My travels around the north of India, and namely Rajasthan, had brought me once more into the arms of the Indian railways and I arrived on its dirt-laden platforms like a prodigal son returning home. Unfortunately, my inflated sense of confidence was somewhat undermined by the absence of accompanying equipment and my overnight bag, slung camply over the shoulder, looked out of place next to the guerrilla rucksacks of my travelling companions.
Once we had established that consistent advice on the location of our train would be a luxury, we chose instead to bide our time in the waiting room, which held an assortment of characters comparable to the board game Cluedo. One of whom -a Korean student- announced his presence with an act of gentle masochism that involved placing a number of burning coals across his forearm. A remedy, their box said ambitiously, ‘for all kinds of disease’. These tools were swiftly concealed when a good-looking girl, motivated more by a lack of alternatives than anything else, sat down in the chair next to him.
Sensing an opportunity, he reached into his rucksack, brushing aside the Badminton travel kit for another occasion. Presumably he had read too much into the courting techniques advertised by Greek Mythology and withdrew instead a wooden pipe with a princely flourish. Whilst it did not have the desired romantic effect, his passionate display instead succeeded in rousing the resident population of rats from their subterranean lair. Once liberated, the horde wasted no time in inhabiting the nearby side room, whose sparing decorations and general decrepitude rendered it better suited for waiting to die than waiting for the train.
Despite its flaws, the Korean had already cast his sanitary eye over the room and deemed it acceptable to host his lifetime goal of sleeping overnight in a train station. I couldn’t help thinking that, whilst being a country of many firsts, India is not best-suited for this particular aspiration . Before leaving, though, I trusted he would value the information I had on his potential bedfellows, but his vocabulary did not extend to ‘weasel-sized rats’ and he offered me instead a naïve laugh before leaving to wash his hair in the bathroom sink. Blissfully unaware.