Harsh realities.

Disembarking at Bombay took longer, because, unlike Sati, I had a foreign passport to be processed. She had disappeared by the time I merged with the swelling crowds on the quayside. My head feverous with all the emotion her situation had generated, I wanted to escape the intense chaos of this my first Indian City.

It was easier than I’d thought getting to the imposing Victorian Railway station – there were so many auto-rickshaws and peddled ones that all I had to do was state where I was heading. The apparent anarchy of the roads had some order because my sweating cyclist got me there without incident. However, the milling crowds queuing for tickets stunned me until a kind man showed me the ‘Tourist Counter’.

I was equally unprepared for the madness of jumping on my train north. I managed to claim my seat without too much effort because 2nd Class passengers were given compartments whose small space encouraged more agreeable social behaviour than manifested by the assertive crowds elsewhere.

Far beyond Bombay I slid open the compartment door to go to the loo and budged through crammed bodies clogging the corridor. Encountering a man in dire trouble, I was shocked by the lack of interest of those sitting, squatting or laying around him. My first experience of a public Indian toilet needs no description – think of the very worst you’ve seen and multiply by fifty.

Gasping for breath, I made my way back to the relative comfort of my compartment. The sick man was missing. I asked where he was. Nobody responded. I asked again. A woman pointed out the window. He had died and “somebody tossed him out” the door! Gasping for sanity with images of a burning Sati being shoved out the window, I slumped into my allotted space and wondered why I was seeking Truth in such a brutal country.

Wishing to use the train journey in my novel for another purpose, I set a similar incident upon a normal city street.


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