I read it takes one and a half hours by express train to travel from New Delhi to Agra. Now there is a sentence which adequately describes the phrase ‘a conflict in terms’. Express trains in India cannot exist. They must be a figment of the author’s imagination, deluded by the authority of his role as Publicities Office Manager for Indian Express Railways Corporation.
He and all his fellow managers must exert their authority through the processing of eleven copies of the twelve documents one must complete before boarding of the express train service can commence.
However this was not my concern. I was boarding the more common ten hour train service which was the equivalent of a dollar cheaper. The ten hours included: late departure two hours, travel time six hours and a miscellaneous two hours for the mundane but important queuing and form filling.
The reason I was visiting Agra was that it housed the famous Taj Mahal, built by a local emperor in memory of his second wife. Before she died she extracted four promises from her husband:
1 He build the Taj;
2 He should marry again;
3 He be kind to their 14 children;
4 He visits the tomb on the anniversary of her death.
From what I know of woman, demanding only four promises was quite a generous proposition on her part. And from what I know of men the fact he managed to keep two of them (note: he married again) was fairly generous on his part as well.
Close by to the Taj Mahal, across the River Yamuna, was the Great Red Fort of Agra.
I read the Emperor had been imprisoned there late in his life by one of his sons. The reason for the Emperor’s imprisonment was the lavish spending of a significant portion of the son’s inheritance on his mother’s grave.
The River Yamuna was empty, as were the fountains at the entrance to the Taj Mahal. Everything, including my feelings was empty. The symbol of one man’s love for the woman who bore him 14 children held no significance for me.
Upon my arrival in Agra I had walked the few kilometres from the train station to my hotel. I walked the distance even though it would have cost me close to nothing to hire a taxi. Confusingly the taxi was a human being carrying a wheeled cart behind him. Upon this wheeled cart his passengers were supposed to sit. I guessed, like the emperor’s wife, he would also require an early grave and that his life expectancy would be all of 35 years.
While thinking about making my way back to the train station from my hotel in Agra a day had disappeared into the past. I had used this time to ask questions about my morale dilemma. The taxi driver obviously wanted my custom but I didn’t feel too pleased about the potential for contributing to the early death of a fellow human being. But then again it was not as if I was obese, over weight or that my back pack was filled with heavy Indian tourist trinkets.
Eventually I climbed onto the back of the cab. He proceeded to cart me to the train station. I tried to be as inconspicuous and downbeat as possible. I tried to hide my Western imperialist instincts.
Keeping up a consistent trot the taxi driver dropped me off at the train station in quick time. He hadn’t raised a sweat or even appeared to increase his heart beat.
There was now only the no small matter of my conscience. Of my need to feel I didn’t take advantage of my fellow man. Of my need to show respect to all man no matter what may be their circumstance.
My travels had shown me that life is cheap, whether it is in the first world of the United States or the third world of India. I felt I needed to be more generous and appreciate life more. Now was the time to start, as I stood before a man whose resilience of heart and strength of soul made me feel meek.
As I reached for my wallet I was thinking of an adequate monetary reward. It was going to be a monumental time, my first ever tip. The tip had to be large enough to reflect the significance of the occasion; one hundred percent. That’s it, a 100% tip. I would pay the equivalent of US$1 instead of the US$0.50 the taxi driver and I had spent ten minutes negotiating at the hotel.
He was happy. I was happy. It was a new beginning. The world, the universe and all its participants would be a better place for it.