Having endured a torrid first date, I have found a hidden gem in the Indian train service. But before this is dismissed as another homage to the relics of imperialism, hear me out.
Its appeals come from where it differs from its chubby and unreliable British counterpart.
Whilst any London commuters are regarded with eternal taboo if they brandish their elbows during the boarding process, a liberal forearm and a Rambo attitude are essential to have any chance of reaching the haven of the Indian railway carriage. The boarding technique preferred by locals is ‘the lion,’ where, having selected a carriage with suitably weak occupants, they chase it down across the platform until the train reaches a manageable speed to leap onto.
If you survive this process then you become accepted into the carriage community and are free to enjoy its membership benefits. An array of downward-facing fans provide the ventilation, but this is often not sufficient for some and there is stiff competition for places around the two-metre long open doorway. This prime spot has the benefits of a breeze and, at times, several people plunge their faces out of any available gaps to relish in the swirling air, whilst avoiding electricity pylons in the process. There is also a general consensus to beat a hasty retreat every time the train passes over the river of open sewage.
Due to the competition for places during rush hour, some mavericks take this pastime of ‘breeze riding’ to the next level and use the barred windows as a foothold to ride on the outside, clinging to any feature of the train that will have them. Fortunately, the Mumbaikers are more accommodating than their iron mount and one particular local took it upon himself to ensure the safety of his travelling companion by cradling him around the waist with his arms.
When they are not re-enacting scenes from the Titanic, commuters content themselves with watching the passing scenery, whilst some even burst into song. During one journey I was treated to a tear-jerking rendition of ‘Ain’t no Sunshine’ by the 50 year-old businessman, standing next to me who, I can safely say, had the sweetest voice in the Sub-Continent.
Things were not always so dandy.
On my first attempt, as a Virgin to the train etiquette, I saw a carriage that was only defended by a skeleton guard of Indian women. My luck had finally turned and I could avoid the wild rush going on around me. But as I got on I was immediately greeted by the shoos and hisses of a mob of female suffragettes who, led by a wrinkled reincarnation of Emily Pankhurst herself, forced me off the carriage. It later transpired that women had several carriages to themselves, probably to protect them from the boarding frenzy.
Fortunately I learnt this lesson before the arrival of the Pune express, a train made up of an entirely female contingency, and my attempts to board it would have appeared to the locals as a sex-starved tourist, desperate to get on to this mythological entity. It was factors out of my reach that had saved that train from certain boarding and as it danced gaily past, I set my sights on its successor.
Having already seen two legitimate trains escape my clutches, I was determined not to let the next fish get away. I selected a relatively empty carriage, that also appeared to be mixed, and tightened my grip for the long haul as the first signs of dissaproval, which at this point seemed inevitable, manifested themselves in the around me.
As the red mist descended and my knuckles whitened, I hung on amidst a growing chorus of unrest and it was only a particularly well-placed tug from one of the vigilantes who had gathered outside the carriage that dislodged me from my perch.
It was then, from this new perspective and with logic slowly returning, that I saw an indiscreet sign which showed that the carriage was reserved solely for disabled people and cancer patients.
With my tail between my legs I withdrew to the refuge of a cab, but I would be back. After all it is ten pence to ride anywhere in the city.