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Second Class Citizens

October 5, 2015

It has been some time  since I travelled by  train and a couple of years more by  the sleeper class/ second class of the Indian Railways, not counting the time when we chartered an entire coach for a team building exercise for the company.  There was an emergency, and the only available transport was by a sleeper class train, that had already started its journey from the originating station somewhere in the north of India, by the time I booked my ticket in it.

The train came in at the unearthly hour. Have to give it to them for arriving on the dot. The coaches were dark. It would be foolish on my part to believe that everyone would be staying awake with the lights on for me to get on the train. As I groped my way walking across compartments counting in multiples of eight, I reached what was supposed to my berth, an upper one. I lifted my bag and tried to put it on the berth and was met with some resistance. I switched on the flashlight on my mobile. There were 2 guys sleeping on my berth. They were lying in a position which probably Vatsyayana could not understand or was unable to describe in his Kamasutra. After considerable time I spent to wake them, they sat up to look at who was disturbing them in the middle of the night. In my broken Hindi, I established my territory. After wiping the berth with a piece of rag, which my wife had so thoughtfully packed in the side pouch of my bag, I climbed onto my berth. Getting a perfect 10 in an Olympic gymnastics event would be easier than getting onto and lying down comfortably on a upper berth of the Indian Railways. It required my creaky joints to be stretched to the maximum or should I say folded to the maximum? The adrenalin pumped into my blood stream was preventing me from going to sleep. I was also waiting for somebody to come and check my tickets. Nobody came. And finally as sleep embraced me, I heard a woman tell her husband that there was no water in the toilets. I smiled to myself as I plunged headlong into the land of sleep. It was a fitful sleep and I dreamt that I was being thrown into the concrete mixer with a woman who was repeatedly shouting there is no water, there is no water, by Amjad Khan dressed as   Vatsyayana  and the 2 guys I woke up as 2 of his disciples.

When I woke up it was seven in the morning. Good, I thought to myself, only 3 more hours before I get off this infernal contraption. I got down, with a bottle of mineral water, which I bought at the station. I usually carry a couple of water bottles, not that I drink so much water overnight. You would have realized why I smiled for the ‘there is no water in the toilet’ statement. There were 3 or 4 men standing near the wash basin. They moved aside when I opened the bottle, poured some water in my mouth, gargled furiously and looked for some place to spit it out. It always works, to ward off the people crowding near the wash basin. I spat out the water, marveling at the innovative floral designs that the railways incorporated on the basins. On closer examination, it turned out to be the handiwork of our Bihari brethren by spitting out the ‘Khaini juice’. I went into the loo. I am not going to give you a graphic description and make you want to throw up. It was a good thing that i suffer from anosmia. And yes there was no water in the coach. Finally when I got down, I forgot to note the coach number, without which any complaint would be incomplete

On the way back, the same day, the coach was a little better than by what I had travelled the previous night. But one of the fans was not working. I tried the age old trick I had learned in my childhood to make it work. I inserted my business card into the grill and hit the blades, but it didn’t budge. It was very stuffy, so I tried to open the window. I t wouldn’t stay up as there was no hole to latch it up. Presently a young Ticket Examiner came and checked my ticket. I told him about the fan, for which he promptly told me to crank it with my finger. When I told him that I had tried that too, he was a little taken aback, as if a great company secret has been decoded. I told him about the window too. This time he didn’t offer any quick fixes. Curtly he said he will send somebody to look into it. I wasn’t naïve to believe him, but the day’s events had depleted all my all strength to counter him. This time around it was a dreamless sleep. When I woke up I found that the train had made an unscheduled stop at a station, from where I could reach my house faster than the time that the train would take to reach its final destination. I quickly grabbed my bag and jumped out, just as the train started moving. Shucks, I had forgotten to note the coach number again.

For an institution that is the largest employer in India*, even overtaking the armed forces, is it inefficiency or is the Railways under-employed, so as not to address the issues mentioned above and more?

For a service that made a profit of US$ 2.4 Billion* in 2013-14, is it too much to expect better services, better coaches and better everything? As far as I know, air conditioned coaches are not better off. There have been  cases of rodents biting off passengers’ fingers at night.

How is that people tolerate such things, given that they pay money in advance for the services?

Is it because we have become perfect Indians, of being tolerant to things we shouldn’t be and intolerant to things we should be.

For those of you, who cannot follow the track, here is the translation (and not the transliteration)

Ambi:Father, mother, how are you? Hey Nandhini,how are you?

Chari: Chari

Ambi: Chari how are you?

Chari: I am fin…..  Oh my god, there was one good bloke called Ambi,you have castrated him and made him normal like everyone else.

At the station

Chari: Ambi you are going on your honeymoon, don’t repeat what you did while we went to Thiruvyaru (a place, refering to an earlier incident where Ambi makes a fuss over the conditions on the train)

Chari:What will you do if the food they serve is not good?

Ambi: I will adjust

Chari:What if the toilet stinks?

Ambi: I will hold my breath

Chari: And if the fan doesn’t work?

Ambi: I will crank it with my finger.

Chari: Excellent, you have become a perfect Indian. Enjoy the trip.

Video courtesy: Arvind {A clip from the movie Anniyan (Stranger) directed by Shankar}

  •  inputs from Wikipedia
10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 5, 2015 06:34

    But now they are going to give you free WiFi :/
    Sigh, from Time Immemorial, I have used the Indian Railway Service, though not over the past ten odd years, let me add, and things haven’t changed at all.

  2. October 5, 2015 18:36

    The railways are not going to improve. I heard about the vacuum toilets…it would be nice if it comes into operation!

    Anniyan should not have kept quiet!

  3. October 6, 2015 11:22

    LOL @ I dreamt that I was being thrown into the concrete mixer with a woman who was repeatedly shouting there is no water 😀
    We’re first class citizens in tolerating everything…its a sad state…
    But there are stations which are more clean than before. Things are happening but not at the speed we would like it happen.

  4. October 10, 2015 12:19

    The dream of getting thrown into the concrete mixer with the shouting woman was the best part!! Ha ha !! But I guess the way you blend it all into your article is simply incredible… It just makes me wonder each time what the next subject could probably be…. Thankyou Sir for giving us an insight into the Indian railways!!!!

    • October 17, 2015 19:08

      It is probably the most corrupt organisation in india

  5. venkata Ramana permalink
    October 10, 2015 15:34

    good one.a railway officials told me that most of services on board aspects are being outsourced to provide good travel experience.lets hope to get it done asap.your amjad Khan reminded me of vatsayana from shashi kapoor produced Rekha starter hindi film UTSAV.

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