So, I’m at the station at Pathankot, late at night and about to board the sleeper train to Delhi. Handily it’s at the station and all I have to do is find my carriage.
It’s a tedious but easy enough task, once you know the drill – first you find the big lists of passengers for the whole train printed on huge sheets of white computer paper in very small faint writing. Then you find your name.Then you find your carriage. Then you re-find the carriage on the actual train (that’s the tricky bit sometimes, as they’re not always in the order you’d expect them). Then you climb on and locate your seat. And once you’ve found it you usually have to evict some chancer from it.
And by the late evening your seat will have been converted to a reasonably comfy sleeping surface (you can’t quite call it a bed). So if it appears unoccupied, there is a strong chance someone will have snuck in for a sleep from one of the ‘lesser carriages’ hoping you won’t turn up and they’ll get away with it.
In my case, I only had to trail up and down the train a couple of times (I was a bit groggy from the drive) and then I was lucky that no-one was asleep in my seat. Instead there was a large and complex Punjabi family making epic arrangements for everyone to go to sleep. There was much opening and closing of bags, much rustling. Everyone had to put away their sneakers and put on their sandals so that they could slip them on and off easily to make sure they had clean feet on the bed and shoes on when standing up. There was much coming and going between their beds.
It went on a bit.
I let them get on with it and then eventually made up my sleeper bed (lovely fresh sheets on the IRCTC trains) and climbed to my bed. My plan? To read a little (we’d not left the station yet as it was a bit delayed), and perhaps do some work and maybe write this blog post.
But no, that was not the plan of the family. I get up there, they give me one minute and they snap the lights off. I’m now in complete darkness. Hmmm.
I put the side light on so I can see what I’m doing and, you know, read.
The side light is hideously bright. The Punjabis are not happy. They tense up. There is an elderly father and a child, they want to go to sleep. But really, I’d like to be able to see and not sit there wide awake in the dark. And that is after all what a side light is for…
Things come to a head – words are exchanged.
I point out they’ve only just asked me to turn off the light. And if they wait a bit, I’ll turn it off after the ticket man’s been. As I don’t want to be woken up in ten minutes by the inspector. This didn’t actually happen on this train, but it usually does. And man, is it annoying to be woken up.
Tempers fray. The young woman who is the mother of the child speaks the best English and starts shouting at me about my attitude. This is delightful as you can imagine.
Eventually I cave in to the growing pressure, and switch the light off and carry on working on my phone, which obviously does still shed some light into the carriage. It’s not much, but all the same, I can hear the sound of grinding teeth as I work on. Really, what the hell do these people expect – that everyone works to their schedule?
And that, of course, is exactly what they expect – they’ve made a plan and everyone else should stick to it. Grrrr.
But the odd thing, is that up and down the carriage you can hear people getting arsy with each other. It’s usually delightful on Indian trains, people making friends and sharing food. But on this train, I hear at least one other argument after I eventually put the light out and a few other very sharp words. Lying in the dark, I can hear people actually shouting at each other. Then stopping and then starting again in a different, but equally aggrieved tone.
Punjabis are known for two things – being perhaps a little ostentatious (this is the polite term for being showy) and being down right arsy.
As a pal texted me that night, as I fessed up that my crime of keeping the light on had caused tension – ‘what can I tell you? Punjabis’ as though that explained it all. And to be honest, it rather did.
To make it worse in the morning the family gets up very early – as apparently they have a train connection to make. But sadly the train is three hours late – so we all wake early for no reason. It’s hard not to be awake when six other people decide to get up all around you – slightly harder to resist than their requirement for us all to go to bed at the same time. Though god knows, I tried to resist that with valiant use of my side light…
So that’s it really – being tired and having been shouted at by an entire family took the edge off my happy. Throw in lack of sleep, being three hours late and not having my breakfast and I was in prime position to snap when pushed beyond endurance by an amputee.
Least that’s my story and I’m sticking it it.
This is part two of a two part post.
Read Part One here – She is my world
Read what happened when I got to Delhi – I stood arguing with a man with one arm
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