One coach we rush past had this neatly painted label (where you might find "A/C Sleeper" or some such): "Second Jan Chair cum Guard Car." Couldn't make sense of it, so I thought perhaps it was a mistake. Until a journey two weeks later, passing through a different town, when we rushed past another coach and it had this neatly painted label: "Second Jan Chair Car".
What are these, any idea? Is January 2nd some significant railway date, or have I totally missed something?
I'm thinking of something that was widely distributed after the tsunami, comes in multiple bright colours, is commonly seen in villages or small railway stations; but is something that I dont see easily in big cities. What's on my mind?
Answer: round sort-of-spherical plastic buckets, wide bodied with small saucer-sized openings. Stopped at Mantralayam Road station, I see a regular assembly line at work, involving these implements. From the tenements outside the station, people bring their buckets to the edge of the nearest track. A man carries them across the track to the platform. Another man takes them across the platform, and there a third man transports them across another track to the water hoses that run alongside our stopped train. He fills the buckets from the hose, and then they make their way
back in reverse.
The assembly line cranks into operation with every train that halts here.
And yes, I see such buckets far more easily in rural areas than in my urban surroundings. Why?
Guntakal station has a stall called "Nes Coffee Tea". It has a vendor whose rate chart lists "Tongu Cleaner Rs 2" and "Hand Kurchife Rs 10". It has a deserted white tiled space that sports this title: "Integrated Computerised Crew Booking Room." It has a man being taken in procession down the platform, garland round his neck and a young girl leading him, men running backwards taking photographs.
And, as I mentioned before, it has a "Learn a Hindi Word Daily" ("Pratidin Hindi ka shabd seekhiye") board that's blank.
I think I want to move to Guntakal.
White haired, white stubbled man comes through. Like many others do, he sits on his behind and pushes himself along. He implores everyone with an urgent "Ma, ma, ma!" Some people reach into their pockets for a coin or two. When he reaches me, he looks me steadily in the eye and says in English, "Just help, sir! Just help!"
After Tadipatri, a whole lot of men and women come through, laden with multicoloured necklaces for sale. They shout "Mona Lisa!", I suppose that's some kind of known name for these things. And they drive a hard bargain. A young couple is in our compartment trying to make a sale. A woman from three compartments away comes up and says, I bought three for Rs 20, don't pay more! The couple remonstrate with her: Why do you do that? We have to sell our things at different prices! How can we do business if you tell everyone your price?
For some reason, a potential buyer shows the girl her pearls. She sniffs contemptuously and says, put those in hot water and see what happens to them. Nothing will happen to my necklaces!
I've been sitting at the window seat for a couple of hours. At Cuddapah around noon, I get up to stretch my legs and have a drink, leaving my shoulder bag behind on the seat. I come back in a couple of minutes to find that two men in the compartment with me have dumped my bag on the floor, raised the middle berth and are wriggling into it and the bottom berth, respectively. They look startled that I've returned so soon.
As soon as they are settled, they remember something. They whisper urgently to each other. The middle-berth man slides off, unhooks the berth, and lowers it. They are so anxious to prevent anyone else from sitting down on the lower berth that the fellow there doesn't even get up. He wriggles and squirms and pulls his pigeon chest in, all in an effort to help his pal lower the middle berth over his prone body. He wriggles so much, he falls off.
Picks himself up, both sit and eat their packed lunch. That's what they had forgotten.
The lower-berth dude wears a vest with a picture of a soap box. It says: "Challenge Rolex Detergent Cake, Extra 25% free."
We muscle through Kupgal station at a stately speed, our engine trumpeting triumphantly all the while. The station master stands holding the usual green flag, talking urgently into a walkie-talkie. I wonder if he's requisitioning help to tackle the possible problem behind him, where a monkey sits casually on a weighing machine.