24 December 2008

All in a day's train ride

This story begins quietly, in the soft light of the morning. I was in Chennai catching a bit of the glamour at the music and dance festival as well as catching up with delightful friends. I caught the Brindavan express to return to Bangalore, which leaves Chennai at 7:15 in the morning, IRT (Indian railways time). We had been up talking and drinking the night before so I wasn't feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed as I made my way to the train compartment. Thanks to tatkal I managed to get tickets in the second class compartment and settled myself into the 10 inches of bum space my co-passengers had generously left for me. Luckily I had the aisle seat so I could spill over anytime I wanted to.

The first half of the train journey was quite boring mostly because I was trying to sleep and my neck kept wanting attention. Every time I propped it up straight I had to realign my spine and reclaim the 2 inches that were stolen while I had dropped off into dream state. At some point I think the person next to me was asking me questions and I stared back blankly so he gave up on the conversation. About midway I ran out of drool so I had to get up. I fortified the system with a bit of tea (it is one of those train journeys where the food and drinks never stop coming around) and sized up my fellow passengers. We were 6 of us in a coupe with each person being allocated roughly 20 inches. Next to me were two gentlemen, one who gave me a dirty look so I shot back my best NRI disdain. Opposite us were seated one youngish champ who looked like he ate a lot of bajjis and considered his morning walk to be the one he makes to the bathroom. Next to him were a sweet mother and daughter pair. We were a peaceful coupe.

Towards the end of the journey the compartment which up to this point was 100% reserved and carrying about 40% extra riff raff suddenly turned into the Dadar local. There were people everywhere and in between suddenly, was the shrill cry of "Carrots". Let's call her the carrot lady. She had a basket full of veggies wrapped quite nicely in plastic (department store ishtyle) and was selling them at a flat price of Rs 20. In the opposite direction was another veggie seller, screaming his head off about his Aurekal (they look like fava beans; very distinctively local fare) which too were nicely packed in bags and selling for Rs 20. Like two intersecting lines the twain met, right next to my coupe. Now if you remember I was planted in the aisle seat so I had front side tickets to the show that followed. In order to get around the carrot lady who was busy with a sale, the beans guy asked her to move aside and went around her. Ok, so there was no excuse me and polite waiting but considering the train was packed it's possible that there was no space for such manners. Anyway, the carrot lady took major affront.

How dare the beans guy ask her to move aside? I mean, does he own the train or what? So in her best voice she proceeded to rain comments on the beans guy who actually had stepped away quite aways. Finding that her object of derision was walking away the carrot lady stepped up her ranting. Now she included the mother and father of the beans guy in her insults. So of course, the beans guys does an about face and asks her if she was Ok in the head. All this screaming is happening in Tamil so I'm in a great drama at this point, with no subtitles. I could only pick up vague words that overlap with Kannada. The argument was quite heated and was going to reduce to fisticuffs when the audience demanded the volume be toned down. Oh boy, that went down even worse with the main characters. More screaming ensued when finally a smart passenger asked for some carrots. The sale circumstances changed everything and they dispersed into the crowds.

All in all, spectacular time pass. I have mentioned about my strange romance with the Indian railways and this time too, it didn't fail to amuse.

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