My journals are filled with pages of tales from hundreds of journeys across India on Indian Railways. There is no such thing as an uneventful train ride there. So it was with great anticipation, excitement and yes, even a bit of trepidation that I arrived at the Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station in New Delhi on a foggy morning with my usual overstuffed suitcase in tow. I knew about the steep stairs leading up to the platform so I engaged one of the many over-eager coolies at the entrance. Hindered with that heavy valise, I gave up the idea of investigating if the station now had an escalator and accepted that I would have to deal with the shenanigans of the greedy porters. After sending four different coolies on their way for over-charging, I allowed a young, strong man in the ubiquitous red “coolie” jacket with a mischievous twinkle in his eye to take possession of my bag.
It was early, too early to board my train, the Rajdhani Express for South India. The coolie found a place for me on a crowded bench and said that he’d return when my train would arrive. I got a small cup of sweet, milky chai and drank it with pleasure. The sky was gray and there was a hint of a chill in the air that would spread over the landscape in a month’s time.
This was the fun part: watching the scene and all the people on the platform coming and going from all over India and from all walks of life. I tried as unobtrusively as possible to pull out my camera and capture some of the action.
A cast of distinctive characters passed right in front of me, as if they were auditioning for my movie.
Every where I turned was another little scene enacted right on the stage of the theater of life: the platform.
To avoid going up and down all the many staircases that lead to the numerous platforms, many just walk through the trains, across the tracks.
Dressed immaculately in all white, this man avoids the steps and walks through a few carriages to get to the platform.
The announcement for my train crackles through the PA system. Another wave of excitement sweeps over the platform as people jostle into position with their myriad belongings. My coolie appears, hoists my bag on his head as he leads the way to my carriage while I struggle to keep up with him, knowing that before my train adventure begins, I will have to haggle all over again for the original price that I agreed to pay. My porter will have his own adventure confronting my stubborn persistence!