Thursday, January 28, 2010
Was on a Study Tour recently with my students. Travelling on an unbelievably tight budget, we had to travel by train, second class sleeper, non- AC. I realised I hadn't had too much experience travelling by train, and I can't say I regret that lack. I warned my students not to be "princesses" and to be tough and stoic come what may. I must say I myself was a bit unprepared for the filth, the cacophony of vendors and beggars and hijras that burst into the compartment whenever the train stopped, the condition of the washrooms (!!!) and the total chaos regarding tickets and seats. Unless one sat steadfastly in one's seat all the time, any number of ticketless travellers assumed that they had the right to plonk down on the seats, without so much as a by-your-leave.
The food was relatively decent, except, of course, if you get stuck in some bizarre railway traffic situation in the middle of goodness-knows-where, and are forced to spend an extra day and night on the train, then nothing tastes too good anymore. By the third day, all of us were eagerly awaiting the arrival of peddlers who came to sell their wares- bracelets, keychains, torches, sauna belts, chains and locks, knives... in short, most everything. One man even came with a number of mobile handsets, shouting "PCO", so I assume it was possible to make calls from his numerous phones. Bargaining became an art, with all of us trying to outdo the other in the loud and lengthy negotiations that took place. Our broken Hindi didn't help. I got conned into buying a solar mobile phone charger, which charged the phone for precisely 5 minutes, after which there was no more life evident from my phone. A hundred rupees. I was also robbed of the Woodland sandals I was wearing. When I got down from the top berth, it simply wasn't there anymore.
Anyway, notwithstanding my initial revulsion and boredom, by the end of the third day of the third journey by train, I was able to cope with most things, and when I finally stepped down on the platform at the last station, I had finished three novels, numerous magazines, and was loaded down with a motley collection of trinkets and gadgets bought on the train. A little worse for wear, but that much richer in experience. That's life.
Oh, and I'll save the story about the bedbugs for next time :)