Transportation Aunties: The Best Part of Traveling in India

Traveling alone in India can be daunting. Train stations are crowded and often confusing. Bus depots aren’t any easier to navigate, especially before dawn. When you live in the northeast, fog will likely cause major flight delays during the winter. All of these things can make for a pretty lousy travel experience.

I recently traveled to Tamil Nadu for some much-needed sunshine and relaxation, and my 30-hour journey home was definitely an experience I will not soon forget. Through a series of planes, trains, and automobiles, one thing remained constant-a seemingly endless supply of aunties who wanted to make sure I was well fed, in the right place, and feeling OK about every aspect of my life. No matter how hectic traveling in India can get, well meaning and often over-friendly aunties have always been there for me. This is an open letter to the lovely, sometimes abrasive, unsung heroes of this solo traveler’s recent experience.

Dear Transportation Aunties,

Thank you. Thank you to the aunty who offered me half of her snacks at the bus depot at 4:30am as my journey home began. Even though it was far too early for me to enjoy your hot chips, masala peanuts, and something that looked like wasabi peas, I applaud your ability to munch on a wide array of spicy snacks so early, and I was touched by your generosity. When you noticed how nervous I became as my bus got later and later, you took it upon yourself to track down someone who would know what was going on. Although I didn’t understand a word of the Tamil you gently spoke to me, it was very reassuring to have someone looking out for me.

Thank you to the aunty on the bus who insisted I sit next to her for the first 20 minutes of our ride together so she could explain to the ticket inspector that the bus being late was not acceptable, and that the driver should make up for lost time because I had places to be. I admire your spunk, even if it did make for a terrifying, definitely-over-the-speed-limit journey. Thank you for finally letting me go to sleep after you were satisfied that the injustice of the late bus had been rectified.

Thank you to the aunty who took it upon herself to personally welcome to me India at the Chennai airport. Even after I explained that this was my 3rd time living in India, you insisted that until I had been to Udaipur, I hadn’t really lived here. You might be right, and I definitely enjoyed your enthusiasm for India’s rich history and many forts. I was sorry to decline your offer to introduce me to your son, but I had to board my plane, and besides, I live in Jharkhand, and you made it pretty clear that you would never, ever, visit Jharkhand. Our conversation made the hours waiting at the airport more bearable and certainly more entertaining.

Thank you to the aunty on my flight who insisted her husband offer me half of his sandwich, even though I was in the middle of unwrapping my own sandwich. He may have been embarrassed by your enthusiasm for feeding me, but I appreciated your confidence that my food certainly was not enough to hold me over for the entire 2-hour flight. When you learned that I was heading to Jharkhand, your insistence that I take some of your husband’s food only grew more aggressive, because “the food there must be awful”. It isn’t awful, but your concern was touching.

Thank you to the aunty who, upon seeing me searching the Calcutta train station information board for my train, assured me that everything was going to be OK. You asked me for my train number, scanned the board yourself, and then admitted you had no idea what platform I was supposed to be on. I was impressed by your honesty, and the fact that you offered me a samosa and a chai while we waited for the information to be posted only made me like you more. I had just eaten so I declined the samosa, but you would not take no for an answer when it came to buying me a chai. Thank you for blowing on said chai to make sure I didn’t burn my tongue, because I definitely would have otherwise.

Last, but certainly not least, thank you to the aunty who made sure I knew exactly where my sleeping berth was, where the bathroom was on the train, what state we were in at all times, and what time the train was supposed to get to our destination. I actually did not know all that much about the train’s route, and the biscuits you shared with me around midnight were a lifesaver. Also, your kind yet firm insistence on waking me up a good hour before we reached our destination allowed me to see some of the most breathtaking countryside that Jharkhand has to offer, giving me a newfound sense of love for the state I live in.

So thank you, transportation aunties. Without you I would get more lost than I usually do, and the long hours spent waiting and traveling would be much, much duller without your questions, sage advice, and of course, your food. I love you, transportation aunties, and I hope you never change.

Kayalyn has spent the past few years working in the field of reproductive health rights and education in the U.S. and abroad. She is particularly interested in sexual health rights for refugee, internally displaced, and marginalized communities. During her time as an undergraduate student, she studied International Development and Women's Studies. In her senior year, she wrote an honors thesis titled "The Effective Access to Reproductive Health Services Index: A Multidimensional Approach to Measuring Successful Reproductive Health Programs in Peru and Vietnam", in which she constructed an economic index to map how, and how often, women in developing countries access reproductive health services. Kayalyn recently spent six months living in Bangalore, where she worked with INK Talks, an Indian conference and idea-sharing organization.

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