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Journey to India

The train is warm, dimly lit and it has little walking space. The blue sleepers are wider, even an adult can sleep with a kid. Our sleepers are in two adjacent compartments which have other male passengers as well.

In Pakistan, women and men are segregated in weddings, buses and even in government offices and election polls, the cues are separate. Women always have an edge in crowd being weak and suppressed. Like in public bus stops, a man jump out of the slow-moving bus but for a woman, the conductor will let the driver know and bus will come to a halt before a woman steps down.

The first compartment in which we have more sleepers, have three men and a women.  I and my friends are quietly staring at each other as we could not imagine sleeping in front of  men gazing us. On the lowest sleeper is a young man somewhere in later twenties. He has very ordinary features yet his face shines with childish innocence of his heart and his merry soul. Mr Halai asks him if other two sleeping men on the upper two sleepers are with him. He says that they are his uncles.

Mr Halai, a 6 feet tall, dark and thin man with thin black hair, mustache and thin beard covering his chin. He is gentle, amiable and accomplished companion until he sleeps and eats well. For when hungry, he is fractious and when sleepy, he is scornful.

He explains him that we have women and children with us who feel uncomfortable to share compartment with strange men. The stranger nods showing his sympathy. Now, Mr Ghatila moves forward and asks him politely if they could switch their sleepers with our’s in the other compartment, we also have three in a row there. The stranger smiles and hesitantly confesses that his uncle who is fast asleep on middle sleeper is an angry old man and might not agree. He warns that he will try to persuade him and we must not interrupt.

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He very softly wakes him up and explains him the situation.

His annoyed uncle says, “I’m an old man, I’m sleeping. Why I would look at these women? They can sleep without any trouble.”

“Uncle!” he add softly with childish innocence, “They have ladies; only from this compartment to the next one.”

“I do not understand. I’m an old man. It’s so dark. What is their problem? I won’t go, you go alone.”

Now, all our men get impatient and insist, “Please understand, it’ll be kind of you.” In Pakistan, under similar circumstances we would have asked the Ticket Checker to force these men to switch and we would blame the authority for not giving separate compartment to families. Here, the culture is different so we ask timidly.

The Uncle gives a scornful look to the smiling nephew, grabs his blanket and slowly slips off the sleeper. He pushes his nephew in dismay and says, “Because of them, you woke me up!”  The other man on top sleeper also follows. The women sleeping in front of them, stays.

But now we face the other problem. Pakistani trained charged half ticket for kids. Indian train doesn’t charge any tickets for kids and Indian train also doesn’t provide separate sleepers for kids. So we all have to share our sleepers with our kids. But we are still short of one sleeper.

Mr Sodawater, a muscular man with plump cheeks, perceiving eyes, long lashes and dark thick brows. He has a wide forehead covered with curly hard black hair giving shrewdness and wisdom to his personality. He also has a large nose which for many pokes too much in every affair and shows egoism and fastidiousness. He requests Mrs Cheena to sleep on the floor as Cheenas have Yousuf only who can sleep with Mr Chenna while all others have two kids. Mr Cheena protest that he would sleep on the floor instead. Mr Sodawater explains that the woman of those men is sleeping next to the floor on lowest sleeper so it is indecent to ask her men to leave and we sleep in front of her. Mr. Sodawater tells me to sleep instead, I agree but Mr Cheena say your wife or my wife it’s the same, Mrs Cheena will sleep.

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The train starts its journey and all lights are turned off. After a while dust of the Thar Desert from open doors of bogie sweeps the train. The door is closed after a lot of screaming from passenger. Cold wind is rushing from the slits of window over my head. I put my bag there, it’s still very cold.  A similar window is on my boy’s head and I don’t want them to catch cold in the beginning of the long journey, I cover their ear with woolen ear plugs and head with hats at 1.00 a.m.

We all wake up by bangs of Ticket Checker on our sleeper saying, “We have reached Bhagat ki Kohti station of Jodhpur, passengers wake up and exit the train immediately.” Mrs Cheena ask yawning, “Was everyone feeling cold? The floor is really cold.”

“Did you sleep well?” asked everyone.

“O! I did but it was very cold.” Mrs Cheena is a great sleeper on travelling.

We wake up our kids, that is the most difficult, fold our blanket, place it in bags and gather other stuff that we have. We all were sitting on the sleepers doing packing. By this time the Ticket Checker is really angry and scolding us for not listening to him.Now, I have lost my temper. I tell him, we have seven kids, we women are sitting so men can take out shoes and bags kept under the lowest sleeper. If we all stand here this little compartment would be too crowded. He understands and leaves telling us to hurry.

We all step down and indeed, the floor area is really cold. Poor Mrs Cheena, I feel really bad for her. Mr Cheena has also been up whole night messaging Yousuf’s feet who couldn’t sleep due to cold. Worst is Mr Halai could not sleep in the little space with his 10 – yr old and eldest kid Murtaza. I am afraid of his sleepless temper as i have travelled with him before. Sleepiness and hunger can make him very agitated.

We reach our neighboring country in 34 hours. While the actual travelling in train, is not more than 12 hours. We are third world.

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