly headed out for pizza and beers followed by a visit to the cinema for good measure. We ended up catching Along Came Polly, a romantic-comedy-by-numbers starring Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston. Not their finest work by a long shot, but a much-needed night at the movies nonetheless. It just felt so good to be off that train, a mammoth tub of popcorn balanced on my lap and the knowledge that a new chapter of my life lay ahead.

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

‘‘Airport?’’ asked the taxi driver, eyeing my luggage with a greedy leer. ‘‘Yup!’’ I confirmed, but he was already scooping it up in his hands and heading for the boot. I don’t remember much about that final drive, which I spent staring out the window in a disengaged haze. Careering down the motorway at a typically breakneck speed, I thought of Devda the ear cleaner and his little box. I recalled the horror of that awful room in Agra and the breathless beauty of The Taj Mahal. I saw Lindsay gliding through the desert on her camel to the sound of Mr. Magoo’s bowling laughter. Furthermore, images of James Bond and Bombay cocktails flashed before me as I drifted off to sleep in the back seat.

10 Rupee note India.

In my restless slumber there were also snapshots of the so-called Pink City and for a moment I was back on that damn train again tied to the bed, a masked man laughing manically as he force-fed me from a bowl of vegetable cutlets. At some point The Cashew Kid was whispering some inaudible secret into my ear and then I was jolted out of my stupor by the shuddering of brakes.

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

Stepping out into the stuffy Delhi afternoon, I retrieved my luggage from the boot and made a beeline for the departures hall. Sucking in lungfuls of delicious air con, I checked in, handed over my bag and decided on one last Indian meal before going through security. It was a buffet-type deal with rice, curry, naan and a tempting selection of fried snacks. Loading up my plate with a variety of delights, I dropped my tray down at the register as the cashier looked over everything, calculating the bill in his head. “That’s 300 Rupees please’’ he said with a smile, “would you like a free vegetable cutlet?”

‘Forty Eight Hours’ is the twelfth and final part of my short story series Incidents In India.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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  • exiledprospero

    It’s amazing to learn what one individual is prepared to do to attain, finally and irrevocably, the holy grail of Indian fried food, the samosa or pakora fritter.

    July 5, 2015 - 2:00 pm Reply
  • Forty Eight Hours – a short story from India. | natty4t's Blog

    […] Forty Eight Hours – a short story from India.. […]

    July 5, 2015 - 3:56 pm Reply
  • Anonymous

    Fantastic final episode. Loved it.

    July 5, 2015 - 6:40 pm Reply
  • Diann Peterson

    Cutlet! I win…cute and VERY short. ?

    August 8, 2016 - 7:54 pm Reply
  • Akshay

    Leighton, I love your blog. I read the entire India section and I cracked up so many times … It was nice to know a foreigner’s perspective on my country 🙂
    how long was this trip?

    February 25, 2017 - 7:14 pm Reply
    • leightonliterature

      Hi Akshay, thanks a lot for your kind words! The trip was just under two months and seems so long ago to me now it could almost be another lifetime. I was a young, inexperienced traveller and parts of the adventure were very challenging for me, albeit highly amusing. If you’re interested in reading more about my life travels, please check out my short story collections on Qatar, Slovakia, Belgium and China, as well as my photo posts. Thanks again for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

      February 25, 2017 - 8:18 pm Reply
  • Andrew Blackadder

    Trying to understand India is impossible, however when one arrives back in ones own country they look back and see it in a different light and by doing so think they have understood what transpired. Every Westerner should visit India one time in their life as it will give them gratitude that they were born in The Western World and it shakes them out of the spoiled slumber.

    April 28, 2020 - 6:02 pm Reply

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