We left Badami by bus as the sun was setting and drove through quiet countryside in the dusk – wide flat fields and clean villages – wooden carts resting beside Honda motor bikes, painted tractors adorned with garlands, Vodafone signs on the side of white washed adobe buildings. Refreshingly restful after noisy, dirty Badami.
Arriving at the train station in Bagalkot, we inspect the illuminated departure board and don’t see our overnight train listed.
While I stand by the bags, Gerard goes to the ticket counter – “Train to Aurungabad?
What train?” the man asks. Gerard shows him our ticket.
He hands it to the station master who asks, “Where did you get this?”
“Goa? There is no train.”
Gerard’s heart sinks. Eyes glaze over, beads of sweat form on his forehead as his mind carries him off contemplating a major screw up along the line. Stranded in Bagalkot! Images of sleeping on the floor in the station until who knows when…. His illusion is interrupted by the station master’s voice: “Wait, What day is it? Tuesday.”
“Yes, it is Tuesday”, all agree.
He smiles, “Yes, there is a train today. It comes just once a week.”
Gerard asks, “And why isn’t it on the board?”
The station master has moved on to a new topic: “Never mind that. Where are you from?”
He extends his hand out through the window to shake Gerard’s.
“What time is the train coming?” Gerard persists.
“Don’t worry, it’s coming…Do you have coins from your country?
“Yes, I do have coins in my luggage.”
“Then take your bags and bring them around into the office.”
“But what time is the train coming?”
“Yes, yes, we’ll talk about that later…”
Gerard comes over to tell me that the station master had forgotten about this weekly train. I reply with thinly veiled irritation,” Hello, isn’t he station master? Isn’t he supposed to know these things?”
“No problem, the train’s coming…and we’ve been asked to join the station master in his office.”
We plough through the crowd with our baggage to join our new friend. Now the attention is diverted to us. The window clerk, the station master, the ticket collector…they all grab chairs, insist that we sit down. Gerard rummages through his suitcase and comes up with a handful of nickels, dimes and quarters, which he distributes as if it was parshad (blessed food).
There’s much discussion among the Indians about the coins.
“How many rupees is that one worth?” asks a young woman, introduced to us as the ticket collector.
“How many of these make a dollar?” another asks.
At this point, we notice that the other waiting passengers are pressing their faces against the glass to see what’s going on inside.
The station master asks, “How much are they all worth?”
“About 50 rupees.”
He digs in his pocket for 50 rupees and we refuse them.
“So, you must have tea!”
He calls for tea and a man arrives with pretty little decorated porcelain cups of hot chai. We sit, drinking and chatting. Then just before our train is due… the train he had forgotten about…he escorts us to our platform, shakes our hands and wishes us good fortune. “Whenever I look at these coins, I will think of you,”… and he bids us farewell
Within minutes the train arrives on schedule….and with no notification on the board How the other passengers knew it was coming, we couldn’t figure.