Thursday, May 8, 2008

Greetings from: the Shiv Ganga Express

Indian trains offer you two ways of seeing the world. You can see it as gray; one window offers a clear view to the outside, and by the time the train boards (6:30 in the evening), dusk has settled over the city. The platform itself is gray, and battered metal boxes wait on the concrete.

I think I misunderstood what the 2-sleeper car meant; instead of me and another person, it’s me and a family of three. The father, before going to sleep, spread a cream over his face. He kept playing Bollywood hit songs on his cell phone, taking advantage, perhaps, of the fact that I had headphones for my laptop. Those multi-use phones are a menace. He spoke into his phone as if what he had to say was so important that he wanted to hear its echo.

I wonder why the Indians chose red as the dominant color scheme for the interior. The seats had a geometric Najavo pattern, something you’d see on a 70s polyester shirt, while the thin privacy curtain had crescents and swirls. I thought of cranes, for some reason. Birds in flight. Even the emergency stop cord was an appealing red velvet -- Pull me. You know you want to.

Despite the black sliding door, the interruptions were endless: a man selling water from a metal bucket, a man bringing blankets, a man to put the sheets on the bed. They brought chai on a brown plastic tray with a brown and yellow Padmini-brand Thermos. It was so sweet that it made my back teeth ache. As the train started to pull out, men ran along the platform, thinking they make a running jump onto the train, as if it were a Delhi bus. And then -- the backside of Delhi. A burned out building, black with soot, and people walking along the rails, amongst a landscape colored by heaps of rubbish. Buildings seemed only half-constructed, missing two of four walls. Jagged concrete and rusted rebars jutted out from abandoned projects. I remembered John in Shimla, describing how India wanted to jump from Third World to First World without making the crucial intermediary step of investing in the infrastructure. This was the unfinished city.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's obvious this guy is a writer- the copy very detailed and colorful. And sophomoric. It doesn't make for very informative travel writing,either. Don't know what he was expecting on the train ride, but the things written about it in travel books and on-line pretty well document the experience. Don't know why he was surprised.

vinod said...

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