India: This Counter Reserved for Poets (cont.)
I wonder if the Maharani’s have
to wait like this.
I inch forward and take a novel
out of my bag. Aside from the station agent at the
poets’ counter, I am the only one reading. Thankfully,
vendors are banned inside, as is smoking. This stifles
much of the assorted chaos of the streets outside.
There is a restless, controlled peace in the station.
As minutes decay into hours, I begin
to envision riots breaking out. My fantasy is interrupted
when two young men walk past me with gleeful faces,
tickets in hand. I try to imagine satisfaction of
finally holding my ticket. I return to reading.
A hundred pages later, I reach to
the front of the line. I hurriedly fill out the form
and ask for a ticket to Kolkata in my best Hindi.
But there are no spaces available
for tomorrow or the day after. The earliest available
ticket is in three weeks. Aware of the station agent’s
power, I subtly attempt bribery. He ignores me and
slaps a waitlist number on the counter. 91.
My four-hour wait was pointless.
“No spaces for three weeks, how is that possible?”
I stammer, “I can’t imagine with seven trains a day
that there are no spaces for three weeks!”
But there are a billion people in
this country, and close to 14 million people riding
its train system every day. I long for Tokyo, with
Shinjuku Station and its simple to use, efficient
“Next,” the station agent shouts
and a small, fiercely determined man pushes past me.
I walk around angrily, demanding
of anyone in uniform that I speak to the chief supervisor
of the station immediately.
A younger man directs me to an office
lined with dessert coolers. I walk in, set my charm
on “stun,” and ask the station officer if he can help
me. Eventually, he lets me in on a secret. There is
an Internet office.
“An undisclosed number of seats
are reserved per train for Internet booking,” the
officer whispers to me. I thank him and make a mad
dash for Counter 144.
Counter 144 is empty and unmanned.
Fresh red paint on the glass shouts “Internet Bookings
Only” in Hindi. I scramble out of the station in search
of the Internet café I passed earlier that
morning across the boulevard. I find it, and there
is a free terminal, so I register and navigate to
the Indian Railway website. Seats are available.
I tender my credit card and wait.
The hourglass spins, and suddenly I have a ticket
confirmation waiting in my inbox. I print the receipt
and hand 15 rupees to the Bisap. I reenter the station
and claim my freshly minted ticket: Delhi to Kolkata
train number 2382. I feel like I have won the lottery.
I hail a rickshaw to Lajput Nagar
and ponder the miracle of India’s cyber world. Delhi
whizzes by at the speed of foot.
I smile, wondering if a poet
will be seated beside me tomorrow on my journey east.
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