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Heading to Hyderabad

Soutik Biswas | 10:27 UK time, Friday, 1 May 2009

mumbai.jpgThe more things change, the more they remain the same. Mumbai has failed India again. More than half of its population did not turn up to vote in Thursday's polls; I am now told only 43% of voters cast their ballots. This is some four percentage points less than the turnout in the last general elections in 2004.

This, after residents have endured dismal governance, floods, train bombings and terror attacks. This, despite frenzied pro-vote campaigns. On Thursday, I spotted a billboard in the heart of the city which said: "To forget 26/11 [a reference to last November's terror attacks], remember 30/4 Voting Day". Mumbaikars, as its citizens are called, seem to have forgotten everything. Lots of them, clearly, couldn't care less.

Our train tore out of Mumbai last night and hurtled towards India's deep south. Early this morning, I was told we were running ahead of schedule. Unbelievable. The catering boys on board cheekily took credit for that. "We fed the driver so well that he is speeding away on the tracks," one of them told me, grinning.

I get some evidence of this when I try a shave on the BBC express. I am hurtled back and forth against the wash basin as the speeding carriage shakes and rattles. I am bounced back to the door. The foam and razor go flying in the air. Washrooms in India's express trains should come with safety belts.

Our next stop is Hyderabad, the pride and shame of India. It is the city of India's info-tech and tinsel dreams - they make great software and hit movies in the Telugu language. Bollywood filmmakers love to remake Hyderabad movies. It is also now home to Satyam, India's biggest corporate fraud - the owner of the one of the top software companies is facing the heat after he allegedly stole from the company and cooked his books.

The earth turns browner and drier as we head south. We pass Maharashtra's bustling small towns, and in one, Solapur, our train gets a good scrubbing. Men in green overalls hose it down. As we roll out of Solapur, I see men crossing the tracks and a few squatting uncomfortably close to check out our train. Then we pass a burial ground and some women in brightly coloured saris entering a hole in the wall to get into the neighbourhood across the tracks. There is no end to short cuts in India.


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