THE RAILWAYS OF INDIA
The railways of India are many and long and useful, but still very primitive in their appointments, having been built for utility and convenience, and not for comfort. The day will come, I suppose, when modern improvements will be introduced, and the long journeys which are necessary to reach any part of the vast empire will be made as pleasant and luxurious as transcontinental trips in the United States. Just now, however, the equipment is on a military basis of simplicity and severity. Passengers are furnished with what they need, and no more. They are hauled from one place to another at reasonable rates of speed; they are given shelter from the sun and the storms en route; a place to sit in the daytime and to lie down during the night; and at proper intervals the trains stop for refreshments - not very good nor very bad, but "fair to middling," as the Yankees say, in quality and quantity. If a traveler wants anything more he must provide it himself. People who live in India and are accustomed to these things are perfectly satisfied with them, although the tourist who has just arrived is apt to criticise and condemn for the first few days.
Every European resident of India who is accustomed to traveling by train has an outfit always ready similar to the kit of a soldier or a naval officer. It is as necessary as a trunk or a bag, an overcoat or umbrella, and consists of a roll of bedding, with sheets, blankets and pillows, protected by a canvas cover securely strapped and arranged so that when he wants to retire he need only unbuckle the straps and unroll the blankets on the bunk in the railway carriage. He also has a "tiffin basket," with a tea pot, an alcohol lamp, a tea caddy, plates and cups of granite ware, spoons, knives and forks, a box of sugar, a tin of jam, a tin of biscuits or crackers, and other concomitants for his interior department in case of an emergency; and, never having had anything better, he thinks the present arrangement good enough and wonders why Americans are dissatisfied. Persons of ordinary common sense and patience can get used to almost anything, and after a day or two travelers trained to the luxury of Pullman sleepers and dining cars adjust themselves to the primitive facilities of India without loss of sleep or temper, excepting always one condition: You are never sure "where you are at," so to speak. You never know what sort of accommodations you are going to have. There is always an exasperating uncertainty as to what will be left for you when the train reaches your place of embarkation.
Sleeping berths, such as they are, go free with first and second class tickets and every traveler is entitled to one bunk, but passengers at intermediate points cannot make definite arrangements until the train rolls in, no matter whether it is noonday or 2 o'clock in the morning. You can go down and appeal to the station master a day or two in advance and advise him of your wants and wishes, and he will put your name down on a list. If you are so fortunate as to be at the starting place of the train he will assign you a bunk and slip a card with your name written upon it into a little slot made for the purpose; the other bunks in the compartment will be allotted to Tom, Dick and Harry in the same manner. There are apartments reserved for ladies, too, but if you and your wife or family want one to yourselves you must be a major general, or a lieutenant governor, or a rajah, or a lord high commissioner of something or other to attain that desire. If they insist upon being exclusive, ordinary people are compelled to show as many tickets as there are bunks in a compartment, and the first that come have the pick, as is perfectly natural. The fellow who enters the train later in the day must be satisfied with Mr. Hobson's choice, and take what is left, even if it doesn't fit him. It the train is full, if every bunk is occupied, another car is hitched on, and he gets a lower, but this will not be done as long as a single upper is vacant. And the passengers are packed away as closely as possible because the trains are heavy and the engines are light, and the schedules must be kept in the running. A growler will tell you that he never gets a lower berth, that he is always crowded into a compartment that is already three-fourths occupied with passengers who are trying to sleep, but he forgets that they have more than he to complain of, and if he is a malicious man he can find deep consolation in the thought and make as great a nuisance of himself as possible. I do not know how the gentler sex behave under such circumstances, but I have heard stories that I am too polite to repeat.
There is no means of ventilation in the ceiling, but there is a frieze of blinds under it, along both sides of the car, with slats that can be turned to let the air in directly upon the body of the occupant of the upper berth, who is at liberty to elect whether he dies of pneumonia or suffocation. The gentleman in the lower berth has a row of windows along his back, which never fit closely but rattle like a snare drum, and have wide gaps that admit a forced draught of air if the night is damp or chilly. If it is hot the windows swell and stick so that you cannot open them, and during the daytime they rattle so loud that conversation is impossible unless the passengers have throats of brass like the statues of Siva. In India, during the winter season, there is a wide variation in the temperature, sometimes as much as thirty or forty degrees. At night you will need a couple of thick blankets; at noonday it is necessary to wear a pith helmet or carry an umbrella to protect the head from the sun, and as people do their traveling in the dry season chiefly, the dust is dreadful. Everything in the car wears a soft gray coating before the train has been in motion half an hour.