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Travel Image: Delhi
Photo: Colin Mcauliffe

Delhi, 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 trains.

“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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