Entertainment on the tracks

Baul singers on the train
Two Baul Singers in the train

Traveling on the train is a fantastic way to let the landscape pass by while relaxedly daydreaming. Nowadays – at least in Germany – one is asked for a hot- or cold drink by a uniformed friendly being every now and then, and in several trains some reading is offered in form of corporate magazines. Integrated retail channels and public relations. But at least this helps avoiding boredom. However, for a real entertainment, it’s a long way to go. India in that respect is several steps ahead. Practically, the trains are open for any kind of traders – free market at its best. And consequently, the entertainment during a rail trip is almost painfully intensive.

During a train journey from Barpeta Road to New Jalpaiguri in April we have tried to compile an unsorted list of all the items offered by petty dealers. What you can read reflects the offer that was available during a 42 minute ride between two stations:

Travel bags, shaving machines, betelnut, cigarettes (despite no smoking in trains), music keyboards, torches, water color sets, scissors, plastic plates, kitchen knives, tooth brushes, Tiger Balm, coffee, tea (packed and fresh in different varieties: lemon tea, milk tea, black tea), omelet on toast, water (1 and 2 liter bottles), bed sheets, cookies, nail cutter, multi plugs, watches, binoculars, miniature bird cages with electronic twitter, bananas, cucumbers, magic cubes, reading specs, chick peas mixture, Barbie dolls, harmonicas, match box cars, CDs, DVDs, video game, puri bhaji, air pumps, anti sliding mats, perfume, cold drinks, sweet joghurt, body shape trainer, samosas, hand sewing machines, newspapers (English and local languages), make up, lipstick, hair brushes, slippers and footwear for women, magic utensils, electric gas lighters, room freshener, deodorant, books, shampoo, popcorn, thermos flasks, gamchas, underwear, air-pillows, towels, pumpkins, papayas, potato chips (local and fresh or branded), dining table covers, bangles, gold necklaces, chains and locks, coconuts, peanuts, music tapes, handicraft (handbags with embroidery), mobile chargers, measuring tape, umbrellas, pencils, calculators, boiled eggs, batteries, mosquito nets for children, walk-mans, STD-phones, T-shirts, rain jackets, potato peelers, muri, plastic dinosaurs, remote controlled plastic elephants, and LED lights.

Additionally, shoe polishers, musicians, magicians and masseurs for head- and body massages offered their services. By include floor sweepers, blind and amputated beggars and hijras (India´s third gender – simplified said) in the group of service providers suspicion could arouse that we ridicule or misconceive their social background. Neutrally stated – they are part of almost every train journey.

It wouldn’t be long till our fellow travelers understood our game and our private entertainment turned into a parlour game. As soon as a salesman entered our compartment, the names of newly available items hit us like an avalanche. Obviously, the landscape had to stand behind during this trip. But a good entertainment with fellow travelers despite language problems is not to be despised.

Yet after closing the notebook – a cup of coffee in hand – several questions about the offered goods arose. Soap and toilet paper – at least either of it is very useful during longer train rides – could not be sighted. A clear failure of the market – demand yes, offer no. In good mood, we took such thoughts ahead: Wouldn’t the long idle time during a train ride through economically uprising India qualify as a fantastic marketing platform for loan agreements, insurances or holiday packages? Perhaps in future times one can hear the travelers tell the marketeers off with a sentence like: “Could you please stop annoying me with your newspapers? Don’t you see, that I am just about to buy a new apartment?”


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