March 08, 2009

Travel Mesmerism: Indian Passenger Trains

In the Indian Railways, passenger trains happen to be the life line of a vast majority of Indian populace.  These trains connect important parts of the length and breadth of the country.  There are various advantageous factors for which these trains are called darling of the crowd.  First of all fares are always subsidized and in a majority of cases happen to be less than the known mediums of surface transport like buses or trippers.  They also stop at all stations; small or big and even can stop anywhere as people tend to bend rules and pull Alarm Chain near their point of choices.  These trains also carry goods from one place to another as they stop everywhere and stoppage time is flexible for loading commodities.  These trains help in migrating both labor forces and commodities at moderate to low prices thereby contributing in a significant way to the economic development of India. 

Those trains that start early in the morning and connect important places of tourist interest or district headquarters are always happen to be jam-packed for touring people, office commuters and railway staff. 

One morning, I and one of my friends Prem got a chance to board a morning train.  The train that connects many important business centers and district headquarters was to start sharp at 8.10 o’clock. 

“Tea, tea, tea.  Rupees 3 a cup.  Worse than worst.”

“Idli, sambar, bada.  Rupees 5 a plate.” 

“Cofee-tea, coffee-tea.” The ranting of the vendors was shrilling.  Still, no one would complain against them. 

We were sitting by the window, face to face to maintain a little bit of privacy and ensure an undisturbed journey.  Window seats happen to be two that happens to face a coupe of nine seats.  And the coupe to the left was lying vacant.  One passenger came and began spreading a towel, his bags.  By doing so he was just reserving seats for his colleagues.  As staff travel early in the morning, they know very well who will be joining them in the way where and when.  Interestingly, they would join with one another as they maintain travelling in the rear bogey.  Or when they find the rear bogey jam-packed the person coming from the source station would wave them to join.  Indian railway is known for its role in fostering brotherhood and goodwill relationship. 

After sometime he brought out his cell phone, dialed a number and straight away phone was glued to his ear.  “Yea, I have reached; the train will start after sometimes.  Boys have gone to school?”  Oh, I see.  Okay, disconnect now, I will be calling you once I reached the destination.” Obviously, he was calling his wife.  Then he brought out an old crumpled diary and began surfing the brownish pages.  He brought out a piece of paper and a pen.  He began noting a phone number as straight away he began entering numbers and again glued to his ear.  When he knew he was through he switch on his speaker though the phone was still glued to his ear. 

“Hello, who are you speaking?” “I am Natu.” “Oh, Jivan.  Good morning,” Natu said.

“Good morning,” Jivan wished. 

“Where are you man, I have reserved room for you and you are nowhere to be seen though the train is about to start,” Natu said.

“I am right near you and will be joining you after sometimes.”  “So, let me disconnect, I am in the rear coach.” 

“Morning News, Hindustan, Telegraph, Sambad…” A newspaper hawker entered the coach  and began crying out all the names of newspaper in the vernacular, national and English languages. 

We bought two newspapers; one in Hindi language and other one in English language.  My friend started reading the front page of the English daily.  One started eyeing the back page as his head bend to an odd position.  Another one came and stood just behind my friend and started reading the page my friend was reading. My friend only smiled seeing me smiling.  He was perhaps wanted to tell me something like, “Look, can I read the newspaper without depriving both readers?”

I tried to change the subject and said, “Hey stop reading, let’s hop to cross word.”  

“Okay, that’s good, will read later,” he said and we started immersing ourselves in solving the Crossword and the Jumble. 

“Look, the nonsense Sehwag.  Why the selectors have been picking him consistently, god knows.  Trying to convert every ball into six and in this nonsense effort he gets out and put unnecessary pressure on the team,” someone started the ball rolling.

“And what about Zahir, who comes to ball in the slog over and ends up giving at least two full toss balls for the batsmen to party,” another one summed up.

Post cricket match, post mortem and blame game is one of the favorite time pass of Indians.

“Leave Sehwag and Zahir, our captain Dhoni comes and go.  Always throws his wicket.”

“He gives a good catch practice.”  Haha.  All laughed with the person.

“Even they play the wide balls and crumble like nine pins.”

“Oops, Raina and Yubraj miss catches, can you believe?” someone asked.

“Complete failure in every department of the game,” someone summed up.

“I think the new uniform is ominous to our team.  The earlier blue one was good and lucky,” someone remarked.

We were silent as we had our Crossword and Jumble to do.  We saw our Hindi daily parted to the maximum and everyone seemed to be reading a part. Having finished going through his page, someone was waiting others to finish reading to swap his part.

Two persons were doing Sudoku.  One was reading classifieds and some were discussing politics another favorite topic on time pass in India. 

“Hey, take this page and give me the page that of yours.”

“Wait man, let’s finish the Sudoku.”

“Look, the interim budget had little for us.”

“It’s just an interim budget as general election is round the corner.  Further interim budget always happens to be so,” another one showed his knowledge.

“Still, Income Tax limit should have been raised as the Sixth Pay Commission has enhanced payments of all and sundry.”

“I’m yet to get the enhanced scale.  The clerks are doing nothing, perhaps posted to deduct income tax.”

“Yes, now take this, we have finished doing Sudoku.” They swapped their pages of the newspaper.

The train was moving slowly.  The sun came up and dispelled the cold wave.  Scenery after scenery was passing along.  We had no knowledge that the staff sitting just next to us were playing cards.  Playing cards is another favorite time pass in trains.  They would spread a towel and cover as many as four laps, thereby making an even centre to facilitate card dropping. 

I brought out my water bottle and quaffed two or three draughts of water.  Then I too a sip of tea to freshen up my sleeping mind beaten by morning sluggishness.  As the train passed stations after stations, it was being crowded with passengers standing on the isle.

We finished solving our Crossword and Jumble and searched for our Hindi daily.  We asked the boy who had taken the newspaper from us. Interestingly, he was not having even a portion as pages were being transferred from person to person.  Still after sometimes he brought the Front Page and told to bring other pages after a while.  Our station was approaching near.  Crumbled pages of the newspaper were being passed to us by and by.

At last the boy told, “Sir, someone has damaged a page wiping his seat.  I’ am very sorry for that.  And with your permission, I am taking the Appointment Page,” he said and smiled.

“It happens many people love to read begging and peeping,” I said.

“But what’s the value of Rs.2/-,” my friend remarked.

Our train stopped at our destination.  We alighted delightedly though we could not read our newspaper properly. 

This is the first of the series of writing on Indian train.  The second part will be posted very soon for your reading. 

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