It was one of those lazy hazy summer days travelling to Kerala on the Kanyakumari Express. The second class compartments were full of strangers, eyeing one another and not talking. Another fun vacation with my cousins, and I was looking forward to every bit of it. Amma had stuffed us with an early dinner of chapattis and curries, and I lay on the second tier berth feeling nauseous and sleepy. I was nervous to sleep as I wanted to make sure I got a glimpse of every one in my compartment and the next, so that I could figure out who was a lecher and who would not bother me as I slept. You see I had paranoia about strangers and especially those who sat at very close proximity to me on a long train ride. All I could think of is even though I had travelled every summer on a train to Thrissur, Kerala, I would never get used to sleeping without a care under the gaze of strangers. Only when the light was off and I was enclosed in darkness would I breathe a sigh of relief and drift off to sleep.
The train rumbled, and shook and snarled over the tracks all night, and toward the early morning dawn, I heard it pull to a relieved sigh to a station. Early morning vendors hopped on and gently prodding sleepy travelers with a soft “chaaya, chaaya, caffe, cafeeee” which grew to a loud shrill over the course of the morning. I could smell the hot milk that had just been boiled to make the steaming pots of tea and coffee, and I turned my head and burrowed deeper into the berth with the makeshift sheet that Amma had provided to cover. Only when I heard the window shutters of the train being opened to let the sharp light in, did I stir. I knew the pazhampori vendors will be walking by soon! Scrambling to brush my teeth in a moving train, wash my face with fresh cold water, and combing my dishelved hair, I sat near the window of the train in anticipation. I asked Appa which station we were at, as I knew that there were certain stations that sold the best pazhampori and vada and we all waited for that. I remember the one trip where we missed the station as we had overslept, what a disappointment that wa