Culture

Don’t Breathe: Travelling Unreserved on the Indian Railways

Board a train, thrust your way through the crowd to some messy corner of a general compartment and you start losing your identity.

The apparition of these faces in the crowd,
Petals on a wet, black bough.
∼ Ezra Pound, In a Station of the Metro

The inexorable spell of these two lines by Ezra Pound weighs upon me whenever I catch sight of a typically Indian scene crammed with people. The lines recycle themselves into visuals as I scratch around for the right frame to showcase my perception of the Indian reality, particularly when my camera chances upon the mess one finds so frequently in the unreserved general compartments of a railway carriage.

It is needless to remind ourselves that the lines have nothing characteristically Indian about them. Ostensibly, though, they depict the crowd in a station of the metro. The pen-picture of the “Petals on a wet, black bough” speaks clearly of a different clime. “The apparition of these faces in the crowd” of the first line, on the other hand, keeps haunting you even as you try to escape.

Travel the length of the country. Board a train, thrust your way through the crowd to some messy corner of a general compartment and you start losing your identity. One can safely predict a traumatic journey to the destination of absolute facelessness.

Ruthlessly robbed of your right to breathe, you are already there, sharing with the hapless masses the unbearable tightness of being – bearing with them the full burden of an inescapably Indian experience.

All images by Ronny Sen. 

Ronny Sen is a photographer based in Calcutta. He has published two books – Khmer Din (2013) and End of Time (2017) – and won the Getty Images Instagram Grant in 2016.

  • kujur bachchan

    Haunting images. Pause and contemplate.

  • Anjan Basu

    Beautiful! If such a word as beautiful may be used in such a grim and depressing context. The faceless man in the second frame is as eerie as anything I have seen in a long time.