While it is true traveling by rail is slightly more civilized than flying, let’s be honest, for all their first class (that everyone can afford?), business class, air mile and free upgrade bull crap, airline passengers are treated as little more than cattle.…airborne bovine, drifting doggies, aerial oxen…that’s right, mobile moo cows. Yet train travel is not without its own set of challenges. The most obvious of which is you are on a train. The novelty of that wore off when I was ten years of age. During a recent forty-four hour steel rail odyssey from New Delhi to Guwahati, I was reminded in spades why I dislike long distance train travel so intensely.
My plight with the smaller version of adults is well documented in other blogs (Train Cabin Succubus). Hey parents, don’t get all offended. I like kids, for ten or fifteen minutes at a stretch. But here it is, so just man up and take it : Your child is annoying, okay? People who don’t like kids don’t want to hear them screaming and whining about…..WHATEVER. We don’t think it’s cute to watch you play a board game or a card game with them. While we are talking about it, why in God’s name do you let them win? The competitive side of me simply cannot abide throwing a game, any game, even with a child….CRUSH THEM! You have the advantage. You should be taking this opportunity to teach them that valuable life lesson: It ain’t fair! Life sucks, get a helmet. They need to learn, you need to teach them! Just don’t do it around me, I have no desire to hear their little wails of anguish escaping wee lips whilst you mop the snakes and ladders game board clean with their naive spirit and lack of strategic skill. Also, we don’t want the running commentary about what a good boy/girl it has been simply because it has taken another mouthful of its dinner. Seriously man, is there anyone else out there who would pay extra for childless journeys, train, plane, bus or boat? Put up your hands, willing to pay a small premium to be beast free on your trip? The line forms to the left.
Look, I’m not a fussy guy. Like most men, I am halfway through my meal before I even register if it is fish or chicken. But I do ask that it falls into at least one of three recognizable food categories : Meat, Vegetable or Dessert. I don’t like having to guess. The “What is it?” game should not apply to food! Is it meat? Is it cake? Oh my God, it’s MEATCAKE!!! I am not entirely sure where, but I am certain that on the list of “What food when?”, it clearly stipulates peas are not a breakfast food….so why are they in my…what is that anyway? An Omelette? When I am reduced to spreading mixed pickle on roti and filling it with what is perceived to be rice……at one time….I’m sure it was rice….just to stop the hunger pains, something needs to be said.(Thank God for mixed pickle by the way. I hated it before Indian Railways taught me it is the fastest way to turn any cardboard based meal into a symphony of flavor…a veritable delicacy of Indian cuisine available in small convenient squeeze it out packages served right alongside the ketchup on every meal tray)
- Sheer Boredom
I am fairly adept at amusing myself, but after 44 hours of limited internet connectivity and pitiful battery life on most of my electronic devices, even I get a little starved for ways to pass the time. Singing, jogging, dancing the Lambada…all out. Slam poetry is fun, but unfortunately the language barrier takes most of the bite out of this particular art style, you end up with a rail car of people staring at you like you’re a stark raving lunatic. Well, if the shoe fits, boil it and eat it…it’s better than the meatcake if you add some mixed pickle.
Try some writing then, that will burn up some time. A straw and a newspaper is a simple and effective way to kill several hours. After all, we all need a little improvement on our spit ball aim. But the body can only produce so much saliva in a twelve-hour stint. Sadly, the guy on the top bunk eventually became irritated with the paper mache stalagmite growing off the cabin roof and he requested I cease and desist immediately. I did read a novel I had been meaning to get to, but all that reading makes me dozy, and dozy leads to sleeping, and sleeping leads to bedsores due to the iron maiden Indian Railways calls a………
- Sleeping Berth
I’m a three year veteran of Indian hotels, hostels and rest houses. I have intimate knowledge of the Indian philosophy concerning mattresses and pillows : the thinner the better. But nothing can compare to the spine injuring, morgue like slab of marble that Indian Railways pass off as a sleeping berth. The first step in the nightmare is to unwrap the brown papered envelope cum Christmas gift left for you by what I envisioned to be some kind of steampunk Santa. Delight! It is filled with grey colour linen that used to be white, but now it isn’t. Now the burlap textured sheets are a lovely shade of dinge. To add a little flair and style, they are pockmarked with food stuffs and body fluids, a sweet remembrance from the ghost of passengers past. The second nightmare begins by actually sitting on the bench seat in your cabin area. You wince as the cold hard billet signals the onset of rictus in your buttocks. Yet ever hopeful, you hold dear the hope that when the actual bunk is lowered, it won’t be as slate like as the bench seat. Those hopes are quickly smashed against the rocks like a wooden ship off course near The Cape of Good Hope. The moment you slip between the tattered sails of your sinking ship you ruefully realize…there shall be no sleep for the weary.
Mine, but mostly everyone else’s. One does what one can with limited facilities. The AXE spray-on deodorant took the lion’s share of responsibility for keeping me inoffensive. But regardless of what you do, forty-four hours without a shower is forty-four hours without a shower. Now, some people such as myself will suck it up and wash with a facecloth dipped in ice cold water in a public forum. Others such as my princess bride seem to simply shut off all offensive bodily functions (sweat, bad breath etc) when in these situations. It is really quite fascinating. Now, I am not judging, we all have differing opinions on how clean, clean really is; but others seem to have little regard for the environmental well being of their claustrophobic surroundings. Yes, the conditions are not ideal, but make an effort there big fella. Splash a lil water on the pits and apply some talc huh? Please? The resources do become strained and I admit it can be taxing. It did occur to me while brushing my teeth on the second morning : If the train had run out of meals and toilet paper and drinking water……where exactly was the water in the sink coming from?
My advice is this, if you are faced with the prospect of a train journey with an estimated travel time of over twelve hours, don’t do it. Fly or hire a car, no matter the cost. For your sanity and well-being, health and happiness, there really is no other palatable solution. I would like to add in closing, that the infamous Mrs. R is an officer in Indian Railways and after reading my initial draft of this commentary, she beat me senseless with an Indian Rail bread stick she had kept in her purse from the last meal on the train. But as any good journalist will tell you….the truth has to get out there…….