Thursday, February 19, 2009

Life in the raw

Although life may seem basic by Western standards, compared to most people I live a fairly privileged existence. When travelling by train I pick the top class, which costs over 6 times the bottom class, and I have running water. Last week, however, I had a brief taste of how the other half (or more accurately the other 80%) lives. Returning from a weekend jolly to Raipur, I had to travel General (or cattle) class because there were no seats available in any other. To say it was packed would be an understatement and one look at the carriage we'd crammed ourselves into told us we had no hope of ever getting a seat for the 4-hour journey. The picture doesn’t do the actual conditions justice – we had to wait until we stopped at a station and people had got off for a breather before we could attempt to get anywhere near the carriage to take a picture. Even if we had got a seat, it would have been a choice between a hard wooden bench or sitting cross-legged on the second-tier. Somehow, the hawkers force their way through the melee of people selling bracelets, tea, snacks, and even complete meals. We were also “treated” to a visit by some Hijra – men who dress as women who are considered the third sex in India. They make their living by begging and often attend weddings etc demanding money with menaces. They were quite fascinating with their deep voices and flowing saris but I decided to keep my observations low key as they can also be quite aggressive. The journey turned out to be 6 hours although, to be fair, there had been a major rail accident further down the line in which 15 people had died and I think it was a credit to the Indian rail system that only three or four trains had been cancelled and ours was only 2 hours late. On my return I discovered that there was a three-day scheduled power cut - so whilst everyone else knew and had filled buckets of water in preparation - water requires electricity to pump into the tanks that feed the taps - they had forgotten to tell me so on Monday morning I found myself at the local hand-operated water pump. I have, however, made several new friends amongst the local population who have to use it on a daily basis and who were highly amused that I was there and even more so that I was struggling - it's hard work I can tell you! With the electricity now back on, I have water flowing out of the taps again and, whilst I wouldn’t refuse to travel cattle class, I’ll certainly appreciate the soft, pre-reserved seats in the air-conditioned carriages of the upper classes the next time I travel by train.


Anonymous said...

I expect you are missing the Northern Line on a good day! Cattle class in India looks luxurious.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog..
☆ Martinha ☆

Anonymous said...

It is a different experience reading through your blog. As you wrote, cattle class is the Indian reality!

India needs to travel long distance to keep up with other parts of the world.