At Daund, an old man looks in at me through the window and starts speaking in Tamil, asking for a few coins. In Daund? What makes him think I look like a Tamil speaker? I reply in Tamil, whereupon he switches to a smiling English. "Excuse me you sir, you give me one rupee OK mister?" I give him his rupee and he nods his head in appreciation and wanders off as the train starts moving.
Two performing kids get on somewhere. Actually a whole family of them, in walks up and down the train with dozy daughter on my shoulder, I see them crouched in the passage between carriages, trying to avoid the glare of passenger stares. This pair is a boy and a girl, he in a wildly painted face, once-smart but shabby clothes, and a thick cast on his right arm. She's a sullen thing who pouts at him, can't be more than 4 years old. He begins crooning Dhoom macha de which immediately endears him to my son, whose current all-time favourite song this is. To the beat of his arhythmic singing, she folds herself, still sullen, through a little metal ring that would not go over my head.
At Solapur, a vendor has excellent looking watermelon and sliced cucumber with masala plastered on. Mouthwatering stuff. We buy a few and gorge ourselves. We've been carefully packing our trash in a plastic bag, and the rinds from the watermelons go into the bag, which I then go out and dump into a trash can on the platform.
Am I pleased with myself for doing my bit to keep the station clean? Well, it seems a drop in a trash can, because up and down the train, people are eating watermelon and dumping their rinds either on the platform or onto the tracks.
A young man in a T-shirt with red stripes suddenly wriggles from the tracks under the train, between it and the platform, carrying two or three of the discarded rinds. He eats from them, eats what's left. Then he goes over to the can I've just filled. Leans in and picks out the rinds I've just thrown in there. Eats what's left from those. Vanishes.
Another young man suddenly appears at our compartment. There have been a steady stream of beggars, all 24 hours of our journey, but with this one, I have a hard time keeping my face impassive as I look at him. He is scooting along on his bottom, stopping to ask for coins at each compartment. His leg is draped around his neck. A bag of grapes hangs from his toes, at cheek level. He looks at me, into the depths of my soul, asking for money with a face just as impassive as I'm fighting to maintain.
The blind beggar couple wanders past, singing some tuneless song as they go. He, in front, reaches out with his hand to guide his way. I'm sitting right there, holding my daughter. He hand brushes her as he reaches for something to hold; she instinctively grabs onto his finger. His face breaks into a smile. "Beti", he says, quietly.