Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Trains Strain

At the risk of sounding like Mahesh Bhatt, I must acknowledge that trains and railways have been an integral part of my life.

As Indians, we take some sort of pride in quoting off facts and figures related to the Railways. Largest network in the world, the largest employer among government agencies, has been running since 150 years, all of that.

And yet deep within, we all know the truth.

Indian Railways is the largest network of shitpiles running across the length and breadth of the country. Like most government amenities in the country, those of us who can afford to bypass the realities of our country choose to travel by air, or in AC compartments.

When the government announced the hike in train fares last week, the responses weren’t exactly what you’d call surprising.

The opposition cried foul and lambasted the anti-poor move, the ruling party said it was necessary to upgrade the railways, and Times of India quickly drafted an article called ‘5 Reasons why Katrina Kaif’s dog might be fucking Abhay Deol’s cat’.

But what’s done is done. The fares have been hiked and after a little grumbling, we will all move on to other things. What is surprising however, is that nobody is asking what really is the plan from here on. 14% is not a lowly figure by any means, and since the Railways are not auto-rickshaws where we can bargain and heckle, we have no option but to pay the amount.

But what really is the plan? What does the government plan to do with the additional choda pratishat that it is charging us?

One cannot discuss the Railways without feeling like Aparichit – The Stranger. Without feeling an intense rage to bash a few heads, and then dance with Sada in a blond wig.

I am a reasonably practical person. I am not asking for IRCTC to be running with clockwork precision. Surely I know the difference between being an informed citizen and a writer of fantasy. But have you wondered what could be done with the money?

Here are a few things to begin with.

  1. Cleanliness: Indian trains are grime-boxes on wheels. Go to any compartment (except 1st AC, of course – politicians travel in those), and you can see it for yourself. The windows have layers of brown-black hash all along the borders. The floors have a strange stink that people tend to romanticize as ‘the unmistakable smell of trains’.

People eat groundnuts and throw the shells on the floor, till that handicapped boy can sweep it off while he begs for alms. Hawkers, joyriders, and lovers of women and aesthetics pop in at any given station, sprawl themselves across seats and litter it like they are the descendents of Shah Jahan.

For how long?

If we as a nation are particular about cleanliness, we need to prove it. Modi is supposed to be finicky about cleanliness and hygiene. I wish he took a 2nd class journey from Vishakapatnam to Calcutta. It’d be amusing to see how clean his kurta would be at the end of the journey.

Littering trains is as good as pissing on roads and scribbling ‘I love Champa’ across historical monuments. How about running surprise checks and fining people who litter trains? It won’t even cost the Railways additional money. With the amount of littering we Indians indulge in, the Railways coffers would be overflowing with funds.

 

  1. Food.

Remember the days when food on the Railways was piping hot and lip-smacking delicious?

Yeah? You must have grown up in Australia, then. Because as far as I can remember, food on the train always sucked like an intergalactic vacuum cleaner. Every new Railways minister talks of measures to assure meals at affordable prices. But if you look at the Rail Aahar food, with their Shit-idlis and Crap-sambar menus, you will run straight back into your compartment and buy Tiger biscuits.

Chicken biriyani smells of egg and tastes of rubber. Vadas have oil on them, that has already been tasted by about 17 trainflies before it reached your berth. Daal was prepared by someone reading Oliver Twist, and rotis are prepared by expert craftsmen in Lacoste.

If all the food prepared on trains is outsourced to catering agencies, why should the 24 million people who take trains everyday pay the price for it?And even in the food department, there is a clear divide between the rich and the poor. The food in AC compartments at least smells like food. In Sleeper class, you have to close your eyes, think of your mother’s homecooked food, gulp down as quickly as you can, and then rush to the toilets.

railways lunch

With my extra 14%, will I be guaranteed better food?

 

  1. Security

We are no strangers to horrific stories that occur on trains. Women are raped, ticketless travelers are often pushed out of running trains, women are heckled at, and TTEs quietly add to their daughters’ marriage fund.

There are also stories where army men have raped women on trains, where dacoits have entered compartments at night to rob all the people in it. All this in spite of a well entrenched Railway Police Force that is supposed to look into the worries of the people.

And yet, all I have seen the RPF personnel on train do, is to take ‘rounds’ a few times in the night, to haul up ticketless travelers and smokers. If 72 people in a coach are paying 14% extra on their train fares, is it far-fetched to expect one security personnel for every two compartments? Can the government guarantee that much?

 

  1. Advertising on Trains

This move has been discussed quite a few times, and every single time, a Left politician rises from his grave, dusts off his clothes, coughs ‘anti-poor’, and goes back to the grave.

Our trains run across a mind-boggling network of 115000 kilometres. If the government was indeed serious about greater revenues, how about doing the sane thing of leasing out spaces on the train for companies to advertise?

It has been experimented with in phases, but most trains in our country still have ‘I love Champa want sex call me I love you Pooja penis vagina I like sex do you?’ scribbled all across them. Train fares are a common occurrence in our times, with every 5 year term witnessing one or two hikes in price. Why not tap into a resource instead of hiking prices whenever conscious pricks through your expensive safari suits?

As it is, our politicians do whatever the fuck they want with the Railways – announce trains, coach-building factories in their native constituencies, and name trains after their favourite sons of the soil. Who can forget those horrific Duronto Express trains that were introduced during Mamta Banerjee’s times?

taarezameen01_thumb

 

  1. Toilets.

Frankly, I could live with any of the above not being implemented, if only this one issue was sorted out.

After 150 years, our trains still have holes for toilets. So if you summoned up the courage to go to the toilet, and are trained enough in anulom-vilom to control your breath for the entire duration, you get to shit all over the country.

In fact, if you take the Himsagar Express, you could shit all across the length of the country – from the Himalayas, to the Ganga plains, to the ghats. You can crap over waterfalls and plains and plateaus, and hills and rivers. The entire country is your dumping ground.

We want to ban manual scavenging, but don't mind shitting on the tracks. PC: Tehelka.

We want to ban manual scavenging, but don’t mind shitting on the tracks. PC: Tehelka.

Not if you’re rich, though. If you’re rich, you get to travel in 1st AC. In there, if you look down from your iPhone, you’d notice that your toilet has a system where your shit goes into a tank which is flushed out later at a station. Which makes sense, because you’re rich. Your shit shouldn’t fall on the floor like other commoners, to be eaten by pigs and stray dogs.

But like I said, if you aren’t rich, you can shit all over the country. Hate Maharastrians? Take a train, order chicken biriyani from the pantry car, and dump all over the state. Dislike Tamilians? Ask for idli-sambar, and watch down the hole with amazement as your insides melt into gooey yellow water and line up the entire state.

Ah! The little joys that the Railways bring to our life!

Frankly, it is quite astounding that after 150 years in operation, nobody even thought about it. Not one official in the Railways walked up to a minister and said, ‘Sir, do we need to do something about all the shit that falls out of trains?’

Which is all the more shocking because we are a country with severe sanitation and hygiene problems. And it is not like the trains run through our malls, cities, and expressways. Most trains run on outskirts of cities, where we can dump our shit in front of farms and slums, because who gives a fuck anyway?

 

If we have truly entered the era of responsible governance, surely there must be a plan to modernize the Railways? A quick 10 point agenda that the Railways ministry might want to share on their social networking pages (in Hindi if need be)?

If all the millions of people who are traveling on trains are going to pay 14% extra everyday, can they at least expect clean toilets?

Does anybody, for want of a worse pun, give a shit?

 

*

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Game of Bahus

We all have skeletons in our closets – big, small, heavy, or inconsequential.

I have a giant Smriti Irani-sized skeleton in mine. Why?

Because I used to watch saas-bahu serials as a kid.

Yeah, go ahead. Snigger.

*

Around the time when the saas-bahu genre was at its zenith (the late 90s, early 2000s), I was among its billions of consumers who stayed up waiting to watch what would happen the next day. I watched Kkusum, Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki, and Kyunki Saas Bahu Thi (in that order, not as if I had a choice in the matter).

With the school’s subtle hints at avoiding TV and films during holidays, my folks ensured I was insulated from all sorts of bad in the world by locking up the TV in an almirah. But they couldn’t do the same with my relatives and so during summers, I stayed at their place and got a glimpse of the evil world that lay in store for me.

It began in a very inconsequential manner – I would be reading the newspaper in the same room, and look up every now and then to see what was going on. Gradually, they expect you to be there when the show starts. On a good day, they even call you into the room when the tunes of the title song begin playing.

On days when I had done something evil (like not going to a temple to attend bhajans), I did not have the license to watch the serials unabashedly. I would lie down on the cot and squint out of the corner of the eye. Or pretend to be asleep, my ears eagerly soaking in every word that the television offered.

And on a good day, I would sit bang in front of the television and gape right at it.

The stories affected me.

When Kkusum faced problems at work, I rooted for her success. If only that smug asshole boss of hers would appreciate the problems she faced back at home. And why were Om’s and Parvati’s children being such nutcases? Why couldn’t they see that their parents had their best wishes in mind? And poor Tulsi. Why wouldn’t Gomzee just see that his mother is only looking out for his best interests? That Ganga might not be as innocent as she plays herself out to be? Why do they not understand? Why? Why??

But cruel as life is, just when I was comfortable with the storylines and the characters – Bam! –summer holidays would end. Come June, and I had to return to the school. There was just one another guy in the class who watched TV serials (or at least admitted to it). I discussed as much as I could with him, informing him of my theories, and listening to his justifications.

In the next ten months, I would think of the shows fondly, wondering what was going on. I thought of the characters and their lives. The songs ran in my head every once in a while, and after carefully ensuring there was nobody around, I would hum the tunes under my breath.

There was simply no information about my favourite shows anywhere, it was like Azkaban in a way. Normally, newspapers have an entire page devoted to TV shows, some of them even venturing into broad summaries of the week’s proceedings. But The Hindu being The Hindu, it chose instead to regale us with the latest figures of buffalo vaccinations in the state, leaving banalities of TV shows to lesser newspapers.

But when you are a teenager, you have other things on your mind, you move on with life, stumbling through your obstacles. And just like that, the ten months of school would be over, and I would be back again, at home.

*

Now, going back to a TV show was tricky as hell.

Firstly, I couldn’t simply plop myself in front of the television and start watching the shows. I had to prove that I had better things to do, and was watching the shows only because I had no other option.

So I would spend the afternoons doing the stupid homework that the school gave, reading novels on the sly, or cycling like a maniac out on the roads. Afternoons seemed like molten wax flowing down a slide at an agonizing pace. Evenings sped past a little faster, and when it was night, the theme songs would waft into the room, I would pick up the newspaper, and walk into the TV room innocuously.

But that wasn’t the end of the complications. Half the characters from last year  would have simply vanished from the show. Some of them were dead, some had come back from the dead, others had gone through a plastic surgery, or leaped 20 years ahead in time.

And it wasn’t as if I could simply turn around and ask, ‘Mother dearest, what happened to Tulsi’s nephew, that Sahil fellow?’

So the first week back at home involved stock-taking. I had to deduce what was happening, grasping at strings of hints that the show offered me, drawing links and analyzing family relations. In the absence of a Wikia or the internet, I had to use my superb deduction skills to understand the characters.

And just when I got comfortable and involved in the lives of others – Bam! – back to school again.

*

And so the cycle went on and on.

But when you reach your late teens, you have other issues at hand. Pimples, shitty jobs, and a girlfriend.

I stopped watching home-grown TV shows, opting instead for F.R.I.E.N.D.S because a girl I had the hots for in college kept raving about it. A friend of mine had a ten DVD set of the series, and I simply had to slide the colourful chapathi into the machine and watch all the episodes one after the other.

The only TV show that I began watching earnestly on cable television was Kyle XY, which I later learnt had gotten horrible reviews and was stopped after two seasons.

Somehow, I did not have the same connection with angrez shows. Yes, they were funny, and moving, and stirred parts of my body that Tulsi and Parvati would not dare consider, but they weren’t my own. They belonged to a different culture, a different universe.

And then, came Game of Thrones.

cersei-and-margaery-cersei-lannister-35787582-4250-2820

Having first heard of it across a bonfire with Old Monk in my hand, I had stayed away from the show since I had never felt a connect with the fantasy genre. But the raves got too much to handle last year, and I finally decided to give the show a chance.

So hooked was I, that I began reading the books, and having finished all of them, am one of the legions of fans who prays for the long life of George RR Martin on a daily basis.

Even if I know what’s going to happen in the next episode, I wait for it with bated breath. In spite of torrents, I still whip up imaginary scenes in my head, wondering how this line will be said, and how that character will be slashed at the neck.

In spite of all the TV shows and films that are floating around in the clouds for me to pick off and enjoy, I still long for Monday, for the next episode of the show.

In a way, it is a revisiting of the days of saas-bahu shows. Of afternoons spent thinking of what had happened, of speculating what is going to happen. Of passing time doing inconsequential things, with a TV show running at the back of my mind.

*

I am seated across a friend, telling him of my thoughts.

‘But you do realise that this is true of every show, right?’

‘As in?’

‘As in, everybody who watches a show waits with baited breath for the next episode…?’

‘Yeah, but…’

‘It’s just that you haven’t watched a TV show in decades, and now that you have, you keep romanticising the fuck out of it.’

‘Ahem…do you have anything to eat?’

*****