Since my hometown is yet to be connected by Indian Railways, I never had a chance for a personal travel by train. Most of my train journeys were official and in air-conditioned classes with a different group of people who will be running out of time and never even find time to smile at fellow passengers.
During the back to back train travel last week, I noticed a lot of interesting things. I was traveling by S2 this time which was a totally different experience than what I had in mind.
I have seen people updating their facebook status cursing the IRCTC website. Keeping all that in mind and negative thoughts looming large, I logged into the infamous IRCTC website and tried my luck to get a Tatkal ticket for the next day’s journey. When I logged in the time was 11.53 am. Did a quick search for the train checked the availability and proceeded to payment. The entire process got over when the time was 11.57 am. I couldn’t believe that I was able to book a tatkal ticket in four minutes flat. Beginner’s luck, perhaps, I wondered.
As soon as I entered the Railway station, I noticed that there was a mad rushing crowd. The crowd largely comprised of people either receiving/ sending their beloved ones or people who were running behind the railway coolies to locate their coach or vendors trotting up and down the platform trying to sell their wares: mineral water, fruits and stuff. It was a grand live drama being enacted in the railway platform!
In this internet saga, where there were lots of means to know the ticket status, reservation charts were displayed on platforms (much to my amusement) around which people always crowded sometimes standing on tiptoe craning their necks to find out their status/seat numbers. Out of curiosity I too was one among the crowd, feeling childlike happiness and heaving a sigh of relief on seeing my name in the list :-) and at the same time having a sms confirmation in my mobile.
The train started on time. The real fun of traveling begins as soon as you board the train and when your role changes from that of a spectator to that of a participant. Immediately after the train leaves the station, the first pantry-walah appears with a sing-song, ‘Chai garam masala chai.’
Then there comes bread-omelette, bondas/samosas, mineral water and cool drink bottles, masala dosas and tomato soups. The sad part is none of these items are sold in single. Irrespective of whether you want it or not, you are forced to buy in even numbers only.
Every few minutes, a beggar comes begging for small change. Most beggars tend to be old or people with some deformity.
Then there are the bottle collectors regularly doing the rounds of compartments. They are on the lookout for empty plastic bottles. The labels of goods brands of bottled water clearly mention Please crush this bottle after use, even then travelers hand over these bottles happily instead of crushing them.
A blind man or a couple comes selling toys, needles and plastic covers for ration cards etc..
The moment you hear claps in the background, you know they are there. Yes the transgenders frequent compartments demanding money from passengers. They are not satisfied if you give them anything less than ten rupees. If you do not pay them, be ready for a round of choicest abuse in their native language. If they are the really persisting type, they might even lift their saris.
Then you have the illegal hawkers trying to compete with pantry wallas, else selling local snacks – such as sundal, pattani, verkadalai etc.. who add to the experience of traveling on the Indian Railways.
And what is a rail journey without 'timepass'? That's what peanuts are referred to. And these hawkers sell them. Travellers really enjoy this timepass, but end up creating a whole lot of dirt on the floor.
Thus the spectator became a participant! The preliminary requisite while travelling in a train is that you need to carry various denominations of currencies. Otherwise you will be easily fooled with the cliched line, “No change sir.”
Most of the passengers were seen fiddling with their droid/apple gadgets. Kids were playing their favorite games in those gadgets, youths were listening to music and chatting away with their beloved ones through whatsapp and when the connectivity is hampered, they send sms. Old people with books like Bhagavad Gita ardently pore over the pages as the journey goes on.
The railway stations were also well equipped with LED sign boards, and clean granite flooring, bright fluorescent lamps and toilets too. Not like the ones we see in movies, where there is only a station master who waves off the flag with a lantern light.
Rail journeys provide people with myriad memories, lead to events that makes one smile many years down the line with such beautiful sighting of greeneries of our city, buffaloes bathing in small ponds, paddy fields with wind blowing hard, kids near the railway gates waving bye to the passengers irrespective of whoever they are . . .
Life itself is like a long train journey . . . only if we pause and wonder at the sights and smells around us every day.