AT 6.30 PM ON A THURSDAY IN OCTOBER, traffic was at a roaring standstill at central Patna’s Hartali Chowk railway crossing. Sitting in a shared autorickshaw alongside five other passengers, I was getting anxious. In 15 minutes, I had to board a train out of Patna Junction railway station, two kilometres away.
Frustrated, I got out of the autorickshaw. As I waded through traffic, I struck up a conversation with a man on a motorbike, who suggested that if I took the train that would soon pass by, I might reach Patna Junction on time. Soon, a loud whistle sounded, and a three-coach train, painted in olive-green and cream, approached the crossing. It ground to an unplanned halt barely 100 metres away. Cattle had been left tethered to the tracks, and the train had to stop to avoid running them over. The driver honked until the animals’ owner—a bare-chested man in a lungi—rushed forward to untie them.
In the meantime, about twenty people bolted towards the stalled train. I followed, clambering aboard behind them. To my surprise, other than those of us who had just got on, the train was almost empty.