I know that I just posted last night but anytime something happens in India, I feel kind of an internal quiver. I worked in India for about three months during a past job and it is really one of the most insane places I have ever visited. This post is in response to a train fire that reportedly killed 32 people in the region known as Andhra Pradesh which is in the southern part of the country. The region is important, to me, because I lived in the Andhra Pradesh region, in a town called Hyderabad, which is mentioned in the article. There is a region of Hyderabad officially named or nicknamed (I’m not really sure) Cyberabad– I think b/c the region is the home to a number of tech companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others.
In a nutshell: India is the most dangerous place I have ever lived. And I’m not talking terrorists and the like (though I was living in India when the terrorist activity occurred in Mumbai and later, we had a bomb hoax called into my office, which clearly was not that fun). India is a rapidly developing third world country but things like unsanitary water and sickness from monsoon will take you down. I got so sick while in India that I lost about 15 lbs (leaving me at a skeletal 90 lbs by the time I returned home). You risk getting run over by speeding cars just crossing the street. And then there are things like unregulated transportation to add another layer of danger to the experience.
So specific to transportation, these are the facts from the story:
– Accidents are common on India’s immense state-owned rail network.
– Train accidents in India have killed 1,220 people over the past five years, railway officials recently revealed.
While I was living in India, something very similar impacted the employees at the company. So in June or July of 2008, there had been a fire on a night train. Three employees from my company (locals) were on the night train, taking a weekend photography trip. Now, I should make the side comment that I don’t remember trains being outfitted like the trains we’d expect in the US. Meaning: they don’t have safety windows, etc should something happen. One train, at least, that I was on had bars on the window to prevent people from stealing and hitching a free ride, is my guess. I think train boxes are essentially prisons should a fire occur. So when the fire broke out in June/July 2008, only one employee was able to escape. The other two, a married couple, were never found. So just to elaborate: their bodies were never found. The families felt strongly that maybe, just maybe, they had escaped to the countryside and they organized a series of searches with the company’s employees, the couple’s friends, to see if they could be found in the villages along the train’s path. They were never found.
In November 2008, when I was in the office, news broke that the couple had been declared dead (I’m guessing something that was found in the rubble made this definitive) but they never alerted the people at work in advance. So the employees found out that their coworkers were dead by reading it in a newspaper. It was really awful. They had to bring in counselors and issue an official notice.
I remember taking one night train while in India where a train steward followed me into the room after I refused to give him a tip for pointing out the location of the bathroom (I was having really bad diarrhea at that point– sorry, but this is important to the story). I remember that the train door was open while the train was moving, which is strange but I guess really standard in India. As I argued with the steward, I remembered thinking, “Man, he could just push me out of this train if he really wanted.” In the cabin, he kept asking for his tip and I remember thinking, “If this guy doesn’t stop, I’m going to scream and wake up all the other people in this cabin.” He ended up leaving but then I felt so uncomfortable that I didn’t leave my bed the entire night even though I was having chronic stomach problems– that’s like 6 hours holding in diarrhea. I even remember thinking that maybe I should put on a maxipad just in case I shit my pants. True story. I didn’t sleep at all that night. Between the stomach problems and the bed bugs that I could see and feel biting my legs, it was not a nice journey.
I returned to the US at the end of 2008. A few days into 2009, one of the employees in one of the India offices asked me whether I had found out that ‘J’ had died. J was a woman, American, a very robust and outdoorsy lady around 30 years old, working at one of the company’s Indian offices. Since she was in the prime of her life, I couldn’t figure out how she could have died. Nothing has officially been shared within the company (just that she died) but this is what is known: she had been bit by a wild dog (they roam free in India and they are so dirty and gross that you just know to avoid them) and had started on a rabies treatment without telling anybody officially. During a trip to Nepal for New Years (a country with even less of an established infrastructure than India) she had died. That’s all we know.
I took a number of trips and I’m glad that I was able to experience so many parts of India. It really is an amazing country. But truthfully: I could never advocate to anybody that they travel to India. It’s just too dangerous and there are too many dangerous things there– that is my opinion. The scariest moment for me (in addition to my chronic diarrhea which I believe I contracted from wading through flooded waters following the monsoon), was trying to cross the street in Hyderabad. I saw a window of opportunity and started to run. But cars in India don’t slow down– in fact, I think they sped up– and I didn’t actually make it across the street. Realizing that trying to finish would mean I would likely get hit, I just stood still while two cars passed me on either side going probably 40 mph.
So yeah, India: so exotic, so beautiful, so much interesting stuff to see and experience. So dangerous. Gah, I still have nightmares sometimes.