We (me especially) had hoped to do numerous long train journeys in India. We'd had many a long rail ride during our time in Thailand & the gentle rhythm (compared to bonkers buses) always calms & often there are random interactions which make travelling such an uplifting experience. Pauses to kill ant wondering up screen – see post below.
The No. 1 from Madurai. We'd not been on any trains till we left Madurai for Trichy – weeks with Ramesh & the advent of cheap & quick domestic air travel – but the ride was just what I'd hoped for. We bought second class tix for the 3hr trip & were promptly moved on when we found that most of the uncrowded carriages were numbered reserved seats. We settled again in a reserved area (it was too hard to walk through a dozen carriages to the free-for-all) despite the stern look of the elderly high-caste looking couple opposite. The ride was hypnotic & we watched Tamil Nadu rush by in reverse from out backward facing seats. After about an hour the chap opposite leant over to me (me expecting a 'move along') & said "would you like to share our dish?" Thinking about it for a nanosecond we agreed Lemon Rice & a couple of other delicacies were tea-spooned across the gap from his newspaper bundles to the banana-leaf he'd carefully laid o the seat between C & I. We ate messily with our fingers resolving to buy a couple of spoons to carry with us for episodes such as this. I had lemon rice in my sandals & chickpeas in my shorts but no matter. There's a story about how many people in Trichy it takes to sell C a pair of spoons still in our heads.
After sharing lunch we got chatting. He, 76yr old V. P. Narayan shouted in my ear over the train noise while I relayed comments to C as his 65yr old wife looked on supportively. V.P. was an engineer with the Trichy water dept until retiring about 20yrs ago, like many guys we've met he showed me his photo ID soon after we'd exchanged pleasantries. The conversation was as warm & engaging as you would hope, his English was civil-servant good & his manners impeccable, except for the bit where he declaimed "having children is one of the 3 highest purposes of a human life" with which we declined to take issue. There's a post in C's head where she spends a significant, late, part of a hill-station evening discussing our decision to forgo parenthood with a lovely polyamorous Russian-Israeli current affairs reporter…stay blogged.
The state of Tamil Nadu stretches from the Indian Ocean in the East to the bottom of the Western Ghats on the W side of S India (find an atlas, that's a terrible sentence). We knew that at this time of year it's in rain shadow from the South East monsoon, most of the crop growing rain falls in Kerala or on the Ghats. As we drew close to Trichy though I asked about the dry paddy fields & dusty villages. V.P. told us that in the last 10yrs what little rains they relied on have faded away & through use of wells the water table has dropped metres each year. Obviously I asked about global warming & he suggested that & overpopulation as the causes. From the man who should know…
The No. 2 from Kottyam. Just a few days ago we took another short 2 ½ hr ride from Kottyam to Varkala. This train left Delhi days ago & is going right round the bottom of India to Hyderabad. We sat in one of the sleeper carriages facing each other after separating the two bed halves & folding them up. These are the cheapest berths apparently as everyone who staggers past in the night spills their drink or food on you. We're in the '3 tier non-aircon' class which is cheaper than the '2-tier non A/C' & the A/C carriages of course. Across the narrow gangway the 3 tiers are 1) Where the seat on a train should be 2)the seat back folded up to form a bed base with no windows & 3) the black hole of Indian rail, 20" from the roof, narrower than the others & blasted by rattly fans all night as there's no natural ventilation. I once had a sleeper berth across Kenya almost identical. 'cept I was mid-gastro episode at the time…ghastly
Mid journey a young guy came & sat near us & waited for a chance to strike up a conversation. Dareep is 21 & has just succeeded, at the 4th attempt, in getting into the Indian Navy. He's on his way home to celebrate with his family as his life is now fully mapped out. After passing all the exams & several elimination rounds of interviews (You're the weakest Seaman, Goodbye!) he & only 2 others from the group of 127 were offered a chance to sign up for 21 years service. He's got six-months training at a base in India then a further 6 months in France as they provide the bulk of India's diesel-powered submarines. He's opted for a 7 year stretch underwater as this is the quickest way to get promoted. He's very proud & very patriotic & very keen to serve on India's first, home grown, nuclear sub that launched a couple of weeks ago, "it can stay underwater for 7 months!". Not my idea of a seaside holiday.
To get away from all the martial talk of destroying enemies & sticking it to Pakistan we asked about the train trip from Delhi. Dareep pointed out that he'd been in this carriage for 76 hours, & that it had only emptied out this morning at one of the stops before we boarded. I had noticed the number of empty whisky bottles secreted about the carriage & we were told that there had been several altercations over the 3 days & nights a couple of fights. At one point a drunk railway dinner wallah, tasked with selling the evening meals, passed out on the floor leaving the inmates to help themselves. Railway police were called eventually & the chap may just have lost his job….