Sunday, March 20, 2005

Do the Locomotion

I was supposed to be on a bus to see one of the seven wonders of the world today. Instead, I'm still in Jaipur fending off heat stroke with cold showers every few hours.

Saturday morning was spent at Jaipur's train station having a crash course in Indian bureaucracy. I was trying to secure a ride between Agra, the city where the Taj Mahal stands, and Varanasi.

After waiting in the designated queue for Senior Citizens, Handicapped Persons, and
Foreign Visitors, a disgruntled, balding man sent me to check routes around the corner, at Reservations Inquires.

At the front of the line, finally, elbowing out all the men trying to cut, we--I and about 6 other tourists trying for this route--were told that the Agra-Varanasi train was booked. The whole week. Skeptical--everything in India is possible, right?--I asked about 2nd tier a/c sleeper, 3rd tier a/c sleeper, 2nd class, 1st class, 10th class, I don't know, everything. "Not possible."

Refusing to go home empty-handed, I thought to buy a ticket for the next leg of the trip, Varanasi-Kolkata. I set out to break the India Railway Atlas code, that ingeniously encripted listing of every route with all its major stops. Realizing Kolkata was alternatively spelled Calcutta, or Haora, one of about 15 subsidiary stations, I deciphered the route to that West Bengal city from Varanasi. Crowing with pride, I promptly purchased two tickets for a whopping Rs 800 each--it is a 16 hour journey--for the wrong date, the 25th. This means Jessica and I will arrive in Kolkata, a notoriously chaotic city--Indians are saying this, you must understand--at 11am on March 26: in the midst of the notoriously chaotic annual festival of Holi.

Brooding about the likelyhood of Jess and I emerging unscathed from the street mobs that rally on the festival of color, I bumped smack into Bhati outside the railway station. He was looking after his fleet of Ambassadors from the shade of the motercycle parking shelter. He motioned for me to have a seat on one of the bikes' wide leather seats. Over salty lassis, fetched in plastic bags by one of his lackies, he dismissed the idea that a train ticket to Varanasi on Monday would be impossible. "Anything is possible, you just have to ask me," he reminded me.

In a moment my driver Jagat Singh had scurryed over to the station to see about this ticket. I tried to picture him walking in and ... then what? He obviously wasn't going to the same window I was. Where, where did he go?

In seven minutes I was told the ticket would be forthcoming. Another buzz on Bhati's cell and it was confirmed. "Monday morning ticket will come," he said. But Monday is when I'm supposed to leave, I pointed out. "Well then Sunday you will have the ticket." Sunday the station is closed. Nevermind, Bhati knows the guy in charge. Undoubtedly, there were some rupees enchanged.

Such is the way of India. The bureaucracy is intolerably inefficient, so those with money don't tolerate it. If you need a phone line put in, you'll be filling out papers and pleading with officials to stamp this and that for 6, 9 months. Obviously, you skip those unbecoming steps and fork over the expected bribe.

I'll just go on a tangent now and note that the justice system is no different. From what I hear, if you get convicted of a crime, a speeding ticket or a triple murder, there is an amount of money that will extracate you from the situation. It might be whatever you've got in your pocket when if the officer's poor, Rs 50 or 100. Or your aunty's cousin's brother finds the right man and pays him the correct sum.

Is it Rajasthan that is this backwards? I have one day left in this 'land of kings' and then I'll see. If I ask the right person.


Post a Comment

<< Home