Friday, December 26, 2008

train stations.

Last week, I was asked by a friend, (and bless her for considering me to be an expert on these things) how best to spend a couple of hours at night, at a railway station. Well, I just did that, and this is how it went:
• I started off with dinner at one of those roadside rajma-chawal carts. You know, the ones that cater to people who work at the station (rickshaw-wallahs and all) rather than passengers. That is good wintery comfort food- steaming hot rice, rajma, and chutney. My nonchalance and seen-better-days travelling outfit acts like an invisibility cloak and no one raises an eyebrow at the only woman at the stall. Till I finished eating dinner and said, “Thank you, hanh, bhaisaab.” Spoons paused mid-journey, and all eyes swivelled towards me as I grinned and scurried away.
• At the next stall, I bought exactly 60 gms of peanuts for 5Rs. Is it that the precision of Indian Rail permeates its environs? Like the smell of chlorine? It is only on and near railway platforms that I am able to buy 150 ml of coffee, 3 idlis of 50 gms each, and of course, 60 gms of peanuts. I like it. Totally appeals to the calculate-to-the-third-decimal part of me.
• I sat reading for a while. I was reading a book of urdu poems (in the devanagari script) and a train to Lucknow began to pull out. I so badly wanted to go and board that train! I want to go there and hear urdu being spoken on the streets and eat kababs, and meet chikankari artisans, and look at the architecture, and sketch it, and do such-like tourist things.
• Sadly, I needed to leave my bench and my train of thoughts when the chap sitting next to me pulled out a gutkha packet (from his sock!) and began to chew. I cannot stand that. Blech!
• So went to the next platform and bought me a coffee. There, I eavesdropped (well, I couldn’t help it- I would have to leave the platform not to) on a conversation between a group of Jaunsari women and a very urban couple all of whom had just gotten off a train. They were discussing-loudly, at great length, and most explicitly- certain gynaecological problems the urban woman had. Apparently, the Jaunsaris know some herbal remedies. Let the fact that I did not need the information I received, especially when i was meditating over my coffee be set aside. Let us instead consider how this conversation ever got off the ground. Even if we were to assume that they were in the same compartment (Unlikely, unless they were all travelling sleeper) how does one go one from there?
“Hello, I am travelling to Dehradun. And you?”
“Ah! Me too! This is my husband.”
“This is my family. How’s your uterus been behaving lately?”
I love railway platforms. The mind boggles.

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