|Cellphone picture, which is why the bad quality, of the scenery whizzing past the train|
Coming back from Hyderabad to Delhi, we'd always have the same snacks. Funny, how most of my train journeys are reminiscent of food. My mother would have packed the South Indian curd rice, which actually keeps quite well, and because I loathed the smell and taste of curd, she'd call it "white upma" and I ate it quite happily. I mean, I knew what it was, but somehow, not calling it curd made it easier to stomach. I remember watching a little girl, in one of the top berths, steadily and methodically eating her way through an entire tiffin container of chicken biryani. Just sitting there, feet dangling, and eating.
One time, when I was older, in my late teens I think, again, we were on a journey to Hyderabad, and this one guy kept crowding me in the corridor while I waited for the coolie and my mother to finish negotiating the luggage placement. I moved away from him, but he persisted, and then reached out, without warning, and fondled my breast. I said nothing, but turned around, grabbed his collar (he was about 6'7" or something) and started wildly lashing out at him. It was all so silent, my mother and the rest of the passengers who were watching her were quite shocked when they turned around and saw me. "What happened?" she said, and I finally found my voice and said, "He touched me!" and then the rest of the passengers surrounded him and seeing himself trapped he broke free of my grip and dashed out on to the platform. I hope he missed his train.
But that was pretty much the only grope-y experience I've had. I've heard horror stories, of course, and I always make sure I'm sleeping with all bits of me covered and tucked in, but on the most part, people leave me alone, I sit there with my book, wearing something loose and nondescript, and try to blend into the background.
I complained on Twitter that no matter what kind of passengers I have around me, if I ever have a lower berth, I feel the stretch and tug of an impending fight settle in my belly. Because invariably, someone over the age of 40 will ask me to exchange with them. "Bad legs, beta," they'll say, trying to smile at me, ingratiatingly, and I will grumble and moan and feel cheated, but change with them anyway. Nowadays, I give them the once over, if they seem sprightly when they enter and do lots of bending and stretching (or if they annoy me, and some of them can be REALLY annoying) then I claim a bladder infection that makes me need the loo several times at night and let them try their luck with the person in the other lower berth. Somehow, maybe because I'm a woman, maybe because I look younger than most, I'm always asked to be accommodating first. I like my lower berth, I specifically request it, because I like to wake up early in the morning, and don't want to have to wait for other people to get up, and I like watching the world go by with my cup of coffee. Once this even happened to me on a plane, where this dude claimed he had bad knees and wanted to swap his middle for my aisle. Of course, being a sucker, I did, but as soon as we were in the air, I pointed to the row of empty seats beside us and he looked martyred and said, "I was moving ANYWAY." and I said, "Good" and he did and yay, everyone won.
You can predict the schedule of the Rajdhani, at 4.30 when you get on, you get a little tray with a sweet, a samosa or something and a vile cheese sandwich. Also a coffee kit, which is quite sophisticated, a little paper bag filled with your coffee acrouments. At around seven, you get a breadstick and some butter and some soup. It used to be tomato, but now it's some kind of veg thing. Then at eight, you get your dinner, I usually get the chicken, which is greasy, but I like the routine of getting the same meal each time I'm on the train and then at nine, you get your ice cream and at 9.30, people are making up their berths, and if you're lucky, you'll get another passenger who likes to stay up later than 10 pm, so you can read, but usually, it's lights off, and you toss and turn in the dark till you finally fall asleep a couple of hours later. It's nice because it's so predictable. Most people don't bring reading material, so you can eavesdrop on their chats, while you read. Sometimes, they'll ask you questions, but I solve this by plugging myself into my iPod from the moment I get on. I don't know, I like my journeys to be full of silent contemplation, no more chatting than is necessary. Is this weird? It's the one thing I like about travelling alone, the chance to be alone.
There's a romance to trains though, the steady clack-clack-clack as it rocks you to sleep, on lesser trains than the Rajdhani, a chance to smoke a cigarette by the open door, feeling very daring and risque, while the wind blows your eyelashes back, making your eyes sting. On the Rajdhani, they helpfully leave their loo windows open, but you have to make sure you go during a non busy toilet time, otherwise people start knocking. It's nowhere near as efficient as a plane, but it reminds you to slow down and take it easy and "we'll get there when we get there."