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Train journeys aren’t the same anymore

Train journeys just aren’t the same anymore

There was a time when I looked forward to train journeys. Even if it meant going back to my school, without seeing the world for another 10 months.
Embarking on a train journey was like setting sail on a ship to a distant land. The journey spanning 2 to 3 days, and the preparations to be made accordingly. The caterers, who seemed to be traveling through the journey of life, rarely bothered with your requests and had to be coaxed and cajoled to fulfill their responsibilities.

Bundles of food in polythene packets, bread-jam-pickle, water in Milton camper bottles, bed sheets, air-pillows and blankets. Spare clothes for the night, towels and blankets, paper-soap packets with the creepy Bengali woman on the cover, snacks, fries and the uncle who hides his cigarettes in a shaving kit.

Newspapers, magazines, comics and novels sold at AH Wheeler push-carts. Hawkers streaming in with a variety of products – from Ludo-Snake & Ladders, to zippers and suitcase chains, to toys, wallets and flutes. A taste of every place you cross on the journey – fruits cut and peppered with salt and chilli powder, local fried snacks served on yesterday’s newspaper.

Climbing on, and clamouring over seats and berths. Lower berths were least preferred and given to the parents, Upper berths were coveted, and Middle berths fought over. Side Upper and Side Lower were preferred when there was a pretty girl in the compartment, for they provided excellent vantage points.

The thrill of running through the reservation charts to find girls – quickly scanning through their names, age, and destination. Once the target was locked down upon, walking this way and that, speaking loudly. Striking up conversations with the girls, promising to write or call, dreaming of life-long companionship – till the next train journey.

The frozen expression when eunuchs announce their entry with claps and screams. Pretending to stare into the distance when they nudge for a few coins. Sharing food with co-passengers in spite of rumours of robbers who offered you Frooti and ran away with your booty.

Talking to strangers, laughing over the problems of the country. Conversations, debates, and antaksharis that served as universal ice-breakers.

The hustle bustle of the railway station – getting down to fill water, stepping back on the train to feel older. The sounds of trains pulling in at the station, the asexual aunty announcing arrivals and departures, the ebb and flow of the sea of humanity.
Train journeys were planned for weeks, and then remembered for months.

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Time and Tide wait for none. Neither do Tips and Ariel.

Everything I used to love about train journeys is a sore today.

To embark on a journey over an entire day seems like a punishment when you could fly across the country in a few hours. Five-year plans are no more needed for train journeys. Tatkal tickets can be booked on the phone in a few minutes. There is no need to pack in spare clothes, or food, pillows and bed sheets. The train staff are now alert, conscious of the fact that a complaint can be lodged with the Railway Minister in a matter of minutes.

Newspapers, magazines and comics lie untouched at the AH Wheeler pushcarts, their products having failed the test of the wheel of time. Phones loaded with movies, TV shows and Kindle-full on novels and poetry fit into low-rise pockets. Hawkers aren’t allowed on AC compartments anymore, and niche start-ups could deliver Ludo-Snake & Ladder at your doorstep. In place of new food springing up at every station, the government regulated, minimum-quality, minimum-quantity sterile food is served throughout the journey.

There is no more clamouring for seats. My body, semi-retired due to escapades, sexcapades, and alcohol, craves the Lower Berth. The Upper Berth is still alright, but under no circumstance will the Middle Berth be preferred. Side Upper and Side Lower are curses now, my limbs struggling to fit in, like teenagers in society.

I do not look at reservation charts for women anymore; I mock lifelong companionship. I am wary of talking to a woman in my compartment, for fear of featuring on Facebook the next day with the caption – ‘This creep tried to harass a woman, and got a fitting reply!’. I quietly fire up Tinder to swipe this way and that.

Strangers have gotten even stranger. Compartments of people staring into their phones, tablets and laptops – their worlds shrunk into smaller and smaller spaces, till it fits into their pocket. Loud music plays from different phones across the compartment, the only loud voices that of children, who will grow up and become disillusioned with all the fun they are having at the moment.

The hustle-bustle of the railway stations scares me now. The ocean of humanity, the crush of the rush. I scan through the platform, planning an escape route if a gunman appears and begins to shoot down people. I run to my train and enter it in a hurry.

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Train journeys, they just aren’t the same anymore!

(Featured Image courtesy: www.studycopter.com)

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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