What a jerk! The invective directed towards the idiot who has piled a mountain of luggage in the aisle. And towards the collective force of the train’s weight acting on the coupler as it starts. The owner of the luggage appears, rushing in from the door waving goodbyes to the hordes that have come to see him off. Barging his way past me, he spends five more minutes arranging his stuff underneath the seats and I finally get the chance to reclaim my prized territory – the side lower and the accompanying view of filthy suburbia as the Rajdhani sets off for its daily sprint from the nation’s political capital to the financial.
When I left home for the station, the late afternoon temperature was in 40s. By the time I get off the Metro at New Delhi, it is drizzling. The ten minute walk to my coach has me drenched, not in rainwater but in my own sweat. But half an inch of tinted glass and the powerful air conditioning of the German design coaches are just what the doctor ordered.
As the open fields of Haryana come into view, the Pantry steward turns up with the evening snack – a sandwich, a samosa, sweets and a pack of juice. A menu that hasn’t changed from the time when Harish Bhimani claimed to be Father Time each Sunday morning on national television.
“Tussi Bambe jaana?” A loud voice from the right enquires if I am travelling up to Bombay? My co-passengers are a bunch of Punjabi gentlefolk, already sprawled on their berths like good government servants having a post-lunch nap in the sunny lawns of Delhi’s winter. “Aaho!”, I replied in the affirmative, thus opening a floodgate of queries from fertilizer men from Bathinda, on their way to Hazira near Surat for some training.
Their queries chiefly concern the availability of alcohol or the lack of it in India’s only dry state. They are going to spend two weeks there and the question of not drinking simply does not arise. Yet the prospect of breaking the law in a government campus doesn’t appeal much, hence the fervent enquiries for legal ways to drink.
I simply point out that the Union Territory of Daman, where booze is legal is a few hours drive away. That lights up their faces and out comes a bottle of Blender’s Pride and a few cut glasses (Note aforementioned remark on breaking the law). The first peg is generously offered, but politely refused causing a few faux frowns.
As their conversation drifts to the bust size of Mrs. Behl and the enormous backside of the yet unmarried Ms. Gandotra, I resume my lookout from the window. It is nearly seven, and the first of the birds and the farmers are returning home. The orange sun and the dust kicked up by the cattle have set up that magic hour which the Hindi language beautifully describes as ‘Godhuli’.
Looking at the sparse thatchments and curling wood fires, I can’t help but marvel at the tenacity of the farmer, braving it day in and out in weather that would knock us city dwellers out in ten minutes. There, behind the half an inch of tinted glass and the powerful air conditioning – it is easy to conjure such evocative images.
We are now thundering through Rajasthan, covering more than 2 km in a minute when soup followed by a tasty dinner is served. The bootleggers of Bathinda are still going great guns when I decide to draw my curtains and pump up the volume in my headphones. A full moon is out and Nusrat’s Night Song is the perfect accompaniment for the stunning views of the Dara Pass rolling past me.
I am gently woken by the Pantry steward, armed with a flask of hot water and all the essentials for the morning cuppa. We are fast closing in on Bombay and my bay is eerily quiet. The Bathinda gang had gotten off at Surat in the wee hours and I have the whole bay to myself.
I pull back the curtains on both windows and bright sunshine from the rising sun streams in. The PA system squawks the morning news bulletin, via hastily recorded tapes picked up at Surat. Another ritual that steadfastly refuses to die, even in an era where people know about incidents even before they happen!
By the time the breakfast tray of omlette, toast (special service for yours truly), cutlets and coffee is cleared, the first of Bombay’s famed local trains were running alongside. Bleary eyed commuters hang on for dear life from every hand and foot hold possible.
The Bombay wallas on my train don’t give them a second look, while first timers from the North restart a conversation heard each morning on the Rajdhani, if you listen carefully. “Pata nahi kya rakha hai Bombay mein? Public ko dekho, na ghar mein jagah, na train mein – fir bhi marte hain yahan aane ko!” – God knows what’s there in Bombay, there’s neither space in their homes, nor on the trains – yet people would give anything to come here!
The Bombay wallah seated across them replies – “Kam se kam yahan chor to nahin hai! Dilli mein to Auto aur taxi mein loot hai!” – At least people are honest here, all your auto and taxi drivers in Delhi want to loot you.
I am not interested in the rest of the argument, having heard it many times now. Another local train runs along side, almost every one hanging from its door turns to admire the Rajdhani. Perhaps reflecting on their lives as it bounces back at them from the half inch thick glass – wondering how nice it would be to enjoy some of that powerful air conditioning?