Smita recently wrote a post about a train journey. And that made me very nostalgic. During my student days, I travelled a lot by train. My post on Indian toilets wouldn’t have been possible without years of experience in using train-toilets, for instance. Good old Indian Railways – they were definitely not for the faint of heart.

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As a sleeper-class passenger, one always had to deal with travellers who did not have any reservation and insisted on sitting at the edge of one’s berth all through the night. Having been a veteran of many “general dabba” journeys myself, I sympathised with such people and generally let them be.

Some of them even laid out their sheets and slept in the corridor. One such individual did the same just outside our compartment. There was a Bengali gentleman on the berth opposite me who did not like this very much. So he looked down and indignantly called out “Ae, tum niche kyun sota hain?” Pat came the reply, in Jattu: “Toh apne saath sula le!

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I seemed to attract families with lots of luggage and at least two squawking kids. And so it was on this one particular journey. Harried parents, an older boy – infuriatingly whiny and always ready to throw a tantrum – and a quieter younger sister, with an incredibly runny nose. The boy was a brat. Ready to howl at the slightest excuse, and the parents, after feeble attempts at discipline, invariably let him have his own way. Which was to run riot, scramble all over the place, buy something from every vendor in sight and generally be an insufferable pest.

The compartment soon resembled a monkey cage….peanut shells and bits of food and wrappers strewn all over, the boy scrambling up and down, insisting on eating on the top berth, spilling and littering with abandon, climbing down again, throwing another tantrum and then eating some more.

And then, while sitting on the top berth, he spat out a mouthful of some cucumber he was eating, which narrowly missed my head, but landed on my jeans. My first instinct was to stand up and whack the little shit, but the mother quickly intervened with “sorry bhaisaheb, baccha hai”, while the father proceeded to wipe the green goo off my jeans with a towel.

Their apologetic and long-suffering demeanour calmed me down, until I remembered that this was the same towel that had been used to swab wet berths and wipe copious amounts of snot and spit off the face of the other kid. At which point I just gave up. There’s no point fighting when the universe is determined to screw you.

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Of course, I was luckier than a friend of mine. He had gone to attend a sports camp down south, and had a very long journey back, in the middle of an Indian summer. Somewhere (I think it was in Andhra), they were waiting for a connecting train that was late by more than 12 hours and was expected only in the early hours of the morning. So you had a hundred or so high-school kids spending the night on the platform, along with the other passengers.

Soon there was no food left at the station, and predictably, there was no water left either. And then my friend had to use the loo. Quite urgently, too. And that was when he made the most stupid mistake of his life. One that he’s not been allowed to forget to this day. Any sensible person would’ve used paper – any kind of paper from somewhere. Anywhere. But no, not my pucca Indian (left-hand-only) friend. He decided to use the only liquid available. GoldSpot.

I’d rather not get into the gory details, but let’s just say it was a very sticky situation.

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