To the true-bred Indian, public transport is an inevitable aspect of life. There is no way to avoid it, unless, of course, you are from the entertainment industry or someone holding a high post in the IT sector, in which case I must tell you, you are missing out on a trademark Indian experience.
I’ve limited my writing to train travel, but it is safe to say that some, if not all of these experiences apply to public buses too. Share autos are a different story altogether.
If you walk into any railway station in the morning hours between 7 am and 10 am, I wish you the best of luck in getting to your destination on time. No matter how much time you think you have, you always have to be really, really early, for you’ll never know how easy time flies when waiting in a long snaking queue to get to the ticket counter.
Walking to the queue at a fast pace among other fellow travellers walking haphazardly is the first, and by far, the easiest hurdle crossed. This is where you smile to yourself secretively for your accomplishment. But I assure you, the people in the queue will make sure the smile doesn’t stay there for long.
So you’re at the end of the queue and there’s only one line ahead. You take your phone from your bag and check for messages or calls. Then you look up, and there’s another line in the making, people joining in from your left or right, or if you are really unlucky, both sides. They will match your every stride, all the while giving you a look which says “I’m going first, beat me if you can” with an almost imperceptible snigger, which would become a sweet smile when you slow down a bit. And if the competition from the sides isn’t enough to make you want to scream, the slow aunty in front of you will certainly give a helping hand. With every slow step of the aunty and with the increasing gap between her and the person before her, your patience will slowly wear out. Just when you think you’ll open your mouth to say something, the next slow step will be taken, calming you down for just a bit. But just then, the person behind you, oblivious to the slow poke in front of you, will insist on pushing you forward until your face is centimetres away from the one in front.
After all the pushing and tugging and silent swearing, you finally reach the ticket counter. The man there would’ve chosen just that moment to go away from his seat for whatsoever reason. You waste a few more precious minutes, and finally when he returns, give the exact change (don’t ever give a 100 Rupee note!) and get your ticket. Cue pat on the back. But don’t stop walking!
With an ear to the public announcement system, you continue walking in the direction the crowd is generally going in, and you will be on your platform. The train is either already there or leaves just as you climb down the stairs. In the rare cases when you are early enough that the train hasn’t arrived yet, you take a minute or two to breathe and wait. When the train arrives, you patiently elbow your way through the crowd, get inside the train, secure a seat, and get set for the journey.