We were going to Chandigarh! My 12 year old frame was brimming over with enthusiasm , the angular, un-artistic and perfectly planned city seemed very appealing then.
And our mode of transport would be the Shatabdi, at a top speed of 80km\hour the fastest steed in the stables of Indian Railways. More than the 'speed' of the Shatabdi it was its high quality hospitality and, the fact that it wouldn't stop at any station till it reached its destination, that filled its compartments. Tea, coffee and newspapers would arrive at regular intervals before boredom could set in, but nothing could prepare me for the view its large windows would offer.
We(my parents and a younger brother) left our cosy Delhi hotel room early to catch the 6:15 train to Chandigarh. My old man was unusually eager to reach Chandigarh. The straight cut, spacious and uncluttered roads appealed to his engineering psyche. My Mother as usual was game to anything that didn't involve slaving in the kitchen. As for my brother, he was excited about finally getting to see the rock garden( as ironic as it sounds) that he had learnt about the previous year. He would later admit that gardens should be green.
We entered our bogey and were surprised(atleast i was) to see an airplane like array of single seater chairs, 6in each row with an aisle in between seperating the compartment into two halves. We had just one window seat and the usual tussle about who gets it followed, my 5 inch and 10 kg advantage over my brother came in handy as usual. But my bulliness would result in perhaps the most unsavoury incident in my life.
My dad settled in the seat beside me, his tall frame and generously filled pockets of fat hid everyone else from my line of sight. So there it was, the stage was set, with my dad on my left and the Delhi-Chandigarh countyside on my right. Life was good, I hadn't seen it all, atleast until then.
The first half hour passed eventfully, the flurry of activity distributing newspapers, fruit juices engaged everone in the compartment. The view outside the window was rapidly deteriorating, the high rises were giving away to smaller buildings , shacks and then finally open slums. The horror was just unfolding.
Breakfast had arrived, the western meal that i had ordered consisted of toast, jam butter and potato wedges. A few greedy gulps later i chanced to look outside again
And then is saw it. I saw three in a row! At first it just didn't register. The human mind comes to a conclusion only after it co-relates the present incident to another it has experienced in the past. I hadn't ever seen one even though i had one of it. It was an astounding sight. There was scores of em, fair, dark,wrinkled, all shapes sizes and a variety of countenances, you couldn't tell the gender though
What i saw were buttocks. Too many to count, one after the other seemingly endless. It was answering the call of nature time in the slums of Delhi. Couldn't nature give a missed call that fateful day? The human body is more regular than India's cricketing defeats i realised.
I tugged my father's sleeves, for an explanation my pre-teen mind could not produce. He calmly glanced outside and urged me to finish my breakfast, i gathered from his calmness that he'd been to Chandigarh before! Suddeny the yellow grimy potato wedges seemed un-appetizing. I stole a look towards the window, the numbers seemed to have decreased but it still was an orgy of defecation!
I closed my eyes and pondered upon the plight of these fellow countymen, the poverty, the humiliation, the group mentality and most of all about why they had to face away front the railway track. Surely! facing the train would have been a lot less discomforting for me and the other hapless souls who chose to sit by the window. Infact they could face the train and throw in a smile while they went about their business.
What unnerved me most was the fact that we were goin to Chandi garh ( chandi is buttocks in malayalam and garh is house in hindi) . Was this a taste of what was to come at our destination? Butt-cheeks at every corner? Thankfully my worst fears were not realised. But to this day, when i lower my pants and grace the throne with a newspaper in hand, waiting to get the load off, i thank god for all his provisions and curse the indian railways for the lack of it!