THE TRAIN FROM BIRPUR

In December of 1993, I took a one-month assignment to India on an invitation from the Indian National Institute of Hydrology (NIH). The main part of the assignment, funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), was a three-week visit to the NIH Ganga Plains Regional Centre in Patna, Bihar, in Eastern India. While at Patna, I traveled to Birpur, 400 km East, and then North by land about 200 km to Chatra, on the Nepalese border, to visit the Kosi project, accompanied by Messrs. Jha, Lohani and Thakur, staff scientists from the Regional Centre at Patna.

On the way back, our party took the first-class sleeper train from Birpur to Patna, and, after a good chat, settled down to a well deserved rest. Great was our suprise to notice that on one of the many scheduled stops, the train was suddenly invaded by hundreds of people, desirous to catch a ride to some destination further along the way. One of my companions speculated that these people were going to a political rally, and that there was no other way to travel but boarding (invading) the train in mass. There were people everywhere, packed like sardines, so it was impossible for us to get out of our first-class cabin, even to go to the bathroom. It did not escape my attention that had I wanted to do precisely that, I would have had to find alternate means to satisfy this most basic of needs.

Luckily for us, the train made an unscheduled stop in the next town, and the intruders were routed out by scores of policemen, who dutifully conducted them to jail, marching in three columns in an orderly fashion, restrained between the train on one side and a cord on the other. As the events unfolded, I stuck my head out of the train's window, and the scenery that cold morning reminded me of one of those Hollywood scenes which I dearly loved, complete with populace, train station, policemen, local color, and above all, that orderly chaos which well describes the typical Indian urban scene.

 

 

Excavated remains of Nalanda University, in Bihar, India, apparently the oldest in the world (400 AD).

Excavated remains of Nalanda University, in Bihar, India, apparently the oldest in the world (400 AD).