Cursed by a Eunuch

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Cursed by a Eunuch

1pm, Central Station, Bombay.

I had enjoyed the taxi ride to Central Station. Halfway, we had paused at a set of traffic lights and in the queue (not lane) next to us the owner of a privately owned vehicle had got out and was having a heated argument with the driver of the taxi in front of him. Presumably they were arguing over a traffic violation, though I couldn’t imagine what.

Their argument turned sour – into a fight at the taxi driver’s window. There was lots of shouting and cursing and the man nearly got dragged into the taxi.  All highly entertaining.

The train wasn’t due to leave until 1.40pm so I had plenty of time. I went and sat at a bench near the platform entrance.  A middle aged man was sat next to me. “Where are you going?” he enquired.

“Udaipur. You?”

“Gujerat.”

“When does your train leave?” I enquired, being polite (as we British are).

“Ten o’clock.”

“You’re gong to wait here until ten?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Why?”

“I am Indian.”  It was obvious I still had a lot to learn about Indian culture.

“You Sir?”

“One forty.”

“And it is not here yet?”

I had assumed that because I had arrived forty minutes early that I shouldn’t expect the train to arrive at least until fifteen minutes before departure. Still in UK mode obviously. He got up and started around to platform 4 where the trin was due to be.  It was already there and full to the brim with passengers oozing out of the windows.

I thanked him for appreciating my naivety and wandered along the platform looking for my carriage.

Every fifty yards or so along the platform was a stall selling all foods and drinks, cigarettes and sweets. As ever I was hassled by children wanting money. The train was a muddy brown colour and far too many carriages to count – standing, sleepers, air-con, seats, first class, second class.

I approached an official who pointed me in the direction of my carriage – it was still another six to go. Sellotaped to the door of the carriage was a list of people who had reserved seats. I was relieved to find my name nestling in amongst the collection of Asian words. Seat number 23, 2nd class, seated.

As my (bad) luck would have it my seat was neither a window seat nor isle seat. Having stowed my rucksack on the far side of the carriage – in the only spare bit of space big enough to take it, I settled into my seat, much to the disgust of the man sitting next to me at the window – whom I tried making conversation with but he didn’t want to know – nor did he speak any English.

The seats, well benches, were arranged much like those you find on the old Metropolitan Line tube trains. High backed triplets facing each other, creating sort of booths. This was so both sides of the train and they were separated by the central isle.

The windows were two to a booth and exceedingly small, not more than two foot square, with iron bars on the outside to stop you  sticking your arms out. They were devoid of glass but a window pane could be drawn down from its concealment above the actual opening – which probably explains why they were so small.

All in all enjoying the view was quite a task. I had to crane my neck around the gentleman next to me and bend down slightly to get any idea of where we were.

I noticed that most people had made a point of chaining their luggage to the racks, which I hadn’t done. I realised that it would be a good idea to keep regular tabs on my luggage which was high over my left shoulder.

The back-support padding on the benches was positioned at about chest height so this meant that the only comfortable position to sit in was bolt upright. This was going to do my back trouble the world of good.  Bad posture is my constant downfall.

The train pulled off and just as it did so a whole crowd of people who had been loitering on the platform suddenly bundled on. All the seats were full within seconds. It was quite a squeeze. I could understand why they had chosen to stand outside; it was probably a lot more comfortable than sitting or standing in this sardine can.

The train moved slowly at first but after fifty miles or so we managed to get up speed; around 100mph maximum I’d say.  The scenery that went by was mainly swampy estuary farmland, palm trees and bananas in good supply. Later it turned into a more dusty red sand, barren landscape with clumps of trees in between the fields.

This was the first leg of the journey to Udaipur, I had to change at Ahmadabad onto a sleeper. It was timetabled to arrive there before 11.15pm which was when my connection was due to leave.

Throughout the entirety of the journey, all eight hours of it, a constant flow of hawkers and salesmen paraded up and down the central isle:

There was the Chai-wallah who would shout “CHAI CHAI” at the top of his voice the moment hestepped into the carriage, much to the dismay of those standing nearby. I didn’t try any. I was happy with the bottle of mineral water I had brought with me.

There was a man selling annoying toy bells, one selling crisps, another – sweets, a Kofi-wallah, a sandwich-wallah and other various snack-wallahs.

A group of Eunuchs came into the carriage at one point – though it took me a while to work out what they were. “Women with facial hair?” I thought to myself. They clapped their hands together at people – I assumed this was a sign for “Fancy a fuck?” Everyone did their best to ignore them, however the one that approached our booth was less than satisfied at that response and seemed to decide that placing a curse on the man sitting next  to me would teach us all a little respect. (S)he spat on the floor and left.

A lame beggar, near death, hobbled through – without much joy.

A little girl came in singing a sweet song whilst clacking a couple of pebbles together, she had a little more success, I gave her 2 Rupees; ;he can’t have been more than six or seven. Soon after, her little brother toddled through, also clacking stones together, but forgetting to ask for money; he was probably about 3 yars old.

I read a book and indulged in a little Indian snack before we all bundled off onto the throng of an Ahmadabad station platform.

A station official pointed me in the direction of platform 12 where my train to Udaipur would be in about 2 hours time, it had just gone 9 o’clock.

Already, the change in the attitude of the people in the station was a stark contrast to the populous of Bombay. I managed to sit on the platform with my book uninterrupted for almost the entire time there.

Nothing much happened during these two hours apart from: a scuffle between a couple of dogs on heat; and a steam train doing a bit of shunting around the station – which was enchanting to see.

The train arrived and, after checking for my name on various carriages, I found my allocated compartment. I was in the middle bunk of a three-tier in a booth of six. Getting myself and all my luggage on that one bunk comfortably was quite a task – but I managed it eventually.

I finished my book and went into a light snooze for the best part of the night. After about halfway the journey got exceedingly uncomfortable – and I found myself gyrating involuntarily around like an extra from a Breakdance movie.

The train arrived in Udaipur six hours early.

By | 2017-01-06T11:17:10+00:00 June 17th, 1997|India|0 Comments

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