There are cockroaches all over our train carriage. They are scuttling along the floor, crawling over the bunks and up the chains and metal struts that support them. I’m awake, sitting on a bed that a man and his young son are sharing, all three of us on a bunk not bigger than five by two feet.
I gave up my top bunk and with it the option of sleep, when, with the lights out and my head on our Lonely Planet, I felt a cockroach scamper across my face. The man who sat next to us through the afternoon, who instructed Claire and I to throw our rubbish out of the carriage window, is now happily asleep in my bed. He gave his up for the two women of a family that were intending to somehow squeeze, with the man and his son, into the five by two space I am sharing now.
The cockroaches are not big and hard shelled – adolescents perhaps, almost like fishmoths. But they get into everything, including your shoes, where they squirm between your toes. There are other animals moving through the train too. A rat just darted past the sliver of light I am using to see, and write, and what looked like a family of beetles – a big black bug followed by three or four smaller ones – just squared up to a cockroach beneath my legs.
I’ve never experienced this in sleeper class carriages before, though I’ve travelled in many. And when the conductor – a man with a neatly trimmed grey beard and thick, old-fashioned spectacles – came round, I felt like complaining. I felt like telling him I was awake, sitting on somebody else’s bed, because although I could tolerate the dirt and the noise and the closeness of sleeper class, this was too much – not just for me, but for any person.
Instead, I asked if there was a delay. The train took a long time to leave Mumbai and has stopped for long intervals along the way. “What time will we arrive in Ankola?” I asked. The conductor brought out a small, printed schedule, on which I noticed the acronym GOK – Gokarna – the station we needed to get to, but which this train was supposed to sail past. I confirmed that the train would be stopping there with Anup, on the bunk opposite me, and then caught up with the conductor. This time I asked what time the train would arrive in Gokarna. He by now had misplaced his schedule and said he would return in ten minutes. When he did, he beckoned me to follow him and took me to his bunk, above and beside which another conductor and the train’s guard were lying down, still awake. The conductor pulled out a large brown briefcase, found another schedule and, with a big, proud smile said, “Gokarna – 3:15. Train is half an hour delayed, but Gokarna arriving on time.”
We arrived just past 4am and slept on the station floor until six, when we took an auto-rickshaw into town, had breakfast and began hunting for accommodation.
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