The first images that hit you on any train journey in this part of the world, is the squalor that surrounds the railway tracks. All my life I have stayed just a few hundred yards from these slums, but everytime I look at them from inside a bogie I get really depressed.
I was distracted from these thoughts by a compartment full of girls singing their favourite bollywood songs. The compartment adjacent to theirs was full of college boys returning home from an NCC camp.
You could tell that the attentions of each group was polarised to the other. They were very conscious of each other's presence. The bolder guys started acknowledging this by wah-wahing the girls' songs. The girls sent back high pitched giggles to make it evident that they were enjoying the attention. They reciprocated with some improvisations in their songs; "Lal shirtwale thera naam tho batha" sent the guys into a frenzy, and the Lal-shirtwala's cheeks matched his shirt in colour. The mutual attention soon reached a critical mass and they all were in the game together. Sooraj Barjatya's method of using Antakshari as a means of some undisguised, harmless flirting works in real life too!
It was striking how almost all the girls had decent singing voices, while the guys, with their adolescent voice boxes, collectively sounded like the crackle from a speaker with a torn diaphragm. Puberty can be cruel. After half an hour of the cacophony, the stress of the NCC camp apparently started showing on the guys. They rarely completed a stanza of the songs they attempted and their enthusiasm for the game soon petered out. I didn't complain.