Experience is irrelevant. While two months isn’t much, we were a bit more clued up than when we first arrived.
Turns out, you see, that catching a train in India is rarely straightforward.
We’d put up with 12 hour delays, seen a kid get pushed under a train by a policeman and had had been almost killed just trying to get to a train station.
But this one got off to a good start. We managed to get to the train station (safely) and we even saw a pink rickshaw along the way. Rad.
We got our tickets and were delighted to hear about the two-hour delay. Out came the ukulele, trying to learn the Super Mario theme, as we whiled the time away while making acquaintance with a legless beggar. We moseyed over to the platform, and waited for the train. When it arrived, it was absolutely crammed to the hilt. Not a seat to be found. No standing room anywhere.
Reaching the last carriage, it looked empty. We climbed in and realised it was a chair-less class, with a floor, some post, and not much else. Oh, and about a hundred people on the floor, that we couldn’t see through the windows.
We tried to bend physics by turning an inch of room into enough for two people and two backpacks. We sort-of succeeded, but we were in an impossibly uncomfortable position – and that’s saying something, after the countless bus stops and cockroach-ridden hovels we’ve found ourselves using as accommodation before.
We trudged up and down the platform, trying to spot some space – not caring if we were together or not. A shout and a whistle later, and we realised the train was about to depart.
It was also this very moment that I realised the ukulele was gone. Sir Uke of Lele, was his name. Missing in action.
We were distraught. Our third musketeer had seen as much as we had, and taught us how not to play a musical instrument. How did it slip from being strapped to the backpack?
Did we miss the train, have to wait for hours and pay for a new one while we searched for it? The whistle went again.
Running up the footbridge, weaving past the myriad of people waiting, sitting and living on it, I scanned left and right to see if anyone had it, or anyone looked suspicious. ‘Crafty Indians’ was a favourite phrase of ours, and we knew a lost ukulele would fetch at least 200 rupees on the market. That’s a lot of thali.
Not in the ticket hall.
Not with our beggar friend.
Then I realised… The post carriage!
Hurtling back over the footbridge and towards the train, we scrambled into the carriage, immediately drawing the looks of everyone there. Scanning the floor quickly, we couldn’t see anyone there. There wasn’t a guilty face amongst them.
As we stepped off, the third whistle sounded and we knew we had to get on the train ASAP. Dejected and out of breath, we threw ourselves into the nearest carriage and, on cue, the train lurched into motion.
Picking our way through the masses, we caught the eyes of a giant Sikh man, who cheerily waved us over. Sulky at our loss, we ambled over and offered a faint smile. His family – six in total – were very welcoming, and demanded we sat down with them. With literally no space anywhere on the train, they squished and squeezed themselves together to make room for the pair of us. After a bone-crunching handshake and introduction to the whole family, we sat in idle conversation for a good hour or so, until the man’s wife rummaged through her bag and started pulling out boxes and boxes of dhals, sambal, and rice. A portable thali – an invention from the gods.
It was offered to us keenly, and, while we politely refused – keen not to eat a family’s lunch – there was no saying no. So there we sat, with a giant Sikh man on one side of me, his son perched on my knee, while I balanced a thali plate on the other. Our moods lifted tremendously, and we returned the favour by showing the kids some card tricks. Sir Uke of Lele was, for our shame, largely forgotten about.
The four hours flew by, and we soon pulled into Delhi, departing ways. While the family had no idea about our earlier stress and misery, they sure as hell had remedied it.
A tribute to Sir Uke of Lele
Sir Uke of Lele
You were our darling baby
You taught us much
Gave our trip a musical touch
Oh Sir Uke of Lele
You were our charming baby