Our train compartment is suddenly flooded with white blue fluorescent light. It’s 6 am and still dark outside. I’ve been awake since 2 am–unable to sleep, trying to mediate, struggling with my overactive mind, sitting upright on the upper bunk, my head skimming the compartment ceiling. It’s a relief to see the boy arrive with morning tea. Granted it’s “dip-dip” tea and powdered milk, but soaking “Marie” biscuits in the tea heightens the pleasure. Woken from sleep, the compartment comes alive; the Hindu Times is delivered and the Indian gentleman opposite us is sitting up in his bed, drinking his tea and reading the paper. It could almost be an English bed and breakfast scene – I’m fascinated at how the Indians replicate and keep alive the British traditions.
The prospect of a 34-hour train ride was daunting when we were planning the trip. But I had forgotten – getting on the train in Indiayou enter the zone —clickety clickety click. The reassuring sound of the engine whistling through the night. The Rajasthani Express – a cut above the others. Meals are included and served at frequent intervals throughout the day on British schedule. Morning tea is followed by breakfast; lunch a three course meal, beginning with Magee powdered soup and ending with ice-cream is followed by afternoon tea, and then dinner replicates lunch. Both meals are the same, separate cartons of rice, soupy dahl and subji on a tray. Eating is a delicate balancing act to avoid everything landing in your lap or on the floor. But a sinewy man with a mop appears after each meal and mops up any spillage along with discarded newspapers, and other trash, seeing how the Indians have no concept of dustbins!
Sleeping, reading, writing – the hours pass away. no conversations with fellow travelers this time. Two women replace the men, they smile and offer us sweets – a sticky conglomerate of coconut, ghee and sugar, but they can’t speak English. The train is unusually quiet. – a small child across the corridor, makes little noise. He stares at us so intently we have to check in the mirror to see we haven’t grown a second head.
In this world of dip-dip tea, the only real cuppa is when the train rests at a platform for more than a few minutes and and chai wallahs descend. Porters in their red uniforms stagger by balancing two or more huge suitcases on their heads. If rats freak you out it’s wise not to look down between the train and the platform, where they feed well on the refuse from trains.
One more night of fitful sleep, and the train arrives in Bangalore, un characteristically on schedule – too early for Arvind who’s meeting us. But it’s Sunday morning and by Bangalorestandards the traffic is relatively light. Before too long we’re sitting in Shruti and Arvind’s apartment drinking tea.