Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Railways and Good Intentions

Having recently undertaken a rail trip and then having read many complaints against the railways in the newspapers in the last few days I am driven to recount the highlights of this journey from Hyderabad to Hubli and back. As we stepped into the Kachegua railway station came the first incongruity. The policeman at the gate let the porter with all our luggage into the platform from beside the metal detector but was insistent that we go under the metal detector. Is luggage exempt from metal detection? I could pack the luggage with all kinds of stuff and all I need to do is hire a porter and it gets by safely.

The train came on a new platform in Kacheguda, which was so far from the entrance that it took almost half an hour for someone to find us on the platform! That was avoided by us because we had a porter who took us right to the doorstep.
Then came the next hitch. There was no way I could check if I was getting into the right coach as the passenger list was smudged and despite spending almost ten minutes on it, could not decipher it. So I got in with a prayer hoping that it would go to Hubli and not some other place.

The air conditioning worked, the lights worked, the loos were clean, the blankets were supplied. The hitch was that there were a few guys who were hawking stuff all night inside the compartment, at 12 in the night, selling chikki for Gods's sake!

The next morning we got an enthusiastic chap who wanted to take orders for breakfast at 7 a.m. Our neighbour instantly wanted to order. The man told him that the breakfast would be served at Hubli at 10 a.m. Our neighbour cancelled his order as he had to get off at Hubli too!

On the return journey I found that the compartment had a few railway employees who played cards for most of the night at the corner. They had a phone playing some fine Hindi music but they shut it off when I asked them to.

But it was the loo that showed all the right intentions. It had a western loo. But the cover had come off and was broken. It was lying on the floor tangled in a passionate embrace with the steel mug that is tied to the toilet with a steel chain. The flush was on strike. There was a holder for liquid soap but no container nor soap. There was a remnant of a tissue holder and a scrap of tissue on it. There was also, if I am not mistaken, a deodoriser, which hung on the wall. The tap in the sink was too tight to press. All in all, good intentions all of them, gone awry. It would have been a good loo if all were functional.

One huge problem with the air conditioned coaches is that you can see nothing outside from the smudged windows. No information about the stations, where we are. I had to go, open the door and check. What do old people do?

For the first time in my life I encountered the young attender who gives out blankets and pillows asking for chai paisa. Never have I encountered any railway attendant asking for a tip. They normally do their job efficiently and go away. And this guy looked so young, that he might have just been recruited. What was his hurry? I normally do tip, when there is good courteous service but something about the way the boy asked for the tip put me off. I refused and asked him to move on. At which he dropped all pretences of being polite and courteous and made off in a
huff. But on both journeys the TTEs were polite and on time when the journey began though I did not seem them later.

The train was on time. The Begumpet plaftform was full of auto drivers and taxi drivers looking for fares. The Telangana bandh had given them a new perspective to business.

It works, Indian Railways. It has good intentions. It is almost there. Just a little bit of finishing will make it so much better. I remember travelling in some coaches where it was an absolute pleasure - from the cleanliness, the lighting, the service, the amenities that worked - that I could not but gush about it. And then most others are just about there, pretty much. Just this much short from fulfilling all those good intentions.

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