If you want to know India, take a Train 


At the train station in Cochin
At the train station in Cochin

It’s a real hot morning in April. At the train station in Cochin it’s crowdy. When a train  arrives there is a lot of movement: people jump out of the trains, often run across the iron rails, clack, clack, clack out of the train windows a lot of empty and half-full water bottles are thrown out. Entire groups of people carry items of every type  from here to there – I assume that these are people who came into the city to buy paintings, construction materials and household items to bring them back to their homes.


The moment of truth – the train arrives

It’s not that easy to be at the right point in time when finally the own train enters the station. Partly, the trains are very long and the number of wagons is not always that clear indicated. Sleepers, pantry wagons, air conditioned (AC)  2nd class, AC third class, many simple chair wagons, some with fans others completely without any comfort – those are the ones which are often that crowded that people press each other to get in. The group of people with all the buckets and parcels is running away to the right. I’m somehow lost, still looking where the right wagon might have stopped. I enter a wagon … But obviously that’s not the right one. The people tell me that it is better to get out, to run and jump on 10 wagons further. It’s a risk as the train could leave, but there is no choice. With all my luggage I go off and run. “Somehow, it’s fun, like a game,” I think, sweating like a waterfall and breathing heavily. Here everyone is running, young, old, children.

Time to get in. Better not to risk more, the train station here is getting empty… This time my choice is a better one. It just takes me a few minutes to find the reserved seat. In the wagon corridor it is straight. Curtains are mostly closed in front of the single seat groups. It’s rather dark, but I never enjoyed an AC more than now. The train adventure has started.

Continuously, people pass by

Coffee, coffeeee, teaaaaa, coffee … Veg meals, chicken meals… Water, water, water…” – traveling with an Indian train means a lot of food and drink offers. Some travelers start to walk up and down.  Friendly, they look at me, incuriousing who’s that European woman doing alone in this train.

Madam, who are You?

Meeting the teachers from Andhra
Meeting the teachers from Andhra

In fact, it takes a few minutes only until a young Indian woman starts talking to me. She and her teacher friend have been in Cochin for a school request she tells me about the education system in India, about the importance of memorizing, the syllabus and the parents who want the teachers to teach as much to their children. “If they could, they would push us to teach from 8 0’clock in the morning to 8 o’clock in the evening. Just because they link education to wealth and they think the more the children memorize they better their future life will be. But that’s not the case. What is missing are transferring exercises, we do not have enough time to train own creativity and problem solving. The syllabus does not permit. That’s the biggest challenge,”she tells me. In the meantime I have joined them in their seat corner and in three we have a good time together. The five hours to Coimbatore pass quickly. One of the teachers invites me to come to Andhra and to give a workshop at the school. “Come to Andhra the next time. Stay with us. It would be so nice to have this exchange of ideas together with all teachers,” she says. I learn that most of the teachers are not very motivated to change the school system. The income for teachers is low. When the marks and results of the tests are good, they are soddisfied. Most of the teachers have a 9 months training before they exercise the profession.

Indian women and freedom of choice

The conversation goes beyond: we talk about marriages, travels, partners, life in Europe and India and the own families. “I like traveling, too. My husband works in a bank, so he travels and gives me the freedom to do so, as well. When I got married I learned from him how to move alone. But my son is always telling me that I have to stay at home and to take care of the family,” says the elder teacher – and smiles. l’m pretty sure that she won’t. The role of Indian women is changing…

The two teachers will still have to travel 30 hours before they arrive. I have to leave. After saying goodbye and reconfirming the invitation they help me to get out with all the luggage. “See you soon in November in Andhra.  We will organize also a children day. And we drop you an email”, they tell me before I have to leave.

It would be nice to go and stay with them. Why not?!

Related content:

Blog post: Traveling with Tamboo, the teacher

An interesting book on the role of women and the changes has been published by Anirudha Dutta. More information




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