We booked our rail tickets from NJP to Kolkata a few days in advance. It’s a 12 hour journey. We booked sleeper bunks, considering the train departs at 8pm. We were number 46 on the waiting list.
We continued checking but our position on the waiting list did not drop quickly. When we arrived in Siliguri, we pretty much knew we would not drop 20 places on the waiting list and wanted to buy a bus ticket instead. However, a well dressed Indian man approached us and spoke very unclear English, choosing awkward and hard to decipher vocabulary.
Man: I overhear you go to Kolkata. Don’t go bus. Foreigner have guaranteed seats on trains. You have guaranteed seats. You understand me?
Me: No. ( I was not sure if he was asking, telling, or offering to help)
Man: Foreigner have guaranteed seats…
Me: (Interrupting) I understand the words, but I do not know what you mean.
Man: Where are you from?
Me: From Poland.
Man: Ah. English is your second language. That is why you do not understand!
Me: No, I….
Man: (Interrupting) I will stop using my American accent. Foreigner have guaranteed seats on trains. (Nothing changed in his accent)
Me: We have reservation but we are on the waiting list. We called and the man said that we have no guaranteed seats.
Man: He told you wrong information.
Me: Are you 100% sure about this?
Man: Yes, follow me.
And so it started. We followed him to the train station in Siliguri. He ignored the ticket windows and barged right into a back office. He spoke Hindi with the woman there. I glanced at the computer screen to see that we were still on the waiting list. After this exchange, he said “We must go, quickly, to NJP.” So we got an auto-rickshaw and went to the train station from which our train would depart. At about this time also, the bus we inquired about earlier left.
We got to the train station in NJP and hurried over to the station master. Our over-eager stranger spoke with the man in charge, and then turned to us and with a sunken face said “There is bad news.” I told him “We knew we were not getting on the train a long time ago! That is why we wanted to go by bus. You said you were sure!” In a galling attempt to shed responsibility he replied “I have been misinformed. Bus is not a good idea.” “No shit, considering it left 20 minutes ago,” I thought, thanked him for all the help up till now, and refused any additional assistance.
We quickly acquired two dirt cheap 2nd class seater places and our train pulled up. We looked through the cars, but, after not finding any room, placed our bags in the hallway and crouched down. We were mentally getting psyched for the 12 hour overnight journey ahead of us.
A man in a khaki outfit and an ancient rifle slung across his back politely informed us that there is room for our luggage and us. He asked a man sleeping on the luggage rack to take up less space so our bags would have a place to rest. The people filling up the bench also scrunched further together and we now had a place to sit.
The night in 2nd class seater was grueling. Squeezed together on the bench, we shifted from one uncomfortable position to another, trying to eek out precious minutes of sleep. I was envious of the man laying down sleeping on the luggage rack, who only had to contend with our two backpacks. We had four other people on the bench.