Working on the Railroad

Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images for TIME

Drive-through service: A vendor hawks food to passengers in Agra

There's a moment late in the afternoon on many long Indian train journeys when the world seems to slow down and rest for a while. As the fading light filters through half-closed shutters and the swaying of the carriages nudges passengers into an irresistible slumber, air-conditioner mechanic T.J. Mathai takes a break from checking that his machinery is working properly and that the vents are open just so. During a recent three-day trip from New Delhi, in India's north, to Kerala, at its southern tip, he hoisted himself up into his tiny nook opposite the toilets in the second-class...

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