Monday, 7 May 2012

India's uneven platforms

Many of you will know I'm a bit of a trainspotter, so I've enjoyed travelling round India on its excellent and efficient railway system.

My wife Kirsten and I took the sleeper train from Mumbai to Goa for our honeymoon which was a very cheap alternative to flying, and gives you a far better snapshot of Indian life than taking to the skies.

As you travel through both cities and rural areas there is never a dull moment, as you see people (often women) working in the fields, kids playing cricket on any scrap of open space, or even in the middle of a busy road, and others going about their daily ablutions (the luxury of privacy is not an option for them).

Indian railway stations are a microcosm of society. There are people everywhere, many sleeping on the platforms waiting hours for a connection. But many sleeping there because that is their home. Railway platforms are a magnet for the crippled and disabled in Indian society. This makes waiting at a station an uncomfortable experience for the western traveller.

You are frequently approached by the poor and lame, begging for money or food. Sometimes there are men walking on their hands in a scrunched up crouching position because they cannot use their legs. They also live on the station, rejected by a system where they cannot afford healthcare. Seeing people like this makes you want to cry.

This is when you face the difficult decisions on how to respond. Do I engage with the person, compared to whom I have riches beyond their imagination? Do I ignore them and not make eye contact, because I'm fed up with being hassled in India?

It's a difficult dilemma for every westerner in India. We had an excellent devotion at Woodstock School recently, where former teacher Andy Matheson, who is international director for Christian charity Oasis, and has a wealth of experience of working with the urban poor in India, urged us to try and personalise the situation. Ask the person their name, engage them in a conversation, and try and communicate Christ's love through a chat. This could be the only positive interaction they have had in days.

But I won't say I have always been able to do this, after long, tiring train journeys, the default position is often to try and ignore the immense poverty that is all around. It's something which challenges one's philosophical and spiritual convictions.

I try and have a bunch of bananas with me when travelling, as these serve as a useful thing to give out. But I realise this will not solve this person's long term predicament.

So even for an avid trainspotter like me, it's not always a laugh a minute travelling around this amazing and diverse country on the train.

1 comment:

Maxime Soumagnas said...

Magnifique Abbé Beavan!