June 2007

I dislike feeling at home when I’m abroad.

— George Bernard Shaw 


BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s constitutional judges acquitted the Democrat Party on three of four charges that could see it disbanded and their leaders banned from politics.

After more than three hours of summing up the cases against the Democrats and the party of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the judges said the Democrats were not guilty of slandering Thaksin during an election campaign last year.

They also acquitted the Democrats, which boycotted the election, of bribing people to accuse Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party of hiring them to run, thus validating a poll requiring a sole candidate to get 20 percent of the vote.



The train lets out a long, low horn – not a whistle – and creeps forward, a bass-like thrum in its forward berths, the clack of track below. Gurgaon says the sign out the tinted window: we’re near Delhi station now. The outskirts, the suburbs, the slums.

Crumbling brick buildings. Burning debris. Mounds of plastic refuse.

Near train stations and railways has always been where the poorest of the poor live – where the noise is worst, where the smoke is worse still, where the offal from countless trains runs off and kills the already sparse vegetation and poisons the animals and children.

The dilapidated shanties of the poor greet us after a 19-hour journey from the desert of the northwest – just as they greeted us in Bangkok, just as they would in Chicago or Denver. Still, in India it feels worse. More permanent. Suffering that’s immutable, a crushing, undeniable, permanent fact of life for millions.

We hear about strikes but don’t see any: industry continues unabated, unabashed along the rail. Armies of men in collared shirts and pants stand squinting in the sun, shovels in hand and heads wrapped in rags, sweating through hard labor: the laying of another track, iron, concrete and rock: more track for more passengers, more freight. Evenly spaced rhombuses of granite rock broken small litter the railside: a lot of work to be done. India has a billion people or so the census estimates.

Alongside the men is another big production, more patient, women shaping and drying discs of manure in dirt yards, piling them high: towers and pyramids of shit. One resource that will never fail in a country that reveres cows.

We roll on. Bijwasan says the black-lettered yellow sign, but we don’t stop. This is an express train.

The shanties lean against one another in corrugated commiseration. The cows and dogs and pigs busy themselves foraging amid the rubble and rubbish. Shopkeepers and housekeepers shoo them away. Bricks fall from swung sledgehammers: constant reclamation.

Train travel is the way to see India and comprehend, maybe, partially, this state of flux. It is a country in the throes of change. There are visions of great beauty, and power, in places inaccessible to all but the rail.

Stopped randomly between remote stations, we watch a twilight cricket match, children running across a sandy pitch in the dusty dusk, and a sudden wicket! – Maybe. Followed by a celebration worthy of the World Cup. Later from our tinted window in the early morning we see a trio of women in bright salwar kameez: gauzy yellow, orange and white moving through tall grass in one of countless empty fields outside Delhi. In the train station when we finally disembark, stunned momentarily in the hazy buzz of the capital, a pair of peacocks strut by. The Urban Peacock.

The biggest Brahma bulls have brightly colored horns, and beads and painted haunches and necklaces. The best and tallest, the great white oxen with symmetric horns, long legs, and a proud bearing, pull carts down busy thoroughfares, their noses high. It’s good to be a cow here, except having to eat garbage.

After 19 hours we’re a little dazed. We lose our bearings and end up boarding another train. Five hours later we land in Haridwar, north of the capital, a holy city near the source of the Ganges River. It is night.


“Where from?”


“What country?”

“U.S. The States.”

“Oh, USA. Amedica. Very great country.”

“We’re all right.”

“Yes, very strong.”

“Very strong.”

“Very great.”


“What city?”


“Oh, Washington, D.C. The capital of Amedica. Very nice.”

“It’s OK. Where you from?”


“Oh, India. We love your country. Great country.”

“Yes, great country, India.

“Very great.”


Thus we changed the subject. Many times we had some variation of this conversation. Indians were less keen to discuss their own country, naturally. They all had a very high opinion of “Amedica.” Not so much the current state of affairs; but we did find one goat herder in Rajasthan who thought the world of George W. Bush.


Aarti in Haridwar, left, and Rishikesh


Part One

Part Two

Those were the days when you went for a beer in Paris and woke up in Corsica.

— Peter O’Toole

Everyone wishes a measure of mystery to their life that they have done nothing in particular to deserve.

— Jim Harrison

Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius.

— Edward Gibbon

The rapine of an hour is more productive than the industry of years.

— Gibbon

I like to think of myself as a patriot, but even more so as a man. Where the two disagree, I say the man is right.

— Hermann Hesse

JAIPUR, India — Angry villagers burned police stations and damaged railroad tracks as they continued their protest in northwestern India on Wednesday, a day after clashes with police left at least 14 people dead, officials said.

Thousands of villagers continued to block key highways in the region to press their demand for special status for the Gujjar community, ensuring them government jobs and spots in educational institutions, said Madhukar Gupta, an administrator in Jaipur district.

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