Wednesday, October 11, 2006
India on Wheels
A couple of days back while browsing through the books at the kiosk at the railway station, Ariela chanced upon one by a German photographer who was confined to a wheel chair after a motor bike accident at the age of 23. (He is now 49). That is about the extent of the confinement because Andreas Pröve in his book on India writes about the route he took to the country. He didn't opt to just sit in a plane and fly over (which is most certainly what I would have done). He took the train to Istanbul first and from then on it was a real adventure, getting onto trains, onto buses, seeing his wheel chair strapped on top of a jerky bus bumping along potholed roads in Pakistan and wondering if it would still be there when he arrived at his destination.
In one of the early scenes he describes how he got onto the train to Turkey, which he caught from Belgrade. People rushed past him to clamber into already crowded compartments. He sat around waiting to be helped up but nobody did. So at the last minute just as the conductor was getting ready to flag off the train he wheeled himself over and asked the conductor to help him but he didn't. So Andreas actually pulls the whistle from out of his mouth to prevent him from blowing it and in that very second a late passenger comes huffing down the platform, asks him if he wants to board, barks at the passengers blocking the way and heaves him up onto the train. It turns out he is a Turk and visiting his family in Izmir for a few days. They spend a lot of time talking with each other and the Turk shares his sandwiches with him and even invites him to spend some time with him and his family in Izmir, an invitation which Andreas declines this time since he is eager to make his way to India. Well this seems to be the first of many such mindboggling events which helped Andreas along the way.
I have not yet come to the part where he lands in India but his adventures in Pakistan are quite something. The cheap hotel where he is staying in Karachi for example, has a bathroom which is too narrow for him to get into with his wheel chair. But fortunately, writes Andreas, there was a Hilton hotel round the corner, with plush bathrooms designed for disabled people and for those in wheel chairs and he just goes over. When the guard asks him a bit suspiciously if he is a guest at the hotel and for his room number he shrugs and coolly mentions a number around 150 and the guard lets him in.
There is a lot of humour in the book and I am quite enjoying it except that I have to read it in German. But then I guess my German is going to improve by leaps and bounds within the next weeks!