They say you haven't really experienced India until you've traveled somewhere by train, and after our experience on the train from Margao to Kannur, I think I agree!
Fortified with hot chai from a roaming station vendor, we boarded our train an hour after it was scheduled to depart. Figuring out which seats were ours in sleeper class was an adventure on its own, but with the help of some kind strangers, who then became our travel companions for the next eight hours, we eventually got settled (though I was never entirely sure if we were in the right spots).
I sat across from a young girl and her father, who were traveling from the north of India to join the rest of their family in Cochin. The girl was shy at first, but she eventually opened up when she realized she could speak English with me, and I showed her the towns we were passing through on my map and taught her how to play tic-tac-toe.
After 4 or 5 hours on the train, we started to get a little hungry. Peering out the windows at the station in Mangalore, we realized independent vendors were populating the train platform, selling take-away to hungry passengers out of cardboard boxes. As hunger overcame me, I ventured off the train armed with 200 rupees, looking to make one of those to-go containers mine.
The train had been in the station in Mangalore for about six minutes already, and once I disembarked, I walked along the platform, passing vendor after vendor standing next to his empty cardboard box, counting his money. As the realization that I might not get anything to eat after all washed over me, I started moving quicker, dashing from cardboard box to cardboard box, but each was empty.
On the way back to my train car, I saw a vendor who had clearly either just replenished his stock, or just arrived on the platform. He was surrounded by a very tightly packed crowd of Indian men waving money and shouting. I quickly realized that the process of buying a to-go meal from one of these vendors was a frenetic and occasionally vicious endeavor.
I got close enough to see the vendor bent down on one knee at the center of the mob, slipping rupee notes into his shirt pocket with one hand and lifting to-go containers out of his cardboard box with the other, only to have them snatched away in seconds. I was pretty sure bidding wars were being waged.
I peered over shoulders and through bent arms, but I saw I was too late, too hesitating, and probably too foreign to be successful. The box was almost empty.
We survived the rest of the train ride on a package of gingersnaps and a plate of medu vada (like doughnuts, only not sweet) we procured from a vendor who wandered through our train car.
Lesson learned: Be aggressive, or bring your own food!