We cross the Krishna river at a crawl on Bridge 1123 (photography prohibited). It's a river only in name -- lots of sand, a few trickling strands of water. Mynahs cling to the wires that run parallel to the track, chirping in alarm. People bathe in the water, colourful saris and white dhotis fluttering in the breeze. Right below the train, a family does a puja; the daughter, can't be more than six, stands on the sand with her head tilted way back to look at us, waving and yelling happily.
Exactly two weeks later, we cross the Krishna river on Bridge 1123 again, going the other way. And I can scarcely believe my eyes. Photography is still prohibited, so you'll have to take my word for it: this time, it's a full, rushing, energetic, half-km wide ... river.
The woman opposite has a small notebook. Writing closely-spaced and rapid Tamil, she fills up page after page. Then she passes the diary on to her travelling companions, each of whom write in it too. What are these, Tamil bloggers taking notes that mention the guy in a shirt missing two buttons who gets slapped in the face by one of their banana peels? (Me).
But as she writes, I notice something about her that reminds me of one of my oldest questions about Tamil women. Why do so many of them, usually but not always middle-aged, carry safety pins on cords around their necks?
At some point, I look up from my book and turn to the window. To my delight, there's an enormous swarm of ducklings mushrooming out of a pond and across the ground. Black, brown, orange, yellow, must be a few thousand fluffy little birds, waddling determinedly away from the train that passes noisily above them.
A little later, there's a swarm of buffalos. Then a swarm of ragged huts, sprawled across a gentle slope.
We're stopped at Raichur station. Without warning, making me jump, the PA system comes to life in a booming rendition of "Oh My Darling Clementine". Scratchy and out of tune, the voice gender neutral, but it's "Clementine" all right. Then the song subsides and a deep voice (male) announces, in Telugu and Hindi and English, that our train is about to depart.
Dreadful sorrow, Clementine.
The older couple next to me is reading a Telugu paper, sharing the sections between them. Suddenly, the man taps his wife and motions to the top of the page he has in his hands. They both stare at it fixedly for many minutes, then let out a quiet collective sigh. I take a peek over their shoulder. The picture is of a fetching Telugu film star, no idea of her name, in a narrow red bustier top, vast expanses of overweight cleavage on display.
As they look up from the bustier, we roll to a gentle stop in Cuddappah. The family in the next compartment passes, on their way out. Among them is a chunky 20-year-old girl wearing a salwar kameez that is at least as tight, if not as revealing, as the Telugu starlet's clothes. She flounces regally off the train, affording glimpses of a waist bulging from a too-tight waistband. The couple sighs again.
Later, I ask them for the page, and have brought it home. My wife keeps whacking me. My son giggles at it, saying "She's hardly wearing any clothes!"
Vendors at Wadi are in particularly good form. Our stay there is a cacophony of: "Cadbury Choc-late Kurkure Lays", "vada pao vada pao garam garam vada pao", "bodam [sic] milk cool cool", "chai chai chai chai", "coldrink Bisleri thanda Bisleri coldrink" and "omlette omlay omlay omlette".
Plus some others, indistinguishable in the racket.
Just as an experiment, I go on a deliberate search for a vendor who doesn't shout. Turns out there's at least one: a guy selling fruit juice, sitting silently behind his counter. So I order, and drink down, what is quite likely the world's worst mosambi juice. No wonder he's so quiet.