One question, three answers

Manuel Demetz
The imagination to loose control of the situation becomes more and more a seldom feeling in our western lifetime. Organizers and mobile phones, brake control system and traction control, life insurance and pain pills – we have become really blessed! In our daily life all has been done to keep out any fastidious hazard. Finally, for getting a hazardous feeling, different industries have developed a variety of consumable options like alligator fishing, bungee jumping, Himalaya tracks for retirees or even a bottle of ‘Marsala’.

That life can be very different I once experienced in India – more precisely in Calcutta. In this city the goodness Kali has a powerful influence. Kali represents the darkness, but also the unexpected, the recreation, the rebirth that emerges when everything else has been destroyed. The overcrowded city with more than 30 Mio people are transforming Calcutta into one big marketplace during daytime. Everybody has to offer something, even if this something is nothing it is always something, at least a smile. This makes you nervous, it becomes challenging yourself as you are forced to give answer here and there: An answer to the others, that are surrounding you and answer to yourself. And in certain moments you also need an answer, but then I had to make the experience, that in Calcutta even an answer is no answer.

After having spent three days in the city my plan was to take the train to move to the North. The route was to go to Sikkim, a small mountain region between Nepal and Burma. The first stop on my route was Jalimpur, a faceless city in the region of West Bengal. The train was scheduled at 10 pm and my girlfriend and me were taking a taxi to go to the central station of Calcutta. The driver was a Bengali, I can’t say anything about his age because he could have been 40 but also 70 and his co-driver even. That Calcutta has also a rush hour was new to me and thus we arrived a little bit late to the station. The station area itself was not accessible at this time. The mass of people, cars, vendors, pushcarts, cows, bicycles, rishkas were completely cutting out other vehicles to approach the station. So we had to jump out of the car and go for a walk. We entered the Howrah station and immediately we were astonished by the size of the hall, but nevertheless we should have all under control! Even cities like Milan, Köln, Berlin, Paris have large train stations with more than 20 platforms. The problem in Calcutta was that we were not able to understand how many platforms the station has due to a simple reason: the whole signage system was in Hindu.

We had already bought the tickets one day before and therefore we did not have to go to the ticket office. Finally, as a tourist you are not allowed to buy tickets at the standard counter. For tourists there are special made agencies.

Having no idea where to go, we have been poured in place while surrounded by thousands of hasty people. The only solution was asking someone to give as a hint. We asked a family man who was waiting the train together with his wife, two sons and one daughter. In this occasion it is always preferable to ask the men, because women demonstrate some strange behavior if you are asking them while their husband surrounds them. We showed our ticket to the friendly looking Bengali and in a very professional manner he explained us in which directions we have to go.

The departure time was getting closer and we had no time for an extended conversation. We bashed up our backpacks and rushed in the direction the man was telling us. Happy to reach our supposed platform, I wanted to make sure that we are right. Thus I asked a young man (he looked like a student) to get confirmation by showing him also the ticket. In a very kind manner he explained us that this is not our platform and that we had to go in completely another direction. We had to rush because the train was starting in 3 minutes. We moved back to the direction we came from and it was unbelievable. It was a run between crowds of people where you hardly can find half of a square meter of free space.

Arrived at another platform and unconfident of the situation, we asked again to get confirmation and again it was negative. According to the third person we were asking our position was wrong and we had to go to another platform once more. Finally, we were right and the train to Jalimpur entered the station. On the sidewalls of the train we could read the destination the train was travelling.

The train stopped and became completely dark inside because the electricity is not available at the stop. I popped my headlight on and we looked for our reservation number in the wagons. All perfect, we got our cabin and three answers for one question.
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