India: This Counter Reserved for Poets
By Robert Patterson
PICTURES : Delhi
Only India could produce a comedy
Hundreds of people cluster in vague
lines, muttering like angry bees in Delhi’s cavernous
railway reservation office. I shuffle through the
crowd looking for the correct line to stand in.
I pass a counter reserved for freedom
fighters, next to a line of antsy Rajasthani farmers.
I pass other specially designated lines, reserved
for the disabled, the blind and mute, journalists,
officers, pilgrims and spastics.
Bureaucrats in white lab coats grudgingly
dole out train tickets from behind bulletproof glass.
As time creeps past, many weary travelers wonder what
it takes to qualify as pilgrims or spastics.
I find a line and begin waiting.
A tense buzz of voices echoes from the distant ceiling.
“Get in line please,” I snarl, shifting
to block a thin man wearing a Goodyear cap who had
nearly edged past me. His survival instinct overcomes
his impatience, and he shuffles back in line.
Bordering on the chaotic capital
boulevards of Delhi, the office is a British relic.
Its vast open space holds 150 different counters staffed
by men and women wearing white lab coats. These officials
hold the power to grant or withhold a simple ticket
on the world's largest and most complicated train
After six months, I am no longer
entitled to the special foreigner’s quota office for
train bookings. After 6 months, I lost my prestige,
paid my taxes, and gained access to the nightmare
of the Indian system, where you wait hours for a spot
on a waiting list.
No longer can I come an hour early
and hop on a train. Now planning is required; freedom
is restricted. Certain permits and notarizations are
required, certain stamps obligatory. My passport no
longer affords me privilege. Foreign residence status
opens the door to more taxes and fewer benefits.
I start to pace, my mind racing.
I try to meditate and focus on my breathing.
I stand up straight, and try to
determine if I am even waiting in the right line.
Counter three seems strangely empty.
A lone bureaucrat stands behind sheets of bulletproof
glass staffing it. He leisurely peruses the pages
of the Times of India
On the glass in big red letters
it reads, “Counter reserved for Poets.”
It occurs to me, “Surely I can pass
as a poet.”
I confidently approach counter three.
“Namaksar, sir I’d like to book
a ticket to Kolkata, I am a poet”
“Guild Card please.” He looks at
me over the top of his glasses without moving his
head, visibly irritated by my intrusion into his reading
I imagine him riding subways as
a college student, forging reading clubs memberships
and trying to spark some Bengali poet’s society.
“Guild Card sir, Guild Card Please!”
“What exactly is a guild card?”
“Counter 110-115,” and with a snap
his eyes return to his precious lines of text.
Guild card, I think. I wonder what
office in Delhi holds the power to grant such authority.
I try to picture the application process; the samples
required and forms to be filed. I imagine wearing
a black turtleneck and a beret, walking in, mixing
Hindi with English, speaking of idyllic swans, the
summer as a Iamb and the sky as a horse.
I snap back to reality and direct
my attention to finding counters 110-115.
I turn left and return to the hordes.
The overhead fans grind the air above me.
As I search for counter 110, I pass
other counters that offer their services only in Hindi.
I wonder where Muslims go. Is there a line for Christians?
Punjabis or non-believers? Sons of unkempt mothers?
I trudge onward, finally finding
the elusive counter 110. Hundreds of people are gathered
in a formation that almost resembles a line. I begin
to count heads, losing count somewhere in the seventies.
I resign myself to the fact that I am going to spend
the next few hours of my life waiting here.
Page 1 of 2 Next
All contents copyright ©2005 Pology
Magazine. Unauthorized use of any content is strictly