Evidently their are over 1.2 million people employed by The Indian Railways, however it still proves difficult to find anyone working at Mumbai’s Victoria Terminus that is able to direct us to the correct platform to board the 7.10 am Goa Express. After an unexplained delay of almost two hours, the passenger manifest is plastered up outside the carriage. With no further ceremony, our train lurched forward to begin its scheduled twelve hour journey, just as the last of the platform dwellers gathered their meagre belongings and wiry barefoot coolies groaning under the weight of their overloaded carts pushed off into Monday.
Religion, patriarchy and caste would seem to be the threads that weave through Indian culture to bind people together. The worlds largest democracy promotes tolerance and acceptance especially in matters of faith, while it’s almost a heresy, I wonder if tolerance and acceptance are always inherently good?
A police report in The Times of India describes the defendant as “a rag picker who resides on the footpath”. Many millions here live in abject poverty, the police report illustrates the acceptance of this.
In Australia we also promote tolerance and acceptance as part of the national narrative. We accept that the rich pay no tax and tolerate the locking up of children in offshore detention centres.
“Chicken lollipop, chicken lollipop!”, “Chai marsala, chai marsala!”, “Chilli cheese, chilli chilli, cheese chilli!” Sing song the vendors as they sashay down the carriages.
The train chugs along swaying through a shimmering green landscape of patchwork farms and villages into dark tunnels, pushing through mountain cuttings, onto high bridges, over slow flowing rivers patiently awaiting the monsoons. Even in this semi wilderness people appear along the tracks as if they sprouted from the vivid lush fertile countryside itself.
Even after India achieved independence in 1947, Goa in the South east of India, remained a Portuguese colony until 1961. With its Palm lined beaches along the Arabian Sea, Goa is a favourite tourist destination for old hippies and wealthy Russians. We baked in the afternoon sun walking the broken streets of Madgoan through the town markets, past the locked gardens to stare at Portuguese colonial architecture and Catholic churches. People are putting up Christmas decorations, even the buses have religious names “Hail Mary Full of Grace” perhaps reflecting on the prayers of the passengers as they speed through chaotic traffic.
Another overnight train journey to the state of Kerala and the capital Trivandrum. It’s hot and steamy with tropical rain in the afternoon. The Kerala international film festival is in town. We will chill out here for the last few days of our Indian visa.