The main entrance of New Delhi Railway Station in Pharaganj (India) opens into a huge parking area accommodating both public and private vehicles. Moreover, at the entrance, men of different sizes and age groups in long deep-red shirts approach each visitor to sell their load carrying skills to earn a living. However, it requires lots of time to haggle right price pursuant to weight of load, number of luggage pieces, targeted platform number, coach number and / or type of service required- just unloading the luggage at the platform or arranging the luggage in the train.
On February 7, I arrived at the station two hours before scheduled departure of Kalka Shatabadi, adding to the crowd, and saved haggling time owing to my single-piece light luggage.
A very short walk from the entrance hall, featuring train ticket, platform ticket, current booking and enquiry windows, commercial stalls and other offices, to the Platform 1 required measured steps to avoid trampling on passengers occupying the floor and / or being accidentally pushed by other moving passengers and porters carrying loads on their heads. The Platform 1 was no different. All benches were occupied. Even five adults managed to squeeze in some of 4-seat benches. Passengers were sleeping, squatting, sitting and / or eating on the floor.
I also settled on the ground by using my bag as a stool but not for long. It was too low and uncomfortable. I stood straddling my bag and kept my eye on the nearby benches to grab a seat as and when it falls vacant. However, I missed a number of opportunities, as other passengers were quicker than me. Since I had an intuition that occupants of the bench on my right side were going to get up, I moved right in front of the bench. Finally, I got a seat facing the rail tracks of the Platforms 1 and 2.
An empty train was parked on the Platform 2. Tracks of the Platform 1 were taking a well-deserved break under the open sky before supporting tons of another train that was scheduled for4.30 P.M.There were too many faces to remember and recollect later. However, a pair of brother and sister who was looking for a place to relieve themselves on the tracks caught my attention. I guess girl was of about 8 years and her brother was of 4 or 5 years. Boy found a suitable place on the heap of ballast separating the tracks of the two platforms right in front of me. He sat there without an iota of shame, but girl was shy and wanted privacy so she settled behind the heap. Stationary train on the Platform 2 and the heap created a kind of enclosure for her.
The boy squatted and searched for something in the ballast to pass the time until pee and shit left his lean supple body, ignorant of involuntary observers. When he was done, he rose, took a 360-degree turn like a novice dancer, and tilted his tiny bums to nearby leaking water point that supplied to all trains touching the station to get an auto-wash. But water spray refused to touch his dusty dirty bums as he maintained a distance. Without washing, he walked away with his sister who had relieved herself by then. They played on the ballast until a shrill sound of incoming Amritsar Shatabdi scared them. They hurriedly crossed the track and a teenager boy lifted them to the Platform 1.
Though the train brought cheer to many passengers, boredom owing to long unexpected waiting hours still clung to several faces. Numerous simultaneous chitchats over mobiles and face-to-face conversations in different dialects of Hindi, English and other languages were incomprehensible.
Most of the passengers dragged wheeled suitcases of different colors, sizes and age to evade porters demanding unreasonable rates and throwing tantrums. But, in heart, porters must be cursing manufacturers of suitcases-on-wheels to take business away from them.
This transition highlights a bitter truth: industrial and technological advancements close down many commercial enterprises, leaving scores of people jobless. The advancements unfold some new opportunities requiring fresh training that may not be available to all who were made redundant.
It was five, Kalka entered the platform, and I boarded the train, peeped through the window to find a same-size of crowd, of course, with a number of new faces.