I love trains. I have travelled on Amtrak a few times, but it’s not the same as taking a train in India.
Half the fun of being on a train in India is the food. Every time the train stops, you can hop off and get hot samosas that are fried right in front of you on the platform. You can stick your hand out the window and get a cup of chai. Or, if you don’t want to move, you can have food served at your seat.
This summer, I took a train from New Delhi to my hometown, Lucknow. For less than $20, I got to travel 300 miles in an air-conditioned coach. Did I mention the food? Oh yes, a four-course meal complete with appetizers and dessert.
As soon as the train moved, a waiter in a dark brown jacket brought me a red tray with high tea. After tea, it was time for soup with breadsticks. Then came dinner: chicken curry, chapattis, lentil soup, rice and mango pickle. Then another round of snacks. And, just before the end of the journey, they served ice cream.
I enjoyed the ice cream, but when I looked closely at one of the bowls, I noticed it said, "Meals on Wheels." It reminded me of a totally different scene.
A few months back, my grandmother-in-law in rural Pennsylvania took me along in her silver Buick to deliver meals to homebound people. It was a local version of the Meals on Wheels program. I helped her carry small containers of ham loaf, scalloped potatoes, green beans, buns and pie to folks who were too infirm to go out.
As I recalled that day, my train pulled in at a station. I looked out the window and saw an old man on crutches, gesturing to ask for food. Holding the bowl in my hand, I thought I should probably be feeding him instead.