On the train

Before I had to rush back from India, I had quite a few posts I’ve been wanted to publish, but due to the limited access to the internet I didn’t really get a chance over there. Here are some posts Ive save up. This entry was originally about 4 pages long, I had to cut back on the anedotes =)

Faridabad, Feb 1

Well its not really an Indian experience till I used the public transport system of the locals and to confront any underlying aversion I might still have for I needed to know what it was like to negotiate the system on my own like a local, so I decided to goto Delhi on the train for the weekend to check out its arts and culture scene.

As I approach Faridabad train station, I notice a line of men outside the booking office so I go and stand there as well. As the line progresses ahead, the men behind me heckle and shove me forward, closely touching me. I realise why as I got to the beginning of the line, as everyone tries to push in. They say something in an angry tone, like “move faster”, as the train pulls up to the station. It is jammed packed with men hailing from the doors, jumping off as other people scramble across the tracks to catch it. As I get to the front of the line, the man tells me that the next train is at 1.00pm making realise I just missed it and why everyone behind me was angry. The line suddenly was gone and I had an hour and half to kill before the train arrived.

Noticing the walking overpass above the platform, it amused me that no-one was using it so instead I walked across the tracks casually like a local but this still produced a lot of stares and glares. I think Ive begun to master the technique of countering their silent intimidation. Everytime someone would gave me a death stare I would simply smile back. But it needs to be a full smile, which you commit to with the entirety of your being from the heart, because anything shy of this will just produce an awkward half luscered response. So I kept smiling in my defence and I received one back from a man on the platform. “Where you from?”, he asked. We got talking and I found out he was a local in the printing business. I took his lead in squeezing onto the approaching train. As people rushed to jump off, everyone simultaneously pushed to get in through the narrow doorway, like this was their last chance to leave forever. Maybe it was, with a train every one and a half hours. It felt great just to get onto the train.
Our conversations went on. “Tell me about Australia”, he asked.
“We have lots of cows as well, except we eat them”, I responded. We talked about the beaches the languages, the cricket, our families, and movies.
The train was excruciatingly slow and kept stopping for no apparent reason so people started jumping off onto the tracks to see what was going as we swatted down by the carriage door with the locals. What I found strange was in the carriage of maybe 200 people there were only about 2 women. The carriage was blue with a tinge of green, and maybe you could describe it as “rustic”, but not in a romanticised Bohemian way but in its so dirty way. Dust black fans adorned the roof and while men played cards noisily on the crowded seats. The doors always remained wide open for people to hang on and jump off whenever. Hawkers jumped on the train flogging everything from cakes to magic balm as we arrived at every station. It was an anti-climax when we got to New Delhi, as it not an official sophisticated grand central station but just another series of platforms of the Indian railway. Hundreds of people sleeping on top of their goods donned the platforms waiting for their trip back home. Instead of walking off onto the platform Suh decided it was easier just jump onto the tracks instead and we walked past syringes and homeless families under the platform bridges.

In Delhi, after haggling with both auto and bicycle rickshaw drivers, and then getting confused with buses totally in Hindi, I was ecstatic when I finally entered the Nehru memorial grounds. It was already quarter past 3 and I had started my journey at 10. It was the most peaceful place Ive encountered so far in Delhi, with young muslims in their colorful clothing singing songs for some activity, peacocks roaming the lawn and flowers donning the grounds. It strangely didn’t really feel like India at all being was so immaculately clean and tidy. The museum itself showed photos of Nehru growing up in Cambridge, quotes from his writing, his correspondence with his daughter, Indiria, his movement in the first national congress. The house preserved his residence as it was during Nehru’s life and you can see his study, his enormous library of books in many languages, his costumes, the eloquent speeches he gave, his gifts from international leaders and then most sombrely his death bed. At the end of it, I felt like I knew him a little bit more as a human being, but yet not really all that much more about what he did.

Having spent so much time in transit I decided to stay the night in Delhi. Paharaganj is described as “seedy” and “drug infested” in the Lonely Planet, however walking down the main bazaar, it certainly didn’t feel that way at all. Instead, I found myself in the India that I had thought I was coming to. It was like I had entered a massive tree of life store except a lot more chaotic, dirty (although arguably it was a lot cleaner than other places) and way more awesome. Draped on the shops were those hippy clown pants which I’ve never actually seen any actual Indians wear (they seem to prefer psuedo western jeans), colorful bags, insense stands, and karma sutra books. I was also no longer the stranger in these lands, as the streets were filled with hippy travellers from afar. .

As much as I wanted to peruse the streets I was tired and hungry and needed to find my hotel. Avoiding the spruikers trying to lure me into their store or hotels, I found my way to the Guest house recommended in LP. Little did I know when I asked how much, I actually needed to bargain for it. Without giving me a straight answer they showed me a brand new flashy room with flat panel TV and gave me a starting price of much more than I was prepared to pay, and after some bargaining we couldnt agree so I walked to another Guest house named after a Hindu God. Going by this, I naively thought they would never rip me off, but little chance of that here. He said there was one room available but it was being “fixed up” at the moment. I managed to talk him down to 450 but he tried to sneakily change it back to 500 when I went to pay for it. Hilariously, when I got into my room I chuckled as in the middle was a circular bed with aromatic lighting and a flat screen tv. Fully not what I needed.

After spending the next day at the national museum and negotiating aggressively with more rickshaw drivers (I could talk about this forever but it would take too much space), I found my way back to New Delhi station and was confronted again with lines of Indians men pushing their way to get a ticket except this time with a much bigger crowd. I tried to ask the various “assistance” queues about where the hell I was supposed to go, but I mainly encountered men yelling to go on one of the other lines in Hindi. After trying to shove like a local, I managed to purchase a ticket for 3 rupies but from there I was at a loss on what to do with it. I gave up queuing up at another assistance line and as I walked up to the station, I managed to make out over the intercom, Faridabad, platform 10 leaving now. Jolted into action, I pushed through the crowd till I reached the platform, jumped and swung onto a railing on to the departing train as it left the platform.

Proud of my achievement, I went to sit down in an ailse of the almost empty carriage to be greated with death stares from old Indian women. My smile manoeuvre did not work this time, and an old lady yelled something to me in India. I tried to indicate that I did not understand and failed miserably, but luckily a young girl offered to translate and explain I had gotten on to the Lady’s compartment. While it kinda explained why there men on the tracks gave me more scolds as the train passed, I guess I didnt have any choice but to change carriages at the next station.

The mens compartment was alot more crowded, and as much as I could try to pass off as a local, an young Indian student, Pradeep with his mates started chatting to me being always curious of foreigners. He spoke perfect English, even thought he had never left the country as all school work is based in the English language. When I asked about my recent hostile encounter, he told me that you could get bashed in being in the womens compartment, as young men are not supposed to travel there alone, and conservative minded folks obviously don’t like it. Some other pieces of wisdom he shared with me saying “India is like the moon, looking beautiful from a distance, but you do not see its true face until you approach it closer”. Pointing at a grey haired old man with a distinctive mark on his forehead wrapped in white cloths. “Do you know who he is?”, Pradeep asked. “Umm.. a Sadhu?”, I said. “No, he is a condemned man. They are not spiritual, they ask for your money and go back to get drunk”. “Are they all like that?”. “Most of them, India is full of corruption”.

At this point I finally reached my station and hopped off onto the platform with the locals, happy that I survived my public transport trip on my own.

One Response to On the train

  1. Mal says:

    Wow, that was an extremely long post, dude, but interesting. I’m surprised the ladies didn’t just let you sit in their compartment, since so many people have mistook you as a lady already. The public transport trip sounds pretty surreal. Good you made it through with no serious incident.

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