Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Great Indian Railways Journey

In last 5 years I have traveled many times by train and most of the times it’s been long journeys stretching to 18-20 hrs at least. I have heard many people complaining about the poor services of the Indian railways in terms of extraordinary yet frequent delays of 6 to 8 hrs, overcrowded trains, unhygienic food, beggars and eunuchs annoying passengers, dirty stations and disgusting toilets. But luckily I was spared of all these miseries till now. So on 29th Sep 09, with a confirmed second class sleeper ticket in my hand I went to the Aurangabad railway station to catch Sachkhand Express to return to Delhi for my fifth semester. Some of my friends had suggested me many times before that traveling by second class for a 24 hrs journey can seriously screw up the whole journey. But I had always rejected it by calling them as squeamish and snobbish people. I had sweet memories of so many previous journeys to bank upon. But my entire dream run on Indian railways was set to get severally jolted on that fateful day. The moment I entered the station, I heard a female announcing in her monotonous voice that the train is delayed by 1 hour. The announcement was getting repeated in English, Hindi and Marathi and I hated myself for knowing all the three languages. I was getting irritated now. Add to this the fact that I had to hastily pack up all my stuff and get ready to reach the station to catch the train on time. After one hour, the same voice cracked through the speaker announcing a further delay of one hour. By now my chatter with mom and dad was coming to a halt. Everyone was getting bored. I already had two cups of tea gulped down to kill the time. Once again the same announcement of one more hour delay was made. But this time, the same lady added a personal touch to the announcement and apologized for the delay. The implied meaning was that you deserve an apology from the Indian Railways only if the train is delayed by at least 3 hours. So instead of soothing my nerves it caused inflammation in my heart. I was totally pissed off now.
Finally the train arrived after a delay of three and half hours. As it was coming to halt, I got reminded of Mumbai locals. All the bogies were jam packed with people, most of them Sikh pilgrims returning to their homes in Punjab after Dasera celebration at Nanded. I saw my coach door closed and started knocking heavily with my fist. But no one opened it. Now I saw the other door of the coach getting opened and I ran towards it. As I was entering through the door, a couple of people started pushing me out and were yelling in Punjabi. So I lost my temper, pushed them back and forced my way through the crowd. When I reached my seat, I saw7-8 Punjabi budhiyas sitting in the compartment and an old man sleeping on my upper berth. I took a deep breath and mentally prepared myself for the anticipated ugly brawl with them. But I told them in a calm and firm voice that I have a seat reserved over here. Before I could finish speaking, 3-4 ladies started yelling on me and were asking me to leave the damn train itself. I raised my voice and started screaming that I will not move from here come what may. I could see my dad standing outside the train trying to convince the ladies from the window to allow me to sit at my place. Then a huge well built young man came and asked me to show the ticket. Suddenly he tried to snatch it from my hand. In the midst of this chaos, I saw my mom and she was sobbing. I tried to put a brave face and told my parents that they need not worry at all and I will get my seat anyhow. But I was also worried and clueless about how will I do that. Looking at print out of my internet booked ticket, one lady raised the doubt that it’s a bogus ticket. For a moment, I couldn’t figure out whether I should laugh on her ignorance or should cry about my ordeal. When the train started moving, the commotion in and out of train rose to the highest level. Hell broke down and the train got flooded with people. I was hit 2-3 times by waves of people crushing on me.
At last God came to rescue me in the form of a man who was holding a list of seats booked for the so called yatrionka jattha (group of pilgrims). He came, patted on my shoulder and told everyone that this guy has a seat reserved here and we need to somehow accommodate him. I was so relieved to hear that. I thanked him with a big grin on my face. I politely asked the man sleeping on my berth to get down once again. He climbed down reluctantly and I jumped on my berth in a flash. But half of my berth was occupied by the luggage of others. I did not dare to ask them to move the luggage and tried to sleep on the other half by folding my legs and hands as much as I can. Below me, I could see people sitting and sleeping all over the place in a snugly fit manner. Every inch of possible space was being used. Sleeping babies and luggage were stuffed together on the side upper berths. In the middle of it all, the market in the train was still running in full swing. The tea vendors, samosa and vada sellers were still venturing in the train and making big money. However, not a single TC came to my seat in the entire journey. There was non stop chatter in the train. Some one was busy eating langar meals, someone was playing cards for time pass, some one was trying to cajole the kid to stop crying by offering him biscuits and a lot of them were singing the bhajans praising the almighty waheguru. As the night fall down, tired passengers started making arrangements for sleeping. When I saw the old ladies in my compartment struggling with the middle berth seat chains, I jumped down and helped them with it. I also moved their luggage below the seats. Surprisingly it worked wonders for me. I could see the old ladies smiling in a gesture to thank me. One of them started a general traveler’s type conversation with me. She was talking in Punjabi and I was replying in Hindi. I am sure both of us were able to understand very little of it. But the gesture of empathy and respect was more important. But still I did not want to take any chances and hence told her that I am a soldier working in the army :). Another lady then started moving her luggage from my berth and I was so happy to see my entire empty berth. I jumped back on it and slept like a dead wood for the next 12 hours.

8 comments:

ERPBuzz said...

Seems like written by an established writer...I could not stop reading it on n on...
When I read it 2nd time, I felt the story stopped so fast (like wrapped up quickly), but I can understand because I know how difficult it is to write, especially while writing longer articles...

ERPBuzz said...

n yes, Be lated Happy B'day to you :)

Subhash said...

amcha kaam 'bhari' astay .. pan ..
tumcha lihna 'lai bhari' astay !!

Sosya he vachun mala Tirupatichi trip athavli...(ani tyat tya sumya chi punctuality!)

Now tell me which was the worst?

mindpuzzle said...

@ ERPBuzz : Thanks for ur comments. I always look forward to them. They are source of encouragement for me. Whatever u said is absolutely correct.Even I felt that the story has abrupt and lackluster end . But I did not want to write a very long article and test patience level of others :D

mindpuzzle said...

@ Subhash : Bhava comment sathi khoop Dhanyavaad :). And its really tough for me to decide which of the 2 journeys were worst. But I can surely say that my worst ever journey by bus was that Tirupathi journey. Rickety and over crowded bus and bumpy road .. What more do u want !

ERPBuzz said...

Well, according to me, as long as you are holding the flow of the article, people (i mean readers here) will not loose the patience. Believe me, writing longer articles is quite challenging than to write shorter ones.
See, like the train incident happened with you, is quite common in everyone's life, but no one can express it in words (forget writing, people can't even say properly what happened with them). So certainly, if you could have elaborated lil more on 'that rude sardar's communication with you when he tried to snatch you ticket'.
Even the end could have been extended, but it was good that you truncated it rapidly, which shows your anger & frustration about the whole experience. Well, it is real tough job to become a seasoned writer but major problem in that process is TIME & that too quality time. By quality time I mean that, first you have free time & then your thoughts are free & you have a topic to write on & you have that burning inside to write. So I hope that you will continue to get this entire package frequently & write more for us.

Omkar said...

thats a good post... after reading it i feel lucky that i didnt go home ;)

Rohan Pandey said...

Lovely piece of article,

Enjoyed every bit of it. Nice articulation. I also face similar troubles, but now got so much habituated to all this stuff. This articles tastes too good. :-)