“Soup piyo soup, garama garam tomato soup,” announced the tomato soup vendor as he walked the never ending carriages of the train I was travelling in. It had been two years since my last train journey in India and I was eagerly looking forward to this. I was on my way to the in-laws and there were two options of travel, one is by train and the other is by road. But when in India, ride the trains.
To compliment the story of my train journey, I must first paint a picture of my journey to the railway station. And I shall begin from when the flight from Bengaluru landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport. True to the stereotypical restless Indians traveling by air, I heard my neighbor make a call as soon as the rear wheels touched the tarmac and by the time the plane slowed down, I heard the symphony of mobile phone startup tunes. Someone still owned the trusted Nokia!
The captain announced that a welcoming eighteen degree centigrade awaited beyond the doors. Baggage pickup and exit was easy and we hired a cab to drive us into Old Delhi railway station. The route included the famous road called ‘Shanti Path‘ (Path of Peace, the English word “path” originating from the Sanskrit path) where the embassies of many countries line up either sides of the road. On to my left I could observe an ‘axis’ taking into shape with the embassy of the Russian Federation, followed by The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China and with the odd Republic of the Union of Myanmar sandwiched between Russia and the USA.
Some memories are made to last a lifetime, but here was something that I witnessed on the way to the railway station that I certainly wish to forget. Under the shade of the 368 year old Lal Qila (Red Fort) parapets and on a stretch of very busy Delhi road, I saw two men in rags who were sat at a stretch of a urine and feaces ridden footpath. One of them had his left hand stretched out and was pumping his fist, while the other was holding a syringe in his right. He gently tapped the syringe to remove any air bubbles. They were shooting heroin in full view of the public. This was the first time I had witnessed such a thing and it left my wife and I too shocked to react.
The driver of the cab was not surprised nor amused, his reply to our question about the lack of police action only resulted in this reply, “Agar police kuch kar rahi hoti to ye log khule-aam ye sab nahi karte.” If the police had bothered to take action then they wouldn’t be doing it out in the open. That was true, there was absolutely no fear in their eyes for the police nor the public, simply because they were ‘ignored’. So in a little corner of Old Delhi, there is spot where the footpath is littered with vials bearing bright green label and surrounding them huddled together in abject squalor were the addicts. Even they had a place of their own in Old Delhi. Birender Kumar, our cab driver, quipped that the ragpickers would earn just enough to buy themselves a shot that would carry them on to the next day and the cycle just continued.
Too shocked to take in anymore of what Delhi had to throw at us, we arrived at Old Delhi railway station in a somber mood. We headed straight to the McDonald’s and yes, it is true, we have the Maharaja Mac in both the vegetarian and chicken version but I would recommend the McSpicy Chicken and obviously the McSpicy Paneer (Indian cheese) as a veggie equivalent.
As my wife and I munched on our burgers, my thought drifted to my childhood memories of train travel and to one of the the best activity for a kid on a train- climbing on to the top berth. The minute you crawl up to the top berth and sat cross legged and watched the people below, you would feel like you owned the train. From the top of the world, I was the station master, the ticket collector, the tea vendor and the begger. I was everyone and everything. And my excitement began…