[Taken from The Complete Works of Mark Twain: Following the Equator, Volume 2, Harper and Brothers: New York, 1925.]
January 30. What a spectacle the railway station was, at train-time! It was a very large station, yet when we arrived it seemed as if the whole world was present–half of it inside, the other half outside, and both halves, bearing mountainous head-loads of bedding and other freight, trying simultaneously to pass each other, in opposing floods, in one narrow door. These opposing floods were patient, gentle, long-suffering natives, with whites scattered among them at rare intervals; and wherever a white man’s native servant appeared, that native seemed to have put aside his natural gentleness for the time and invested himself with the white man’s privilege of making a way for himself by promptly shoving all intervening black things out of it. In these exhibitions of authority Satan was scandalous. He was probably a Thug in one of his former incarnations.
Inside the great station, tides upon tides of rainbow-costumed natives swept along, this way and that, in massed and bewildering confusion, eager, anxious, belated, distressed; and washed up to the long trains and flowed into them with their packs and bundles, and disappeared, followed at once by the next wash, the next wave. And here and there, in the midst of this hurly-burly, and seemingly undisturbed by it, sat great groups of natives on the bare stone floor,–young, slender brown women, old, gray wrinkled women, little soft brown babies, old men, young men, boys; all poor people, but all the females among them, both big and little, bejeweled with cheap and showy nose-rings, toe-rings, leglets, and armlets, these things constituting all their wealth, no doubt. These silent crowds sat there with their humble bundles and baskets and small household gear about them, and patiently waited–for what? A train that was to start at some time or other during the day or night! They hadn’t timed themselves well, but that was no matter–the thing had been so ordered from on high, therefore why worry? There was plenty of time, hours and hours of it, and the thing that was to happen would happen–there was no hurrying it.
…The natives traveled third class, and at marvelously cheap rates. They were packed and crammed into cars that held each about fifty; and it was said that often a Brahmin of the highest caste was thus brought into personal touch, and consequent defilement, with persons of the lowest castes–no doubt a very shocking thing if a body could understand it and properly appreciate it. Yes, a Brahmin who didn’t own a rupee and couldn’t borrow one, might have to touch elbows with a rich hereditary lord of inferior caste, inheritor of an ancient title a couple of yards long, and he would just have to stand it; for if either of the two was allowed to go in the cars where the sacred white people were, it probably wouldn’t be the august poor Brahmin. There was an immense string of those third-class cars, for the natives travel by hordes; and a weary hard night of it the occupants would have, no doubt.
When we reached our car, Satan and Barney had already arrived there with their train of porters carrying bedding and parasols and cigar boxes, and were at work. We named him Barney for short; we couldn’t use his real name, there wasn’t time.
It was a car that promised comfort; indeed, luxury. Yet the cost of it–well, economy could no further go; even in France; not even in Italy.
It was built of the plainest and cheapest partially-smoothed boards, with a coating of dull paint on them, and there was nowhere a thought of decoration. The floor was bare, but would not long remain so when the dust should begin to fly. Across one end of the compartment ran a netting for the accommodation of hand-baggage; at the other end was a door which would shut, upon compulsion, but wouldn’t stay shut; it opened into a narrow little closet which had a wash-bowl in one end of it, and a place to put a towel, in case you had one with you–and you would be sure to have towels, because you buy them with the bedding, knowing that the railway doesn’t furnish them. On each side of the car, and running fore and aft, was a broad leather-covered sofa to sit on in the day and sleep on at night. Over each sofa hung, by straps, a wide, flat, leather-covered shelf–to sleep on. In the daytime you can hitch it up against the wall, out of the way–and then you have a big unencumbered and most comfortable room to spread out in. No car in any country is quite its equal for comfort (and privacy) I think. For usually there are but two persons in it; and even when there are four there is but little sense of impaired privacy. Our own cars at home can surpass the railway world in all details but that one: they have no cosiness; there are too many people together.
At the foot of each sofa was a side-door, for entrance and exit. Along the whole length of the sofa on each side of the car ran a row of large single-plate windows, of a blue tint–blue to soften the bitter glare of the sun and protect one’s eyes from torture. These could be let down out of the way when one wanted the breeze. In the roof were two oil lamps which gave a light strong enough to read by; each had a green-cloth attachment by which it could be covered when the light should be no longer needed.
While we talked outside with friends, Barney and Satan placed the hand-baggage, books, fruits, and soda-bottles in the racks, and the hold-alls and heavy baggage in the closet, hung the overcoats and sun-helmets and towels on the hooks, hoisted the two bed-shelves up out of the way, then shouldered their bedding and retired to the third class.
Now then, you see what a handsome, spacious, light, airy, homelike place it was, wherein to walk up and down, or sit and write, or stretch out and read and smoke. A central door in the forward end of the compartment opened into a similar compartment. It was occupied by my wife and daughter. About nine in the evening, while we halted a while at a station, Barney and Satan came and undid the clumsy big hold-alls, and spread the bedding on the sofas in both compartments–mattresses, sheets, gay coverlets, pillows, all complete; there are no chambermaids in India–apparently it was an office that was never heard of. Then they closed the communicating door, nimbly tidied up our place, put the night-clothing on the beds and the slippers under them, then returned to their own quarters. (76-80)
…The Indian trains are manned by natives exclusively. The Indian stations except very large and important ones–are manned entirely by natives, and so are the posts and telegraphs. The rank and file of the police are natives. All these people are pleasant and accommodating. One day I left an express train to lounge about in that perennially ravishing show, the ebb and flow and whirl of gaudy natives, that is always surging up and down the spacious platform of a great Indian station; and I lost myself in the ecstasy of it, and when I turned, the train was moving swiftly away. I was going to sit down and wait for another train, as I would have done at home; I had no thought of any other course. But a native official, who had a green flag in his hand, saw me, and said politely:
“Don’t you belong in the train, sir?”
“Yes.” I said.
He waved his flag, and the train came back! And he put me aboard with as much ceremony as if I had been the General Superintendent. They are kindly people, the natives. The face and the bearing that indicate a surly spirit and a bad heart seemed to me to be so rare among Indians—so nearly non-existent, in fact–that I sometimes wondered if Thuggee wasn’t a dream, and not a reality. The bad hearts are there, but I believe that they are in a small, poor minority. One thing is sure: They are much the most interesting people in the world–and the nearest to being incomprehensible. At any rate, the hardest to account for. Their character and their history, their customs and their religion, confront you with riddles at every turn-riddles which are a trifle more perplexing after they are explained than they were before. You can get the facts of a custom–like caste, and Suttee, and Thuggee, and so on–and with the facts a theory which tries to explain, but never quite does it to your satisfaction. You can never quite understand how so strange a thing could have been born, nor why. (129-130)