The people of Madhya Pradesh like to claim that their state is the heart of India. It is the largest state and the very essence of Central India. Unlike most other states, they do not have a distinct regional language. Most people speak Hindi in its various dialects. Some Marathi is also spoken. I am not yet in Madhya Pradesh but I already feel I am at the heart of India.
If India could be geographically demarcated by the four metros, the heart of it is perhaps where the connecting lines meet. I left Warangal early this morning for Sewagram in Maharashtra. I took the Grand Trunk Express connecting Chennai and Delhi. It was a six-hour ride in a crowded General Section of the train. I had to stand straight out for four hours. Only for the last couple of hours did I get a seat.
It is amazing how many people can squeeze together, thigh to thigh, and sit on a row of seats meant for three. Men will contort their limbs and double bend their backs to lie down on seats shared with many others. The Delhi bound crowd is raucous and somewhat unruly. They will play cards. They will even smoke until somebody tells them off.
Having arrived at Sewagram before noon I was hardly tired. The early start at Warangal had enabled me to make the best of the day. After visiting Gandhiji’s ashram I took a late train to Nagpur. This was the Gitanjali Express from Mumbai to Kolkata.
When I disembarked at Nagpur, a woman Ticket Collector checked my ticket.
‘Coming from Wardha? How did you manage to get in?’ she asked.
I felt I had made a small conquest. In fact, the General Section was solidly packed at Wardha. People were overflowing from it. Nonetheless, I dropped all cultivated manners of courtesy and politeness. I barged into the crowd and pushed myself through little gaps this way and that. I stepped over anything or anyone along my path. When I was finally in the train and quite sure that I wasn’t going to get pushed through the open door, I began to find my normal breathing. I noticed that my heavy backpack was weightless. Those packed around me had managed to kepp the backpack in place without my lifting it. When everyone are settled in their spaces, some awkwardly twisted, some balanced on one foot, some half-hanging in the aisle, a new challenge would be thrown down: someone wants to use the toilet.
‘Couldn’t you wait for a while? We will be in Nagpur in a few minutes,’ someone would say.
‘I have been holding the entire day,’ the guy would plead earnestly.
Having obtained the necessary consent from the general crowd, particularly those who guarded the toilet doors, he would acrobatically climb upto the luggage racks, traverse the aisles from above, hang onto ceiling fans and metal screens until he finally made it to the toilet. Those occupants of the toilet would temporarily empty it, creating more side-twisting and bone-crunching agony for the rest.
When the train finally arrived at Nagpur, a good part of this crowd was meant to get off here. There was sufficient time to do this but not enough space or common sense. A much larger crowd waited on the platform to get in. So if you want to alight, you’ve got to push and shove to have any fighting chance of touchdown at your destination. It was in this manner that I arrived at Nagpur having survived the Indian masses; but it had happened only because I had ‘Indianized’ myself.