Note: This is not a post that is filled with adjectives describing Eiffel Tower or the grandiose Egyptian Pyramid (oops! couldn’t resist :P) or anything that fits in the normal travel dictionary. This is about the experience of a normal Indian girl traveling in Indian Railways in an unreserved ladies compartment.
I was leaving home (Coimbatore) on Jan 2nd from Mangalore. Unfortunately, I missed my train due to some emergency reasons. So, I took an unreserved ticket for the next train and got a seat near the Emergency window. Believe me or not, I was so happy to get that seat and was feeling strangely comfortable with all eyes staring at me (little did I know what laid ahead for the next 8hrs). The woman sitting opposite was very curious in knowing why a teenage girl in 'Western Clothes' would take an unreserved compartment. (According to her, I was AC coach material). I was satisfied to see a partially filled compartment. Once the train whistled and the green flag was waved, the entire situation changed! Slowly people started occupying the seats. After only 2 hrs, there were 6 people sitting in a seat meant for 3. Obviously, the one sitting near the window has the most fun with their face squeezing against the Pan stained window pane. That was not all. Since the compartment was full till the door, it was difficult for people to get in. (trust me! The compartment was a chick magnet, there were only ladies entering, no one was getting out of it).It was impossible for babies and small kids to get in the rush. So, the ‘responsible men’ of the family thought of a great idea. Heck! That’s what emergency windows are for! I turned away for a moment to check my bag and there was a kid on my lap (nope! Not an exaggeration). The dad asked me to give the baby to a ‘green saree’ lady with long hair. After passing an hour or so playing “Find the right mommy ‘’, I was exhausted and thirsty. The decision to drink water is not an easy one when you are traveling in an unreserved compartment. You have to consider your bladder capacity. The moment you are up, you don’t have a seat. It is like playing musical chair. There was an additional problem that day. The restroom was not vacant to use. People were standing in there too! It was insane. There was a long line snaking till the last possible place from the entrance with people occupying in every possible gap. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if I tell there were 100 people in a space meant for 30. This is an unfortunate situation where you pay for standing 10-12 hours in a restroom. When asked about this, the ladies just dismissed it with a hand wave (the typical tolerance mentality of Indian women). The worst part was that the railway police at the stations were pushing more people inside despite knowing the situation. After, taking some time to digest all these things, I mentally prepared myself for the rest of the journey. However, I was not ready for what was coming next. One small kid wanted to pee. Since the restroom was inaccessible, the emergency window became the urinal! Yes! The kid was made to sit outside the window with her mom holding her in a fast-moving express train. Indian thinking never ceases to amaze me! After a while, it was used for vomiting, and then it was for serving food (plates with 2 idlies and overflowing chutney) to the entire compartment.
It was the final leg of the journey. I was really paranoid about missing the station. It was kind of possible given the number of people standing between from my seat to the entrance. So I got up 15 minutes before my scheduled arrival time. I fought my way to the entrance with a heavy bag on my shoulder and one slipper in my hand. Standing among women discussing TV serials and cursing their mother-in-laws, I thought to myself, ‘’how do they do it?’’.
I went home and took a hot bath because apparently the cocktail smell of urine, vomit, and coconut chutney is not very pleasant.