The International Writers Magazine: Room for One More
After that, the kids and baby are easy. Nobody is particularly comfortable in this arrangement; bodies are compressed together, spilling over and across each other, contorted as a Cirque du Soleil act. Every bump along the way unleashes a round of jarring and jostling among the barely seated travelers.
To fit twenty-one people (including two small children and a baby) into one Range Rover knock off, first forget about seating; it's about volume. Using the full air-space inside the vehicle efficiently, six people can fit on two benches in back, leaving room for two more people on the floor between the benches. Four more people can squeeze in front with the driver if the driver pushes over far enough and one man sits on the dashboard, then only four more people need to cram into the central seating.
Fortunately, this is in India, the land of “no problem.” Everyone inside the vehicle endures the undeniable discomfort with effortless good humor. Instead of sharp words and pinched faces, the worst of the inevitable bumps from elbows or knees are greeted with grins that seem to say, “that's life, right?” No one complains and no one shows distress. Everyone does their best to accommodate neighbors, scootching over and extra fraction of an inch if possible and gesturing invitingly at the next person to enjoy the extra room.
Fortunately, this is the land of contrasts, where the ugly and the beautiful converge. As a description of travel in India, it sounds terrible, I know. When I tell friends and family about similar experiences their responses typically range from shocked disbelief to satisfaction in this just punishment for wandering too far from home. In certain practical respects it is terrible, but there are positive aspects as well that perhaps only fellow travelers can fully understand, aspects that make such uncomfortable rides crucial to the travel journey. In contrast to the unpleasantness of being pressed against the nearest bodies, there is something wonderful about the shopkeeper who pulled his chair out from behind the counter and rearranged boxes so that my two girls could sit while waiting for the jeep to arrive, and about the young man who insisted on holding my backpack in the jeep then carried it after we all got out so I could more easily convey a sleepy daughter.
Perhaps some day in the future I will be driving my own car back home and be reminded of the time I squeezed into an overcrowded jeep in India. I'll be in a spacious and well-padded seat with the air-conditioner set to the perfect temperature when I think back on the overflowing humanity bound together in a sticky huddle on a sweltering day and I'll smile. That smile won't come from relief to be where I am in the spacious seat with the air-conditioning, it will be because that day is such a pleasant memory.
© Evan Denno March 2014
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