100 Days in India Project

A man has a nap in the Ghats of Varanasi, India

44/ 100 Writing a Letter to Varanasi

Having been abruptly dismissed by the station manager in Agra Fort railway station (in hindsight we think he was angling for a few rupees as encouragement) we sought help from the Railway Police to try and find the documents we had lost in the days before at some point in time between fighting with a calf and boarding the sleeper train at 2 o’clock in the morning.

Walking from one side of the enormous station to the other took a considerable amount of time, as did locating the police office itself which was hidden away at the furthest corner of the longest platform. We entered a room that was the exact opposite of the manager’s office. This room was completely full of filing cabinets, desks, books and a scattering of detained youths peering sheepishly from around the back of ledgers and piles of papers. There were also a couple of policemen, of course.

The police were much less frosty than the other chap and invited us to sit down and share our story. They suggested writing a letter to the manager at Varanasi station (they too decided that they couldn’t telephone either for some reason). However, like so many things in India they managed to make this simple task of writing a letter into a bureaucratic challenge.

We sat at the large desk, opposite the chief. The policeman told me what I had to write and I dutifully followed his guidance, transcribing his dictations onto a piece of paper laid carefully in a carbon paper sandwich to give a triplicate copy. He then took my handwritten letter, studied it and deemed my English far too poor. He then wrote a letter for me to copy and was not too happy when I suggested that it was in need of some correction. I decided it would be best to keep my mouth shut and go with the flow.

Eventually, after about 30 minutes, a letter had been composed, written in a strange Indian-English language. We were given a copy, he filed a copy and a third copy was sent, presumably, to the station master at Varanasi.

My levels of confidence that I would ever see the folder and its contents again were rapidly diminishing.