A Lesson In Patience: Train Travel in India


He lifted his eyebrows and tilted his head, like a boxer or a guy at closing time, saying, “Take your best punch.”

I was too afraid to ask for clarification of the body language or the directions. My head reeled from the dialogue. Feigning composure, I shifted gears. “I see. Are there any more tickets to Calcutta tomorrow?”

He blew a gasket. Throwing his pen down, sitting back in his chair, crossing his arms, and with his head bobbing up and down in time with his words, he cried, “Where do you want to go, man? How am I supposed to know what to do for you unless you tell me?”

I flushed.

“Okay, okay, can you give me a 2nd class sleeper for Calcutta tomorrow?”

“167 rupees. Show me your passport and bank receipts.”

“I didn’t bring … receipts, they are back in my hotel and I can…”

Ears perked.

“You guys think you can get away with this not having receipts. It is the law of India to show where you have changed your money because of problems of the black market. When you come to our country you must follow the rules. I will give you the ticket but both of you must bring in the receipts or I promise I will cancel the spaces,” he ranted, scowling and then just as quickly, just as convincingly, suddenly smiling.

Israel was staying at the same hotel as me. Later that evening, I asked him what he was planning to do about the long lost receipts.

“The train guy can go to hell,” he snorted through his accent.

I arrived at the train station shortly after four the next day. Consistent with Indian railroad timetabling, the train was indefinitely delayed. A few of the train-lorn foreigners scavenged for air-conditioning in the tourist room.

“Are you here waiting for your trains? No, No, NO! GET OUT! This office is for only selling of tickets! Leave now!!” screeched Mr. McMonster.

I walked to the platform and the posted passenger list. There it was, J. Soliski. Behind me, I sensed someone close. It was Israel. His expressionless face and James Dean cool nodded and closed his eyes, once, when I asked if he saw his name.

In the end, Israel showed me how to call a bluff and life got easier for me in India.

If You Go

India Ministry of Tourism