August 4, 2009

Second class person

On a Bombay train not long ago, I got into an absurd fight. See, I like to read when I ride. So I'm standing near the door, reading my Dave Barry, minding my own business. A man comes over, sticks his arm up to hold the overhead bar in such a way that it (his arm) obscures my book. I twist about, but there's no way to read any more. So I look at him and ask, all peaches and cream, do you mind moving your arm? I can't read my book with it there.

He gives me a hate-filled look and says, "This isn't a library! You can't read here!"

Is this nut for real? Apparently so. His arm firmly in place, I can't read no more.

So when we roll into Dadar half a minute later, and he's getting ready to alight, I put my own arm to good use. Stick it across his chest and grab the vertical bar in the middle of the doorway. "This isn't an exit," I say. "You can't get off this way." Too pig-headed to step around the bar, he stands there, steam rising from his ears, mouthing filthy abuse at me. My arm firmly in place, I ignore him.

Only when the train begins to move do I finally move my arm. He jumps off. Safely on the platform, he turns to flail at me and simultaneously breaks into a run away from me. So I won't be able to hit back, you see. He couldn't look more absurd, and his flailing misses anyway, so I laugh at him as the train gathers speed. So do a few others around me. The steam's positively erupting out of him.

Truth is, fights on Bombay's trains are fascinating even if you're not involved. In first class, people tend to be far more uppity and uptight than in second, thus more prone to break into quarrels. And the other thing they break into, once the fight is truly on, is English. There's a particular moment -- by now, I can almost predict it -- when both yelling dudes will switch, as if by some unwritten agreement, to the Queen's tongue.

And another evening, it was that tongue I heard as a fellow in a suit, scorn curdling his words, flung the ultimate insult at his opponent. They were fighting over a seat that one believed he had rights over, but the other had usurped. They had progressed to arcane observations about each other's families and sexual proclivities thereof. Suddenly the suit snapped: "You are in first class, but you are behaving like second class person!"

That decided it. I'm back to travelling second.

1 comment:

  1. The use of "second class" by the person in this context is somewhat new. He may have just been inspired by the "classes" of compartments in the train.

    Use of "rate" instead of "class" is however fairly common, as in statements like "he is a third-rate person", or "this is a second rate" product.

    Interestingly, "second rate" was a maritime term in the Royal Navy, referring to battleships which had less firepower than the "first rate" ships (search for "second rate" on ""). "third rates", in turn, had less firepower than "second rates", but more than "fourth rates"!