Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Indian Railways Experience

Last night Shobha, Anjali, Raja and I took the Dakshin Express (a.k.a Hazrat Nizamuddin Express) that travels from Hyderabad to Delhi, to travel to Nagpur. Since the tain was to leave at 2230 hrs, we left home by a cab at 2115 hrs, making room for any possible traffic jams. Of course there were none, and we landed up at the Nampally Railway station by 2140 hrs. The station was barricaded with sandbags and there was a small army of cops guarding it. We wheeled our luggage through a metal detector which beeped as usual which indicates God knows what, and we entered a crowded, smelly, sweating station full of passengers looking to get away somewhere. Of course, there was no place to sit and barely enough to stand.

We waited and waited until there was an announcement that the train would leave at 2240 then 2245 and then 2250 and then in a dramatic change, the train's arrival itself become 2300 hrs. By now, we were all rather tired and were considering other options to travel. Just then, the train backed itself into the platform and we walked about a few kilometres before finding our compartment. We needed to board B2 but we found an A2 and then a compartment which was just 2. 2??? After some initial confusion we, experienced as we were, deduced that this must be the errant B2 and checked the lists to confirm. Our names were on it. Yes!

Have the trains become small or what? Everything was crowded and cramped in this 3rd AC compartment. You move this way and something gets stuck into somebody, you move that way and someone might get poked in the eye. Spreading those sheets, the blankets and all that complicated a/c stuff is another huge well coordinated activity with everyone clearing the way as one person does it and then another. The helpful attendant came and told me that he would get the pillow covers for the stained pillows (some red stains, blood??) and leave them - we could get them on the pillows ourselves, or wait for him. I told him I'd wait for him.

A very unfriendly sort of TTE was around. A young girl asked him if he could help (not knowing that helping is not part of his job description of course, his job is to make life as difficult as he can for anyone with a request) since they have an elderly person travelling and there was no lower berth. He very rudely and loudly told her that there were no vacancies and there was nothing he could do. Only after much pleading did he concede enough to even tell her that maybe she could request someone else (what a solution!). One wants to intervene and tell these guys off but one does not, because that could do more harm than good to the girl and her elderly relative.

The toilets had toilet paper rolls which was an improvement and one could see the attendant rushing around with new rolls. (Hopefully not bought at the Commonwealth prices.) However the loo doors were rusty and cranky and would not shut properly, the flush would not work (all which would not surprise any true blue railways traveller) and the attendants and the TTE behaved as if we were all intruding into their private heaven. I am 6 feet 2 in and since the berths are 6 ft in length, all night I had people banging into my feet and carrying them off with them. (Who asked you to grow so tall? We should charge you a tallness surcharge for inconveniencing others).

Not to put the railways down or anything - just recording what goes on and how much we put up with. On the plus side was the air conditioning which was good, we did not freeze as we normally do and wake up with rigor mortis, our co-passengers were decent people (i.e. did not start drinking as soon as the train took off since they were both really old and only insisted on changing clothes right there), and, well nothing seriously untoward happened (like bumping into another train, dacoits, etc).

We arrived at Nagpur right on time despite starting almost an hour behind schedule. How did we do that? At Nagpur I found no board indicating that it was Nagpur - or otherwise - not one. That is if one does not count the board of the Police Station, Nagpur or something like that on the platform. We assumed that it must be Nagpur, again using our experience as railway travellers (wonder how any new comer would make out that its the Nagpur station - the one clear board was outside the station!).

Anyway, we hopped off. Here we come Nagpur, where we'll stay for the next few days!

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