Indian Railway: Helping you dry underwear since 1853
Travelling alone via Indian Railways is a real eye-opener. The demographic you get to interact with can be quite overwhelming. On my way to Bangalore in the prestigious Rajdhani, I met Javed. Past midnight, he was sitting on a blue plastic crate set against the door, quietly packing bread for the next day’s breakfast. I enquired whether I can smoke without worrying about thullas (policemen) or the TTE. (Smoking on trains is strictly prohibited, you see). He smiled – an effusive smile that instantly took me in – and said “Arre madam, hamare hote huye koi aapko kuchh nahi bolega.” (Don’t worry Madam, as long as we’re here, no one will say anything).
So there we were, Javed and I, smoking whenever he could catch a break and when I got tired of sitting in the airconditioned compartment… I admit I spent more time standing by the gate than I did on my seat and Javed kept me company. His coffee, the best coffee I’ve had till date was my personal drug on the journey. Regardless of the time, of his work-load, Javed would see me emerge from the compartment and whip up his trademark coffee in seconds.
He told me he had been working in the railways for 8 years. He must have started off as an adolescent because he could not be more than 24-25. This was understood when he told me “Meri umar ho gayi hai madam, ab ghar wale shaadi karvane ki soch rahe hain.” (I’m of age, madam. Family wants me to get married). He was positive that when he returns home this time, they would have prospective brides lined up for him. He didn’t seem too excited at the prospect. “Biwi tension hai madam,” he said “yahan ek pet nahi bharta, phir uske kapde, gehne farmaayish ke liye kahan se launga.”
For Javed, who has spent 4 years as a waiter on the same train, wife translates to tension, an added responsibility that he is not looking forward to. He knows he will be stuck with an illiterate lady who will take care of his old parents and manage the household, but he knows what it really means – yet another mouth to feed. He was downright scared of the idea of fulfilling her numerous wishes. I suggested he might find someone who would understand his predicament and be what a life-partner should be. He just laughed it off.
My exchanges with Javed made me realise just how lonely a job that keeps you constantly moving can be. He does not associate with his family, does not like to speak much to his colleagues (“ya to kaam karenge, madam, ya dosti; dono nahi hota”), and the travelers hardly ever speak to the waiters and attendants, he told me. He lives in a world you and I cannot even pretend to understand. A world of 6 meals, of iron tracks and midnight stops in the middle of nowhere; a world of twenty trips to the pantry and thrice as many in the coach, of passengers who want everything to their perfection and then refuse to tip; a world of perennial journey with no particular destination and no home. If I’ve ever met a true vagabond, it is Javed.
In the last post, I posted this picture of a train and asked whether you guys noticed anything special.
Kam/Sash guessed it right. There are no wires! At Secunderabad, the electric engine of Bangalore Rajdhani is replaced with a diesel engine. If you have ever traveled by Indian Railways, you know how precious this sight is: minus the pylons, wires, and strange little boxes. Just the train snaking through picturesque landscape. I had a three-second window to take this shot before the train swerved sharply left. With one hand holding the rail and another managing the bulky camera, I leaned as far out as possible much to the chagrin of a few passengers who noticed the monkey-act. But I’m happy, perhaps a little too happy with the outcome. *grins from ear to ear*
… and here’s presenting yet another hurried post.
Much could be said about the trip to Bangalore but we shall wait for a time when I’m not as sleep deprived as now. A little anecdote though – already sleep-deprived, running a fever and somewhat stoned, I reached the railway station to discover that my ticket was not confirmed. If you are familiar with the Indian Railways, an unconfirmed (RAC) ticket basically means you get a seat that you essentially have to share with another person. For a couple of hours, that’s alright, bearable. For 36 hours, not so much. Nevertheless, what had to be done, had to be done. I finally did get a seat 26 hours after boarding the train. Most of those 26 hours were spent standing by the door smoking the frigging air out of my lungs.
After spending that long a time at a blessed door, anybody would feel a certain propensity towards it, I suppose. I know I did. What I saw the evening before we reached Delhi was a rude shock. The door reciprocated my current state of mind as well. And this is how the window to the world, the most important part of that door, looked –
“Death has a thousand doors to let out life: I shall find one”
– Philip Massinger
More from Bangalore later, folksies. Peace out!