The tea wallah pours the hot milky liquid into a glass teacup, his arm raised high, the tea hits its mark, much to my surprise. But nothing should have surprised me at this stage of my journey, as I attempt to reach my final destination. The day has started well, the ticket I bought last week, is in my hand. I’ve treated myself to a first-class cabin on the train to Mumbai, after backpacking around India for several months on a shoestring budget. I wait on the crowded platform, my eyes barely keeping up with the activities of the throng which surround me. Colourful sari-clad women sail past, children scurrying to keep up. A legless man using his arms, hands clad in leather gloves, scoots past me, his progress in no way inhibited by lack of lower limbs. Astounded I watch as his backside skims the floor, he drops over the edge of the railway platform, across rail lines to the other side. Somehow he discards his baggy shorts and relieves himself in full view of everyone. Unconcerned he makes the return journey, resting quietly beside me, waiting patiently, as are the rest of us, for the 8.30 am train to Mumbai. I glance around to gauge the reactions of the other travellers, no one shows the slightest interest. It is in that moment I know for sure, I’m in a different culture, far removed from my home in Australia.
At last, here is the train, I line up using the platform markings to indicate carriage numbers; I climb aboard, show my ticket to the conductor. He shakes his head sadly, “No, no sir,” he says, wobbling his head, “wrong date sir, this ticket was for yesterday.” He smiles. I check the date, he’s right!