On my second over-night train, a Hyderabadi Muslim whose name escapes me bundled himself noisily up onto my top bunk with a bottle of what appeared to be whiskey, and some stale crisps. I eyed him, perplexed, from the corner in which I’d crammed myself, nursing a small plastic cup of chai. The man grinned manically, taking a long swing from the bottle in one hand while extending his crisps to me in the other. His indulgent swigs found their way down his stained-red beard and onto my sheet. After I had rummaged tentatively in his bag of flaked cardboard, I attempted to introduce myself in Hindi.
There was a silence as the bloke blinked at me with bloodshot eyes. I wasn’t sure if my Hindi was so bad that he didn’t know what I was saying, so good that I’d delivered a sobering slap in the face, or indeed if he spoke Hindi at all. I never found out, because my new friend clearly decided to cut to the chase, sloshed his bottle around cheerfully above his head before clunking it into my body suggestively. He did so with such endearing mischief in his eye that despite my aspirations of a chai-warmed sleep, I caved and, trying not to dwell on the socio-religious implications, got a bit pissed with a Muslim.
One thing led to another and on one of his many clumsy trips to the toilet, my new friend lost all cognitive function while in a sort of spider position between my top bunk and the one opposite, occupied by a mother and child. During the resultant clunking free-fall, he managed to kick all those on the bunks below in a drunken attempt to break his fall. He landed on his back with a squeak. Shouting erupted from below and reverberated down the carriage as my dazed pal waved his arms helplessly like a T-Rex, mouth curled into a slobbery smile that seemed unsure of whether to giggle or whimper under the wrath of half a dozen cranky Indians.
I looked down at him with an expression that I hoped translated to ‘sorry mate, that’s bad luck’ but probably looked like ‘you are most definitely on your own here, mate.’
Opting heroically to retreat into the safety of my whiskey-splashed blanket, I rammed my earphones in and allowed the rocking motion of the train and the warm whiskey feeling to lull me into a (slightly guilty) slumber.