“Sophie, Sophie,” I nudged her softly and tried to warn her – it was to no avail.
“Aaaaaaah,” she wailed and recoiled in horror.
The beggar removed his amputated arm from the window and staggered off down the street. We were on our way to Mumbai Central, where we would catch our train North-bound to the State of Rajasthan (via Ahmedabad) and to the city of Udaipur, or the Romantic City as it has become dubbed.
“Oh god, I feel terrible,” she said as we got our final glimpse of the ragged man walking towards the slum.
“I just wasn’t expecting it – he didn’t make any noise.”
“It’s not your fault, don’t feel bad. He shouldn’t have just come through the window like that,” I said reassuringly as we pulled up to the railway station.
Sweating profusely engulfed in a blanket of humid air that dwelled inside the station, we meandered through the hordes of sleeping bodies and found a free spot to claim as our own. Dropping our bags to reveal two long wet patches starting on each shoulder and finishing just above our hips, we sat down – mopped our brows and simultaneously took two deep, long inhalations.
We had arrived an hour and a half early to avoid any stress and to make sure that we knew exactly which platform to be on etc. Leaving Sophie with the luggage, I went to the ‘May I help you desk’ and produced our tickets.
“Which platform – to Ahmedabad?” I inquired.
He looked at the ticket, then straight at me and replied: “Platform One.” Luckily (or so I thought) that was exactly where Sophie and I had plonked ourselves, so we relaxed, bought two cups of Chai Masala (Indian sweet tea) for the bargain price of 8 rupees and chatted.
This was short-lived as a smiley-faced Indian woman in a red embroidered Sari approached and thrust her child into my lap as she asked (though it was more like being told) ‘Photo, Photo.’ The poor child couldn’t have been more terrified; it stuck out its little hands and wailed, desiring nothing but returning to the familiar bosom of its mother.
Luckily Sophie was fast to act and whipped out her camera and quickly took some snaps – not enough, photos needed to be taken on the woman’s mobile before she would take back her spawn – who I started to really think was going to relieve himself on my lap out of sheer terror.
Fortunately she seemed satisfied with the pictures on her phone and picked up her distressed son, smiling oblivious to his piercing howls. Unfortunately, she was the first of a long-line of happy snappers and by the time that we had finished obliging the queue, we only had five minutes to find our section of the train (3 AC) which was made ever so more problematic by the fact that there was no train. No train at all, indeed, platform one was perfectly train-less.
Panicked, but not wanting to over-react (after all trains are notoriously late, aren’t they?) I walked with a rather concerned expression back to the ‘May I help you desk?’ where a new man was perched, sipping on a small cup of chai.
“Excuse me? The train to Ahmedabad?”
Startled he looked up, “Platform Seven, quick, quick!”
‘You’ve got to be taking the piss,’ I thought as I turned and looked to completely the opposite side of the station – he wasn’t.
“Run,” I yelled at Sophie, “Platform Seven, Platform Seven!”
The sweat that had dried came back with vengeance as we ran as fast as we could across the station to the train, whose engine was rumbling and building up power. Stopping to ask passers-by where our cabin was, and continuously met with the same response – a hand gesture, pointing further down, we finally were given the go-ahead by a man in a turban – we’d reached our bit of the train. It pulled out of Mumbai within seconds of Sophie’s last leg making it in. So much for stress-free!