Another part of “The Frontier Mail” (The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theorux)
I wondered whether I would find any of this Indian candour familiar enough to ignore. I was told that I should not draw any conclusions from Delhi: Delhi wasn’t India - not the real India. Well, I said, I had no intention of staying in Delhi. I wanted to go to Simla, Nagpur, Ceylon - to whenever there was a train.
"There is no train to Ceylon."
"There’s one on the map." I unrolled my map and traced the black line from Madras to Colombo.
"Acha," said the man. He wore a colourful land-loomed shirt and he waggled his head from side to side, the Indian gesture - like a man trying to shake water out of his ears - that means he is listening with approval. But the man, of course, was an American. Americans in India practise these affections to endear themselves to Indians, who seem so embarrassed by these easily parodied mannerisms that (at the American embassy at least) the liaison men say "We’re locking you into that programme," while the American looking on says "Acha" and giggles mirthlessly.
I was being locked into a programme: lectures in Jaipur, Bombay, Calcutta, Colombo. Wherever, I said, there was a train.
"There is no train to Colombo."
"We’ll see," I said, and then listened to one of those strange conversations I later found so common as to be the mainstay of American small talk in India: The American on His Bowels.