Spotted on the Mangala Express

Spotted while traveling on the Mangala Express, from Ernakulum in Kerala to Panvel near Mumbai.

Mangala Express

Mangala Lakshadweep Express

From the window

A continual backdrop of green, of coconut trees, of bill- and graffiti- covered walls, small colorful buildings with peeling paint, and lines of drying laundry. Signs and messages in indecipherable Malayalam.

A woman in sari drinking a soda. a 4-foot tall pile of discarded drinking water bottles. Endless forests of coconut trees. Kids playing badminton. A group of women being lectured by a large fat woman in a black top. A sign for RSS, the first I’d spotted. Rivers and rivers, passing periodically. Two peeling towers looming over a train station. Kids playing cricket. Long endless fences separating residential neighborhoods from the railroad tracks, too far between stations to have any bills or graffiti. Regularly spaced rows of planted coconut trees. A large sign for CPI(M): a red hammer and sickle alongside a square-shouldered man in white and two hands shaking.

Clothes hung up to dry, everywhere and on everything, including a railroad crossing liftgate. Crowds of cars waiting for the train to pass, spilling across lanes to take up the entire road, waiting a furious and frustrating traffic jam with cars in the other directions. Four kids in the middle of a long endless dirt field, waving happily at the train. Huge piles of coconut, piles of gravel, and piles of lumber logs, trash, uprooted shrubs, large rocks, and stacked 10-gallon drums of mystery. A lady washing clothes by a river, pausing briefly to watch the train pass.

At station stops

Vendors running with good to load onto the train; groups of men stretching their legs. A man selling halva in small clear-plastic wrapped blocks. Small kiosks selling water, soda, dried banana chips, and packaged snacks. Several men standing together with perfectly matching moustaches. A group of women in burkas, chattering.

Inside the train

Salesmen walking the isles, hawking their goods: vada, daal vada, chai, coffee, samosa, pakora, break pakora, water, soda, an omelette lunch, egg biryani dinner, pav-wara, bhel masala, cheap necklaces and trinkets. A man with a tall stack of books: children’s coloring books, political books, religious books, mostly in Malayalam — he leaves a pile in each area, and comes back a long while later after they’ve been perused, hoping for a sale. A man selling large cloth sheets, for use as bedsheets or perhaps even dhotis.

A young woman struggling awkwardly with the climb down from the top berth, facing the wrong way but finds footholds with her husband’s help. A couple in a berth: the woman’s head on his lap, his head nodding rhythmically in sleep, their fingers intertwined. A lady with the air of academia, reading a book in Malayalam with stern gold spectacles low on her nose. A smelly young boy mildly escorted out of sleeper class to coach chair.

Observed entire conversations held in hand gestures and head motions, and then, eventually, joined in.

(Click to view complete gallery)


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