Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Indian Railways Experience

Another journey (not of recent vintage) and some more stories. I travelled sleeper class this one time and the story is just the same as it was many years ago. People land up without reservation in reserved bogies and sit on the corner or clamber up to the berths on top. Most are offended that those who have reserved berths are not sharing what they have. While at that, they take full liberty to eat and mess up the berth before heading off at their station.

Travelling Ticket Examiners (TTEs) are pretty helpless and behave as if they have no power to deal with the unreserved people. They seem to think they have power only over the reserved class. So they look at the reserved guy and in a strict voice seek proof of id etc and look them up and down. They are not half as strict with the guy who has no reservation.

But what happens when it gets dark is interesting. There are those who have RAC but no confirmation and they are looking for any empty berth. They identify the berth, sneak up, sit for a while, bend over, snuggle and then stretch. This entire job may take about 20 minutes and they are fast asleep after that. If you have reserved that berth by some chance and wake the gentleman up, he gets very offended and gets off leaving a wet-with-drool berth for your enjoyment.

Where are the police? What if any of those guys was a robber? A terrorist? A bomber? What security does anyone have at all on the train. What's to prevent anyone from running off with bags, from molesting sleeping passengers, from hurting anyone? I heard of a mad man who stabbed a seven year old to death on the Secunderabad Railway Station - he could be on the train too.

Much of the reserved class experience in the train depends on the security and on the empowerment of the TTE to provide the facilities and a secure environment. But somehow the TTEs behave as if the reserved passenger is an intrusion in his life, not one of the purposes. Why would he be bothered about a reserved passenger after all because all the reserved passenger does is crib and complain. No water, loo is dirty, unreserved fellows are troubling, eunuchs and harassing, sheets are not here, beggars are robbing etc. The reserved passenger will not run after the TTE to beg his highness for favors, slip in some money. I will not generalise here but in my experience most TTEs have been this way though the odd TTE has been strong and clear enough to make the experience a good one.

Much energy is certainly for the reserved passenger in his constant endeavour to keep his space, his place, his bags, his berths, his cleanliness and at times his modesty secure. (There have been the odd experiences of people making passes at the opposite sex and sometimes at the same sex.) But like most things in India, gear up for it in advance, prepare well for these slight aberrations and all will be well. And while at that, its most times not as bad as this, so fear not dear traveller and hop on.

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