Train rides in India are never a constant and this one is no different. Boarding early in the morning we’re surprised to find an empty compartment and stretch out knowing the solitude will be short-lived. Sure enough, an hour later, a family of several adults and children crowd on to the train and burst into our space. All very excited to begin their Goan holiday, they break open their suitcase full of home-made food and share. Within the confines of their limited mastery of English and our total lack of Hindi we make acquaintance.
Then they bring out playing cards, spread a large white sheet across their laps and the game begins…and continues…and continues…while the little kids climb over the sheet demanding attention. Their boisterous playing reminds us of the Pictionary games the Wiggins family and friends would play at Christmas many years ago. I try to embrace the fracas as an entertaining diversion on an otherwise long train ride!
Not having our own food we order from the onboard kitchen – plain but filling veg biryanis. Eating is a delicate balancing act to avoid everything landing in your lap or on the floor. An urchin with a broom appears crawling along, sweeping up the trash. The boy stops at our feet, holds up his hand and Gerard drops in a 10 rupee note. Then before tedium can set in, the chai wallah arrives, carrying a huge metal urn, a tower of paper cups sticking out of his back pocket. Balancing the urn under his arm, he deftly pours chai from a spigot into paper cups. The tea is rich and sweet, tasting more like hot chocolate.
Long train rides in India require a state of mind, one the Indians adopt naturally. You know you’re not going to get anywhere fast, with constant and often lengthy stops in and outside of stations. You can’t control – who’s going to be your fellow travelers, if they snore, if their children are going to create hell or cry all day/night, the state of the toilets. Surrender is the only option. So you settle in, meditate, sleep, read and watch the landscape roll by. The nostalgic sound of the engine whistling through the night intermingles with our dreams. Over the two days, the ever changing landscape stretches out – the gritty grayness of cities, with their shanty towns hugging the railway tracks, tin roofs littered with satellite dishes (poverty now includes a mobile and a battery operated television), dry dusty planes give way to sub tropical lushness as we approach Goa.