April 01, 2005

Many T-shirts

Vignettes from a return train trip, Bangalore to Bombay.


Words on the blue T-shirt worn by a young woman in our coach, I swear I stole looks at it only to get these words down correctly.

    STARING ... Sisley
    TALKING ... Sisley
    TOUCHING ... Sisley

    With each other
    It is precious time

    TO SMILE ... Sisley
    WALKING ... Sisley
    PERSONAL ... Sisley

    With each other
    It is precious time


Speaking of T-shirts. At Shahabad, a twenty-something dude gets on wearing a black one. It has a ghastly lurid picture of a baby (!) holding up its middle finger (!) and these words beneath.



A man appears silently and puts a pile of thin books on one of the berths in our compartment. Vanishes and returns with another pile, which he takes to the next compartment. And so on.

This is the uniquely effective sales technique of Messrs T Ramaswamy Iyer (name changed) bookseller and publisher from Bangalore. Their ouevre, there for persual on the berth, includes such clear bestsellers as Science Quiz, Mathematics Quiz, Mahabharatha for Children, Best Quotations for all Occassions (sic), Diabetes, and the one I invested Rs 15 in, Essay Writing. (See? Effective all right).

I already believe it is the best Rs 15 I've ever spent. This little 112-page gem has essays on a number of different topics, from "Friendship" to "The Evils of Dowry" to "Strikes". And it has some wisdom indeed. Some samples:

In the essay on "Choice of a Career": Nobody likes half starving and ill respected. So every where the competition lies.

In "Science and Religion": Sofa is a place to sit. A grass bed is also a place to sit. Sofa is man made and is the gift of technology. A grass bed is natural. Both serve the same purpose. The ultimate result is 'Ananda' the bliss.

In "Health and Sanitation": Like good air and tight man needs good cloth to wear, one should wear loose clothes but not very tight clothes that obstruct blood circulation.

In "Kindness to Animals": To see wild animals one has to 90 (sic) to a dense forest or a zoo. Birds fly in the sky. Horses are used to pull carts.

As you can tell, the book will never be far from my grass bed.


The little Andhra Pradesh town of Yadgir announces itself with a sprinkling of shabby structures poking out of bare fields, in the shadow of a lone hill. Then more and more shabby structures. And suddenly we are at the station, which is overflowing with gorgeous bougainvillea in multiple colours, lit prettily by the rising sun.

As I look out in admiration at the flowers, I feel a tap on my shoulder. A scrawny, filthy woman with a baby lolling almost lifelessly in her arms asks me for money. Outside on the platform of Yadgir, a young lady in a slinky tight skirt, stylish top and a stole -- she wouldn't be out of place on any Page 3 -- strides along, wobbling slightly and fetchingly on her too-high heels.


Solapur and some other stations have a "Running Room." What happens there, I wonder. I mean, I've heard of "Waiting Room" and "Retiring Room" and "Bath Room." But why have a room to go run in?

Then again, Solapur also has little sheds at either end of the platform, called "Rolling In Rolling Out." There's gotta be some connection.


At Daund, a dark muscleman in jeans, chunky shoes, tight T-shirt (no charming message on it, more's the pity), wearing a chunky bracelet and carrying a too-large belly, lopes through the compartment. I'm inadvertently in his way, looking the other way. So when he comes up to me, instead of simply asking me to move, he actually tries to lift me aside. But it's not for nothing that I carry a too-large belly too. He can't.

Anyway, he strides over to the open door of the coach, and puts his muscled shoulder and right arm into opening it an inch wider than it already is. Then he leans triumphantly against the wall and with a flourish whips out a cellphone. Chunky, of course.


Young girl in a baseball cap, one more of the travelling performers who ask for money, stands beside us for a long time, looking yearningly at our son's crayons and colouring book. Finally and quietly, she asks for one crayon.

But before we can react, she is shoved aside roughly by a skinny old woman. She thrusts in our faces a pan in which there is a chapatti and a small lump of pickle.

The girl wanders off disconsolately. I go after her with the crayon, find her performing handstands before a gaggle of jeering teenage boys in the next compartment. They look at me in surprise when I leave the crayon in her plate.


Pune. A boy comes through on his haunches, maybe the same one we saw on our journey in the other direction. Little more than skin and bone, his shorts are held up by a string. He's wiping the floor and asking for money. I watch him pick up a grape that's lying under a seat and eat it.

As he passes us, my son looks at him, then at me in wonder. "Appa," he says, "he's using his T-shirt! Why?"

My son often asks why. This time, I have no answer.


ak said...

Can I send this post to some of my friends? I will attribute it to you, of course.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Ani-dada, of course you can.

Suhail said...

Hats off sire! These vignettes resonate a chord with me. Me too observe these small things quite often, the only new thing is I can now blog/comment about them :) Have a small photo collage of mine. Will share it sometime. That Solapur thing was just WOW. And ofcourse you'd have noticed but forgot to blog about those rate cards on numerous carts on platforms which will still list 35 paise per banana.
By the way in Bangalore, did you notice those "___ Hindu Military Hotels" ? Apparently all these hotels serve inexpensive non-veg, mostly frequented by labourers, daily wage earners. And next time if you happen to travel by those stately Maharastra State Transport(popularly called EshTee) buses, do note the fact that all sugarcane juice stalls with their tinkling-clanking bells, on all bus stops would be named as a certain "Navnaath Raswanti Grah"(Navnaath juice center). Apparently it is so for some good reason. On one of my trips, a know-it-all fellow passenger explained, sugarcane being (or was) one of the main produce of Maharashtra, and Lord Navnaath is a sort-of good luck God for sugarcanes. Hence the name. Can anyone validate this theory for sure? Or if otherwise share the correct explanation ?

Writer Shikat Aahey ;)

amit varma said...

Lovely stuff.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Suhail, you know, I've seen those rate cards but never looked at the prices. In what year were bananas at 35p per, I wonder?

Don't remember the Hindu Military Hotels, but you remind me of the restaurants you can see in Mahim, where swarms of men sit outside every evening. Waiting for a benefactor to come by and pay for a meal for some of them.

I'm not sure I'll be able to forgive you for putting the thought of sugarcane juice in my mind on this sultry day...

Amit, thanks.

Suhail said...

Dilip, those rate cards are supposed to display the official rlys prices. Ofcourse, they haven't updated it in eons. Leaving it for some folks like us to derive pleasure from these small things. However few of them with prim-propah khakhi caps and shiny badge numbers do update them and if you engage in light banter, will also show you a yellow-coloured stamped rate card, which can include novelties like ladies' hairbands, chikki, and some modern items like kaagjaachey-saaban(paper soap ;)

Restaurants similar to your description can also be seen in many places near Agripada, Do Taaki, Nagpada. But here they don't wait for a benefactor. Most of these hotel owners(belonging to the Gujarati Chillia community) themselves feed a fixed number of people each night. I don't know abt Mahim, but the queues outside these hotels are simply so well organized and in order, that if not for their tattered external facade which blinds most of us middle-classies, these are probably the most-civilized beggars around town. Infact if you observe the scene a bit closely you'll even see traces of charity amongst beggars. eg. one of them will share a meal with his friend, and donate his share to a more disadvantaged fellow with 2 kids and such who will promptly escrow it in a plastic bag for the next day. Looks like some guys do practise the trickle-up theory.

The sugarcane juice? Well, head for BombayCentral S.T. HQ and have one right now. No doubt, straight from heavenly fields of Lord Navnaath :) (Sharad Pawar notwithstanding)

Quizman said...

Marvellous stuff, Dilip.

Suhail - the military hotel is a legacy of the time when Bangalore was a British Military cantonment. The local populace were by and large vegetarian. The Military hotel was one place where the soldiers could get their filling of meat.

Suhail said...

Thanks Quizman for the info. Since we are on the topic, maybe you can also tell us why have the word [Hindu] in the name ? Isn't that some kind of an oxymoron? At the same time hurt the sentiments of traditional veggie Hindus- in military or otherwise.

Dilip, keep writing such excellent stuff. What else can I say.

Anonymous said...

It is sad that these military hotels are being secularised and forced to shed their "hindu" tag:


Quizman said...


Hindu Military hotel - no beef
Muslim Military hotel - no pork

Suhail said...

now I get it. I had wrongly equated : Hindu=100% veg.

I wonder if SaffronBrigade Inc. has thought on brand value of these names :) But that article was excellent. Thanks. Especially delighted to read these 2 lines:
"...As in those days, a piece of lime and slices of onion still adorn the banana leaf when one orders ‘half or quarter plate’ of mutton or chicken palav..."

Lack of the above sidies(by default) has been one of my pet peeves abt most restaurants in Bglore. I must now absolutely visit these great military institutions once I am bk to Bangalore.

I hope you don't mind this slightly off topic thesis on military hotels.

Anonymous said...


Beautiful yet heart wrenching postings.

Even I have felt that poverty has only been increasing in India regardless of the reforms. There were definitely a lot less beggers on the trains when we used to go to Pilani from Mumbai in the early nineties.

BTW, Roll-In Roll-Out is the concept of trucks rolling onto (into) flat bed wagons at one station and rolling out of them at their destinations. Its like a tow service for many trucks and Railways in Maharashtra and Gujarat are doing it since it works out much cheaper for the trucks (faster as well) and is more environment friendly. This is called a "Ro-Ro" service.

Amit M