Indian Train Fine

Fine thanks: the reward for tackling Indian bureaucracy

Having visited the Taj I decided to move on from Agra, westwards to the “Pink City” of Jaipur, so-called because it was painted pink to commemorate the visit of Queen Vicky’s son in the mid-19th century. I’m not quite sure why they chose pink of all colours – perhaps it was his favourite? – but nevertheless many of the buildings still retained a pinky-orange hue. Jaipur was a planned city, and had a real elegance about it; every other building seemed to have turrets, minarets or fiddly little battlements. The city was home to a number of sights, most notably the Amber Fort which I’d heard good things about, but I’d already decided to hang up my tourist sandals and shamefully didn’t stray far from my hotel.
The rest of Rajasthan also had tonnes to offer which had been in my original itinerary: Fatehpur Sikri, the remarkably-preserved red sandstone town that was mysteriously abandoned in the 16th century; Jodhpur, the beautiful and historic Blue City; and the alluring Udaipur, legendary as the “Venice of the East”, the setting for the Bond flick Octopussy and home to a Maharajah with a penchant for classic cars. Alas, I had run out of both time and stamina to take in these locations, and I would pass them by, having booked my final ever journey in India: a 20-hour train ride back to Mumbai on the west coast.
Boarding the train, I realised I had once again forgotten to print out my electronic ticket. I had the original e-ticket on my laptop, so I figured the conductor would accept that. How wrong I was.
Conductor: “Ticket please.”
Me: “It’s here on my laptop. Here you go.”
Conductor: “You don’t have printout?”
Me: “No, I have the original ticket, on my laptop, if you’ll just look.”
Conductor: “You need printout.”
Passenger next to me: “You need printout…”
Me (starting to boil): “But that’s ridiculous… I have the original ticket here on my laptop! It’s even better than a printout – look, it’s in colour!”
Conductor: “I am writing you a fine because you are not having a printout. Give me sixty rupees.”
Me (in my head): “Welcome to India, the cutting edge of IT…”

I was stupid to expect anything else other than a fine. There was absolutely no attempt on the conductor’s part to use his initiative, logic or reason to solve the situation. He gleefully applied the law without even engaging his brain. I’d seen this kind of unquestioning behaviour before, in Germany, and it really grated with me. One of the few really decent things about the United Kingdom is that, generally speaking, its people question authority and laws all the time – even those meant to be enforcing them. If you’re found to be breaking a minor rule, you can often reason with the person who catches you and if the offence is not too severe they’ll generally apply a notion of “fairness” when deciding whether to enforce/punish you or not, depending on the circumstances. This British notion of “fair play” was nowhere to be seen in the eyes of the conductor, and it annoyed me right up to the point when I realised he was going to fine me less than a dollar for not having a black and white copy of an original ticket I had in my possession on a laptop right in front of him, at which point my anger fell away immediately as I realised how incredibly comical the situation was.
I reached Mumbai without further incident, and whiled away the remaining days until my flight wandering the vibrant city of Mumbai, which I think is my favourite in all of India. It’s the most modern, cosmopolitan and thrumming of all of them, at least, with a buzz akin to somewhere like London or New York. The monsoon had been in Mumbai for some time now and I managed to get drenched trawling the markets for presents for folks back home. Over twenty centimetres (eight inches) of rain fell one day in the space of twelve hours, with most of it seemingly sneaking into my backpack, forming a small lake in the bottom in which my camera and iPod were fully submerged, or so I later found to my horror. Both were completely dead, and my laptop, which had also soaked up some Mumbai rain, had also developed a stutter as well as a layer of water behind the screen. It was the icing on the cake for what, for the last month, had been a series of unfortunate events.
I packed and left for the airport the next morning with some satisfaction. It certainly felt time to return home. My last experience of India was thoroughly enjoyable, as I visited a local spit’n’stools restaurant to tuck into a wonderful channa puri – puffed up bread served up with a chick pea curry, onions and lime.