A Train Passage in India…with apologies to EM Forster

‘You follow,’ instructs the wiry, modestly clad porter at Mysore train station. He and his ‘assistant’ lug our very heavy cases, depositing them and us in the air conditioned second class carriage that has been booked for us. Alan and I are the only non-Indian passengers.

The carriage is painted a dingy mid-green; even the window glass is painted, most likely to keep out the intense sun. Enjoying the decent leg room, we settle down comfortably for this non-stop four-hour trip to Bangalore.

After about an hour, a young Indian comes through, cheerfully handing out refreshments – bottled water, biscuits and juice – all included in our ticket price. South West Trains – are you reading this?

We congratulate ourselves on travelling ‘like the locals’ and toast each other with our juice packets.

Then, about a half an hour before we are to arrive at Bangalore, we are surprised to see a number of passengers gather their belongings and take up positions in the aisle.

‘I thought this was non-stop,’ I whisper to Alan.

‘Me, too,’ he replies, standing up for a better view. ‘Are we stopping somewhere before Bangalore?’ he calls out, to no one in particular.

‘No, no,’ responds a kindly gentleman in excellent English. ‘You must get ready now to get off at Bangalore. It is only a 5-minute stop and there will be many people wanting to get on.’

When in India, do as the Indians do. So we join the others in the aisle and stand with Gandhi-like patience – for half an hour.

At last, the train slows into the station, the doors open, and all hell breaks loose.

While we passengers are trying to get off, the hordes on the platform are simultaneously pushing to get on. It’s like rush hour on the London tube – and we’ve got four suitcases to manoeuvre. A very heated exchange ensues and although we don’t understand the actual words being spoken, we know it’s not ‘friendly’.

Alan, who is carrying the two big cases, manages to fight his way through. ‘No!’ he bellows at a rotund man on the platform, attempting to use his briefcase to push Alan aside. Surprised by Alan’s ferocity, he retreats.

I follow quickly in Alan’s wake and arrive at the far side of the platform. We look at each other, relieved and exhausted.

‘You want taxi? We carry bags?’ offers a diminutive Indian. ‘I am official,’ he adds, proudly pointing to his armband. ‘Him too,’ motioning to a boy about twelve.

We nod our assent. He completely ignores the wheels on our cases, preferring to balance two of them on his head, whilst carrying another; the lad balances the other case on top of his head, and the two of them stride purposefully down the platform. We have to double our pace to keep up.

‘I know now why India is such an up and coming country,’ Alan says. I send him a quizzical look. ‘The people certainly know how to use their heads.’

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