When I decided to come to India alone in 1995, I had already been here five or six times before, but always with other people. I had the idea in my mind that it was risky for a woman to travel to India alone, an idea that many people around me were cheerfully promoting. But, happily, I decided to ignore them and come anyway.
After arriving in Delhi, I went to a travel agent to book a flight to Varanasi. Flights were booked up, so he got me a train ticket instead (in 2AC). As it was an overnight train, I was nervous about it. The agent informed me that the compartment had locking doors and would be all women. Knowing little of Indian trains, I decided to accept that, though I was a bit skeptical. The skepticism turned out to be fully justified, as neither of these situations applies to 2AC. 1AC does have compartments with locking doors, and there is supposed to be an all woman’s compartment in the lowest class on all passenger trains, but neither of these applied to my 2AC ticket.
So when I boarded the train, I found myself in a compartment with curtains instead of locking doors. But what was worse was that when I looked around, I noticed that I was not only foreigner in the whole coach, but also the only woman! That’s a rare situation, for sure, and undoubtedly some women got on later, but it really freaked me out.
I decided that maybe it was a bad idea to take that train and that I should get off and find some other way of getting to Varanasi. Just then, as I was starting to get my bag out from under the berth, a dignified, orange-robed sannyasi came in. He immediately saw what was going on and said, “Don’t worry. I am a man of God and I will take care of you.” I looked at him for a few seconds to see if he was for real and decided he was, so I decided to trust him and shoved my bag back under the berth.
In getting out of the taxi at the station, I had dropped the packed dinner that I had brought, and I wasn’t about to eat the train food, so I resigned myself to a hungry journey. but again, the sadhu came to my rescue without my saying a word. He had a tiffen packed with his dinner and he offered to share it with me. Again, I decided to trust that it would be OK, and it was not only OK (didn’t make me sick), it was delicious. You don’t normally find sannyasis traveling 2AC, equipped with tiffens full of such delicious food, no less, but I am not about to question such a gift.
We didn’t talk much during the journey. Unfortunately, I was too shy to ask him all the questions that were welling up. He just asked me a couple of questions about what I was doing and where I was going and that was all. However, I was getting off at Mughalsarai, where at the time there was little chance of finding someone who spoke English, so he got off the train with me and found me a coolie and told him where to take me. At that point, I just looked at him and told him that I felt that God had sent him to take care of me. He just laughed, of course.
This was a great welcome to India for me. I was home, and I knew that I would be taken care of. And I stopped worrying about being a woman alone and just got on with enjoying being here.