Arrival in Madurai

“Wait on the platform for me, because there are a lot of stairs.  If I’m not there, go up the stairs, exit to platform 1 and wait by the ticket booth. If I’m not there, take a rickshaw to Madurai Residency; we’re in room 401 and 402.  The rickshaw shouldn’t cost more than 30 rupees.  Don’t worry though, I’ll find you.”

“Go up the stairs at platform one, or wait in the waiting room, or hang around the platform. Up the stairs is best. What ever I’ll find you.”

My suitcase felt heavy enough to pull me off the train. Putting old style heavy SLR digital, lenses, c-pap machine, more than a dozen books for my grandchildren all in the same suitcase was one of many after the fact travel lessons learned – spread the heaviness around. Anyway, exiting the train was a necessity.  I had to chance it and, with as tight a grip as I could manage, I thrust the suitcase downward trying not to drop it but searing my muscles.

The crowd is similar to the Toronto subway when people try to get on and off simultaneously. Many of the people greeting passengers are porters; I don’t know who is who. I see no space to add myself.

My arm dangles the suitcase and I don’t see a step to get down. As I lean over attempting to see a step, my suitcase lightens. Someone has helped.

Oh thank you. Thank you. I am rambling multiple thank yous into the air. Then, I notice the helper is Morgan, my son.

With relief, excitement, and happiness, I throw my arms around a very grinning Morgan as if I haven’t seen him in years instead of a few weeks.


Morgan’s perspective

When I had announced to my mother that I was taking a five-week trip to India with my wife and our three children, my mother replied by saying that she’d be joining us for the last two.  “That’s great,” was the only safe reply I could think of.

We had arranged our rendezvous in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.  My family and I went a day early to arrange a hotel and to see The Temple City of The Temple State of India.  The Meenakshi Temple was truly spectacular.  The highlight was being blessed by a temple elephant.  When you held out a coin, the elephant would bop you on the head with his trunk, and then pass the coin with his trunk to his handler.  For 10 rupees, the handler would let you take a picture with the elephant’s trunk draped over your head.  It shouldn’t have surprised me that the elephant’s trunk was extremely heavy; I mean, it is an elephant after all.

My mother’s train was coming in at 11:00 pm.  We had chosen a very nice hotel that was within walking distance of the train station.  After three weeks of staying in many different hotels in India, this one (which was the fanciest) cost about half of what most of the others had cost.  This made it painfully clear how much I had been consistently ripped off up until now.

I had sent an email earlier that had outlined a plan for meeting at the train station.  I thought it was a pretty good plan.  Lots of contingencies.  I arrived at eleven pm when her train was due.  I was told at information that the train from Trivandrum was due at 11:30 pm; at least this is what I understood.  There was a fair bit of confusion because they were convinced that I wanted to go to Trivandrum by train.  I knew Madurai was the end of the line, so I hoped that our differing views on my directional needs would result in the same train.

There are prerecorded announcements on the platform to let you know which train is arriving next and on which platform.  The trains are named by their point of origin (much like the New York, Washington DC, and London subways); this is only useful if you’ve ever heard of any of the cities of origin.  I had not, so I ran and met every train that arrived.  After every train I would run the length of the platform looking for a confused white woman with too many bags (something that I know I contributed to by asking her to bring a small library of reading material for my voracious children).  At around 11:45 pm, when the third train arrived, I positioned myself in the middle of the platform and scanned the cars as they went by.  The flash of white skin that gleamed from the doorway of the moving train car was unmistakable.  I ran along side the train as it slowed down and I waited by the door.  Sure enough, I saw her in the doorway struggling to get her two suitcases, two shoulder bags and a backpack off the train.  I reached a hand out to help, but she was so distracted by her baggage that I was unsure that she even knew it was me.  I was a little surprised with how unconcerned she was that a strange hand was taking her bag away and I could tell she didn’t know it was me by the way she thanked me so profusely.

I had only been away from home for three weeks so it wasn’t that I had been missing her, but I’ve never been so happy to see her.  There is always something thrilling about meeting someone at the train, so that was a little bit of what made it so wonderful.  It was funny because I was in a country that was so foreign, but standing with my Mom, which is so familiar, made me feel like I was home again.