Shortly after completing an eighteen- month research stint for
Street Corner Secrets, I returned to India to attend the 2004 World
Social Forum, held in Mumbai that year, and to present a prelimi-
nary paper on this project at a conference on migration and labor in
New Delhi. After the conference, I returned to Mumbai via the Raj-
dhani, the express train that runs daily between Delhi and Mumbai.
Passengers embark from one city in the early evening, arriving in
the other by eleven o’clock the next morning, a journey that, on
a non express train, would take at least twenty- four hours. Before
budget airlines had taken hold in the Indian market, the Rajdhani
was the preferred means of intercity travel for the relatively afflu-
ent. Affluence was marked in a number of ways on this train. Every
car was air- conditioned, for example, and many of the conversa-
tions on the train, like the one I relate here, happened in English.
As with most long- distance train journeys in India, a lengthy
trip intersected with passengers’ desire for “timepass.”1 Combined
with a shared understanding of train etiquette that includes help-
ing one another alleviate the boredom of the journey, random con-
versations between strangers traveling in the same compartment
became inevitable. Each railcar was divided into four or five seg-
ments, each with eight beds, five of which collapsed during day-
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