Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The Mother of All Train Journeys

The odyssey has ended.

My 44 hour train journey across India has come to an end.

I have travelled, in two days, all the way from Mysore, South India, to Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, in the North East.

It has been an interesting journey to say the least. I haven't seen any Westerners, neither on the train nor in the stations. People have been looking at me with a constant bemusement all over their faces, wondering why I am travelling with them. Westerners and all rich Indians will fly, especially as flights are so cheap for residents, though this is no longer the case for non-residents.

So walking down the very long platforms most people stared at me. Only once this morning did someone steal my limelight. When coming back from getting my chai I noticed everyone, for once, staring in a completely different direction.

Coming towards was a transexual. Or a transvestite. Not sure.

I have seen them on most trains here, some of them pretty aggressive. However, this 'lady' was a lot older than the average and seemed content waltzing around shaking her bells like a cat to let you know that she was coming.

Two days on a train gives you an idea of the enormity of this country, of its diversity, from the paddy fields to dry river beds desperately waiting for a monsoon that isn't due for another three or four months.

Water reservoir 3 months before Monsoon...

My main worry before the journey started, and while on the train, was the possibility that my stomach might start playing up. People had described the nightmares of travelling on a train while suffering from Delhi Belly. However, the bottom has not fallen out of the market and trade has been firm and steady. As they say.

Two days without a shower have almost immunized me against the smells I have experienced. There is nothing worse than a train station on a hot day. In the station you buy food, and after eating, people just throw the leftovers through the window. Top it up with the fact that toilets open directly into the railways and you can imagine the stench on a hot humid day.

As always though there is a lady that takes you under her wing, that looks after you, tells you what to buy, eat, how much to pay...

She was also very tidy and kept our compartment that way, but only, as they always do here, by throwing everything out the window. My utter horror when I saw her picking up my dirty cups, bags..and out through the window it went...

However, I did manage to find my next meal on an environmentaly friendly container...some leaves...

I really do wonder how come the bottom hasn't fallen out of my market...

Today's papers are all full of articles, opinion pieces, letters, etc...about SlumDog.

I still haven't had the chance to see it. Actually I dont think I have even seen it advertised in any cinema here. It is not your typical Bollywood movie, doesn't have their usual stars, and it is in English. However, one thing that has infuriated me is the reaction from certain parts of the Indian press.

Their view is that the movie portrays the wrong image of India, pauper India. They believe the movie taints the image of India abroad, doesn't portray the India that they are proud of. Critics also claim the movie is a voyeuristic take on extreme poverty. Well, in my humble opinion, the country may have changed beyond recognition since the early 90's but there are still 350 million people living below the poverty line here. These people have to worry everyday where their next meal is coming from. And they're not just in the big cities, they are all over the country, in the small towns and villages too...

They live in extreme poverty, on less than $2 a day. The billions of Rupees that have been spent in subsidies and state support have been, in its majority, lost in the transmission, swallowed by middle men and apathetic governments.

I've got one more day now in Kolkata before flying off to Bangkok.

And then I will make my way up to Laos.

No comments:

Post a Comment