May 28, 2011

A tribute to the Indian Railways
                                        ...Abdul Wajid Parray

It was summer time and I was happy as a clam. Well my joy was obvious; I was going back my home, Kashmir, my paradise. I was happy because I was returning to my heaven after very long plus I had tolerated enough of the scorching heat staying outside Kashmir and it was now the time for me to rejuvenate my lost ATPs.

Feeling so joyful, I full-heartedly send off an "adieu" to my college mates and to the sizzling-hot Kurukshetra, the place where I study my academics.

With each passing second, my excitement kept aggrandizing endlessly alas my delight didn’t last long. I had no idea that my enthusiasm will die up very soon following some discontented events that I experienced during the course of my trip.

The reason for my anxiety was that I had no plan to go home so early so I had made no reservation for my travel. At first I was of the opinion to go by air but I needed some deep pockets for that...Ha-ha. My second option was by bus but I hardly ever opt for that since I am not comfortable with the boneshaker machine. I usually prefer to travel by train because it is the best option you can have following airline and most of the times it comes in handy when your fortune is penniless. But this all works only if you have a legitimate pass because if you travel without a pass and don’t know the arithmetic of dodging the Ticket-Collector then it is for sure that you will be deeply in hot waters, I must say. In worst case you may end-up in a jail also. Having the sense of all these facts I left no stone unturned to get a ticket for myself but everything that I tried seemed a failure. Even the Tatkal (emergency reservations) proved helpless. Despite of all such odds I overlooked the downsides and decided to go home anyway, by hook or crook. I made the decision without much intuition probably because my extreme fervour for going back to home had sealed all my thinking gateways. I failed to see anything except my home and the only thing that kept circulating my head was home, home and again home.

With such an eagerness of reaching home, I reached the station one hour before the train’s arrival. I was fearful because I had failed to get a reservation but fortunately I had bought a general ticket pass to travel through by law. A well-wisher had suggested me to do that. The procedure was to get the general ticket and show it to the TC and pay him some extra bucks, as per law, to get his nod. So I was casting my last hope for the idea will work.

I kept waiting anxiously for the train and with each passing moment my nervousness kept fluctuating but when the train arrived I was completely dumbfounded and all my dreams seemed to get shattered at once. To my surprise I found the train was jam-packed to its fullest. Getting oneself adjusted was not easier than some herculean task; so I stepped back and didn’t boarded the train.After this disappointing moment I was surrounded by my emotions meeting my homies and I started to regret for why I let the train go?
Fortunately as an answer to my pray, I heard some announcement about another similar train to Jammu and now I made my mind to go by this train in any case. Time passed as such and soon the said train arrived at the station. But as bad luck would have it for me, it also had the same tale.

Now I was in two minds, confused whether to retrace back or move forward. My mind was ordering me to go back but my heart was beating the tunes for home. I was about to leave the spot but within two minutes the train started moving on and with that the wrangle between my mind and my heart started increasing. At last it was my heartily desire that won over my mindful decision. So down to my hearts pleas I went on and in a flash I jumped into the moving train without much thinking. Ho-hum! It was a close shave and this time I was lucky.

When I jumped in then to my astonishment I found it was all booked, in fact over booked. Fortunately I found the TT but fatefully even after paying some extra 300 bucks he had no share for me, as per his figures. If I tot up my expenses I paid around 400 bucks (300+100 for general ticket) that was almost double the normal fare and the annoying part was that I paid these darling bucks just to sit on the filthy floor of the coach. Even more sadistic thing was that the floor was also occupied by other unlucky men like me.

After scrambling my limbs in all the directions in attempts for getting a seat, I finally got a little space on the dirty floor just near the coach door. The more ugly part of my sadistic story was that the place I rested my poor self was just next the coach toilet, indeed a dirty one.

I knew it was not a good idea at all but I was helpless. I swear that I never had smelled anything so bad than that...Yuk! Only God knows exactly how I was able to breathe in such a toxic atmosphere. Ho! How very repulsive time was it for me, I wonder.

Before this experience I was of the opinion that the Anna –Hazzare effect will be visible in the Indian working system but once I tasted my bad time I realized that was just in my dreams. I was almost thunderstruck when I myself saw the TT selling the seats for high fortunes to other purse-proud people. I wondered from where he was giving these seats when he kept eliminating the possibility for any vacant one. I further wondered why I was left as such barehanded at the mercy of God; probably because he thought I could not fill his greedy tummy up to its brim. ‘Pathetic’ was the only word I could utter.

I moved from one coach to another in chase of some proper space but to no avail. After struggling for my survival, I finally gave up and sat myself on the same ticky-tacky floor of the coach thinking as if a dog`s life would be worse than this.

I was feeling very uncomfortable and the thing that was scaring me the most was how to pass my ugly hours. It was not a matter of two or three hours that I could pass with no trouble while doodling with my mobile phone but the scary part was that it was a trip of more than 10 hours and that too the midnight hours. As my displeasure turned into my frustration I started to pen-down this write-up. As such an hour or so passed all right, Alhamdulillah! But passing ten hours like this was a hard nut to crack. At one time it seemed like hours were transforming into years no movement at all. Now I turned a bit heavy-eyed and I was desperately in need of some good nap. So I wrapped up my body over my bag, bended my knees up to my arms and rested my head on them. For some time I was quite relieved off my boredom but every time I succeeded in catching some Z's, I was poked by one passerby or the other saying "bhai sahib... thoda side hojawo!!". So my sleeping therapy didn’t work either.

As a part of my ironical story which was singular in its own way, I met a boozing old man who was all boozed in liquor. He was asking me for a matchbox to light-up his little cigarette stub. The laughing part is that he was offered me some 500 bucks for a petite match...ha-ha! At one time I was thinking to do some good math with the old man and teach him a lesson but then I said nah! My good self felt pity on his pitiable condition.

I kept cursing my fate for showing me such a harsh time but then I realised that I was not the only unfortunate one who suffered like this. There were many alike me. When I looked around I found people scattered over the floor like cheap rags dispersed in some heap of dust. Three to five persons were sitting on each berth that was worth a single being only. The panorama in the train was presenting a memoir of the mass exodus of Jews by the Nazi’s when people in colossal numbers were forced to move out and pushed into the train coaches. The living condition of the travellers was poor like rats.

My trouble was multiplying like cancer and I was not getting any space. Then out of the blue, a gentleman approached me with a slim smile on his face. I could vividly see some kindness in his squinted eyes and then thankfully he offered me some space to rest myself over his berth. Bingo! God heard me, I said to myself. I thanked the gentleman for his help; for me he was much like a god-send angel in humane form.

Although my trip proved quite daunting for me but at the end I reached home safe and sound, thanks to the railway. That’s why I presented my experience as a tribute to the Indian railway.

Despite of the trouble I met, there were many things I learned out of it. Below mentioned are some bitter facts that got revealed before me and that need to ask to the railway boss:

• Alcohol; it’s free to use despite of the ban by the authorities. Although you cannot carry liquor in the train but passing some cash to the policeman will do the trick for you. May I ask why?

• Emergency ticketing aka tatkal; not up to the mark at all. What about extreme emergencies?

• Smoking; it’s not a big deal. Can you answer?

• Stealing; ha! That’s a daily tale. Better watch your footwear else you will have to move out bare footed.

• Bribe; Well I don’t think rail can move without that. May I ask where is Anna-Hazzare’s Lok pal bill?

• Ladies comfort; NOT AT ALL. Eve-teasing and other threats are order of the day.

• Overloading; it’s out of control. Why? I ask.

No doubt the afore-mentions points may seem hard to digest to some of my dear readers but some good things I learned were also a part of my parable. Here I go with the positives-

• Never travel without a legitimate pass.

• Prefer AC couch, particularly if your gender is female.

• Plan your trip well; avoid taking unnecessary risks.

• And yes one more thing; never try to jump into a running train as I did. Like I said, I was lucky enough to pass-by else I would not have been alive to write this note for you today.

Lastly I would like to share one more thing. Before my travel I was of the opinion that my journey would be a normal one. But NO it was not; unfortunately. It was out of the ordinary one, much like a theatre movie, full of drama, emotion, humour, anger, and yes certainly a good lesson. The director of this movie was some railway bigwig where as the meagre passengers played the actors' part along with me, the unfortunate protagonist.

All this was a part of my chronicle, a bad one but indeed a learning one.

Have a safe and happy journey ahead!!!


Author: Abdul Wajid Parray.
Engineering student at Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra Haryana.

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