Alaya recounts the long journey of a Nepalese immigrant from India back home.
It takes me around nine hours of flying to reach New Delhi from Paris if it is a direct flight. If I were to take a flight to Kathmandu from Delhi, it would probably take me an hour and a half.
Meet Mandira, I’ve known her ever since I could walk and like hundreds of thousands of Nepalis that find work in India, she travels back home every year by train to visit her family. Her journey takes her three days to complete, the alternative is an expensive 90 minutes flight to the capital, Kathmandu.
Going back home isn’t an impromptu decision where you sit on your laptop scrolling different flight prices. For her, it is a planned selection that needs to be decided four months in advance in order to get a seat confirmation on the train from New Delhi to Nepal. Her train leaves from Old Delhi and makes it way to Bihar (an Indian state bordering Nepal) before entering the Terai region of Nepal.
Before she books her tickets, she always finds someone that she knows to travel with. She says “safal akele karna bohut mushkil hota hein” which translates to “travelling alone is difficult.” “There needs to be someone who you can trust enough to leave your stuff with every time you walk away from your seat. There are thieves everywhere, my daughter had her phone stolen and I can’t bear for my anxiousness of getting back home to be burdened further with fear.”
So how do you spend three days on a train journey? Mandira books herself on the sleeper coach where she gets a sleeper bunk bed to herself at night but during the day she has to share her seat with other passengers. For food, she is not a big fan of the food that’s served on the train and the repetitiveness of the meals makes the journey longer for her. “I always pack food with me, food that will last for three days, be it junk food or apples. I always carry it with me.” Interacting with passengers on the train is how she deals with making time pass by. It’s not deep conversations that they usually engage in but small talk about their destination and where they are from, and everyone shares the food that they packed with each other. Mandira’s food is usually gone on the second day and she then buys more on the train and relies on the fruit served on the train.
I asked her about the places where the train stops and if she’s ever wondered about how life is in such places. “When I cross places, I know their names but their names have no meaning to me. I don’t know them for their must-visit attractions, cuisines, or sights,I only know them by how far away from my destination is from that place, she said. She knows when the train crosses into Nepal. She said it’s an innate connectedness you experience with meri desh ki mitti – the soil of my land – there might not be any difference in how the land looks once you’ve crossed the border of Bihar to enter Nepal but to her, it means she’s home, even if home is still an eight-hour journey away. The soil represents not familiarity but ownness, and an assurance that the tiresome long journey is almost at an end.
After reaching the final train station, Mandira’s journey is not over. She still has to take a bus that takes about eight hours to reach a place thirty minutes from her home. She then takes her another bus that doesn’t take her all the way home but leaves her on a big ring-road close to her village. Finally, from there she takes a three-wheeled auto rickshaw that takes her to her destination.
But, it’s all worth it for her. She’s anxious, impatient, restless, tired, and fatigued after travelling for three days to reach her home. “When I reach home, I leave all my luggage on the ground floor. We have a two-story house and my husband puts my suitcases upstairs. The first thing I do is go to my farm,there is no other place I’d rather be. That moment when you walk on to your land, your feet touch the fresh-cut grass, and you examine the ripeness of the vegetables. I feel at peace like nothing else exists besides the earth and my soul. I can finally tell myself that I am home.” She talks about home with a smile on her face, a smile that makes you feel at home, and then the journey doesn’t matter that much.