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17 april 2008 - Huzaifa Das is a student of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry. Every other week a column written by him will be published on the English page.

When I’m travelling in Netherlands, I like to go by train. And I often find myself comparing the experience with that in my home country.

I still remember the first time I travelled by train in Netherlands. I had just landed at Schipol airport from India. I took my bag, bought a ticket to Eindhoven and walked down to the metro.

Now, picture this. This was my first time in Europe; I was fresh from India, having lived all my life in one of the most crowded cities in the world, walking into a station during peak hour, to find just two people on the entire platform.

It was unnerving to say the least. In my hometown you would normally find hundreds of people using the station at any given time. The running joke is that Indian Railway brings people together, literally, by cramming them all in one train. Travelling in Dutch trains was a luxurious albeit surreal experience for me.

Not anymore though. After two years, I’m getting quite used to this kind of travel. Now, I’m worried as to how I’ll adapt myself to travel in Indian trains. It’s going to be a ‘reverse culture shock’ when I return home.

On a side note, there is one thing that bothers me whenever I travel in trains. Every time I travel I end up having to listen to someone else’s phone conversation. It’s almost a given certainty that the minute you sit, get comfortable and the train starts, you will hear the standard Latino/R&B/Hip Hop ringtone. And the rest of the journey will be spent then listening to one end of the conversation. It doesn’t matter how far that person is sitting from you – the sound travels clearly along the compartment. If you understand Dutch, then it might be an interesting conversation to follow. But my level of Dutch is non-existent. So I’m forced to spend the travel time with the noise in the background, contemplating issues like why in god’s name does that person have an Elton John ringtone? In public? What kind of bet did he loose?

It’s a minor irritant, but it’s happened with me every single time I travel. I’m beginning to think that alongwith the ticket, a cell phone is a prerequisite to travel in trains here.