Supposedly Indian trains are always on time – ours wasn’t and waiting at Goa’s station was a daunting experience. Ten o’clock at night it was dark, but most certainly not deserted. Crowds of people spilled out from the ticket hall onto the platform, all of them weighed down with copious amounts of luggage, none of which matched.
Goa, compared to some of the other cities we have visited, has been mostly friendly and welcoming. But here at the station no one seems in a very accommodating mood. Sat with our bags and tickets we tried desperately to understand the train system – where do we need to be, are we on the right platform, which carriage should we board?
It was the kiosk shopkeeper that would help us. Without asking he approached us (no doubt having noted our confused expression) and introduced himself. He then explained how we should board and that we should look out for carriage S9.
Back behind his tiny shop from his pocket he took a tiny wrap of paper. Opening it he licked his finger and dipped it into the powdery white substance. Swiping the cocaine over his gums he grinned a wide smile, bidding us farewell and a safe journey. We couldn’t quite believe that the one person that had come to our aid was a man we would have avoided at all costs had this been London Waterloo.
Within minutes the cranking sound of the approaching train echoed about the station and a bright headlight beamed it’s way into sight hurtling towards the platform. Locating carriage S9 we boarded. Cramped and stuffy the carriage was packed with people sleeping on plastic fold down beds. No pillows or linens. No AC. Just three fans, two of which weren’t working, hung rusted and grimy from the ceiling mocking us.
We huddled onto our beds, resting our heads on our bags and using what ever clothes we had to hand for blankets and pillows. We each took a sleeping tablet and rolled over in a desperate bid to sleep. With utter disbelief and trepidation we tried to prepare ourselves for the journey that lay ahead. I woke intermittently to the sounds of coughing and hacking, to snoring and the disconcerting rattle of metal. Indian trains ride with the doors wide open and the humid breeze filling the carriage with a heady mixture of petrol fumes and spice.
In one door lay a man huddled on his side. Clinging to the brackets of the door frame he slept, surrounded by his possessions and a set of crutches. The crippled man had jumped the train; boarding without the purchase of a ticket or a seat, he managed to lay undisturbed for several hours, until the guards stumbled across him. Two men dressed in beige, one wearing an official looking beret and wielding a wooden cane approached the sleeping man, shouting something at him in Hindi which I assumed was in regards to his ticket.
Unable to produce whatever they required the two men forcibly removed him from the still moving train. Pulling at his arms and loosening his grip, until finally he was no longer able to hold on. The men threw his exhausted weak frame from the train onto the platform. His pleading moans woke the whole carriage – everyone averting their eyes as they chucked his bags and crutches out after him. The two guards pleased with themselves laughed; seemingly gloating at their brutal victory. All I could do was close my eyes and fight back the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Words By Sophie Maguire