Train travel in India is without exception the best way to see India. From the trains of India you can touch almost every aspect of Indian culture. The food, wonderful conversations with your seat mates, ample opportunity to see different landscapes and the chance to experience a bureaucracy that would chill the blood of an IRS auditor. Case in point: My ticket was for the 8th, and I arrived at the appointed hour on the 8th. The reservation listing only showed passengers for the 7th. This being my 3rd trip on India Rail, I see a bad omen. Sure enough, a few inquires informs me that indeed it is the 8th, but as the train is a total of 24 hours late, and is only taking passengers from the 7th. I really needed to get on that train.
When the going gets tough, the tough get stupid
I remembered some advice an Indian traveler gave me: “It does no good to argue, and yelling just makes people pretend you aren’t there. You have to become a tiny pebble in enough shoes that they have to get rid of you.” So I chose the smiling, dopey, persistent American route. I first approached the head ticket clerk, who sends me to the ticket counter who in turn sends me back to the head clerk who, for unknown reasons, then sends me to the Tourist Information counter for the state of Sikkim. I think the ticket clerk just wanted his lunch in peace. At least he and I had the same goals, only I planned to have my lunch on the train in just under an hour. So I just kept going back to each person and sitting in their office with that dopey smile that I hoped conveyed the following theme: “Hello, you seem to desire my company in your office until hell freezes over and your grandchildren are old and grey, yes, I can do that.”
“THE TRAIN IS FULL”
This was the primary point everyone one tried to get across to me: “No, the train is full!” Try to put yourself in the place of the ticket staff with very little English, and of course, I don’t speak Hindi or Bengali. My exchanges with everyone went in this general direction:
Staff: “No, no, the train is full!”
Me, the Dopy American: “Yes, I am full, I just ate. But thank you for asking. The man at the ticket counter said you would give me tea… may I have some chai?”
Various Staff: “What? No, no… not food, the train is full, not food!”
Dopy Me: “Oh, no… I will not need food on the train, I am full, I just ate. Will there be chai on the train? I like chai, do you have any?”
Frantic Staff: NO! Not Chai… the train, no train now… later!
Dopy me: “What, my train will not have any chai? That is very disappointing, do you have any I can take with me? My train leaves in an hour…”
Each person from the head station manager to the ticket clerk had this same intercultural communication experience with the dumbest American on planet earth several times. At this point even I was tired of chai. After I wandered into station manager’s office for the third time seeking tickets, long conversation and a bottomless cup of chai, he marched me out of his office, and took my now very dog-eared ticket to the head clerk.Loud words were exchanged, many things were written on my ticket and I was eagerly escorted onto the AC3 section of the train. I don’t speak any Hindi but I think spirit of the conversation was something like this: “I do not care where in India you send this fool, strap him to a luggage rack if you have to, but either he leaves on the next train or you will be on the seat next to him.” and then lots of stuff got written on my ticket. So there I am on my bunk, when the Ticket Examiner decides I need to get off. Arrghhh. That is when an Indian family came to my rescue and I heard a “Stay there”, and more words were spoken and everything was fine. We all had a good time on the way to Varanassi, and they even got me a car to make sure I got to my hotel.