The train for Mumbai (Bombay) will be late by five hours due to some technical problems. Inconvenience caused is regretted,” blared the message on the Public Announcement System.” I was standing on the platform of the Pune Railway Station when this message was issued, first in Hindi than in English. I was thoroughly disheartened at the prospect of reaching home at midnight and clutched my valise nervously.
What could I do now? I could either wait at the station or telephone a friend and pop over. Unfortunately, all my friends were busy and I had to content myself sitting around on the station. An aromatic smell of “pakoras” filtered through the air and my face turned instinctively to a food vendor. I went forth and purchased some “pakoras”. The sizzling noise of the “pakoras”, frying just added to the babble around me. Men and women drank colas and water to quench their undying thirst. The children in the meantime sucked contented on popsicles of orange, raspberry, and pasta flavors. Though the train was late, the Bombay bound passengers were surprisingly placid and accepted it as a natural phenomenon.
On the other hand, the foreign back-packers or tourists were bewildered gaze uncomprehendingly at their guidebooks, trying to muster words to speak with the aggressive “coolies”, or porters accosting them. In their red kurtas ‘, and white ‘dhoties’, topped off with “pugree”, they added color to the station. They went around from passenger to passenger asking there was no luggage required to be carried was sitting on a dismal wooden bench near the Station Superintendent’s Office. Trains plowed in and out and their shrill whistles pierced the air. Magazines, newspapers, and books were piled sky high, while the owner shouted out his wares. The heat grew unbearable as I sipped iced tea from a flask. Other passengers bustled. Being a Cantonment Town, soldiers with backpacks dotted the station.It was nearing seven.I had only two more hours to wait. I walked over to the bookstall and was jostled by numerous people, on the way. As the heat rose to a swelter the stench of urine grew. Not the most pleasant combination on earth.
Rag pickers, toothless crones begging and shoe-shine boys loitered around. For them, this was their place of livelihood. Another announcement boomed out on the P.A. System, “Bombay bound passengers please go to platform 11 as the train has arrived.” Almost simultaneous a few hundred hands reached for luggage and proceeded to the platform. I took my place with them and made my way to Platform 11. As the train pulled out I waved to this memorable