Travelling Cattle Class
Last month I made a work trip to Bareilly. The journey towards the place was rather uneventful except for the fact that I didn’t sleep (I can not sleep in trains). Delhi to Bareilly and vice versa should hardly be a 4 hrs journey. But the number of stops in between, the snail like speed, the perpetual lateness, the unmarked stops in between (I think the drivers on this route have a rather small bladder) etc makes it a good 7 hrs long trip. And most trains are night ones. The onwards journey was quite uneventful other than the fact that I cannot sleep in trains and therefore spent the whole night standing outside the cabin, trying to read the PG Wodehouse I had bought from the store at the Delhi station. And chatting with people who came for a smoke at ungodly hours. And did I mention, being asked by fellow passengers to wake them up when a particular station arrived.
I was a bit excited with the prospect that it was going to be my first ever conference as a speaker. I was looking forward to hearing all the other guest speaker. But alas, my all nighter ensured that the morning session speeches sounded like a lullaby and I was enjoying a a hearty barbecue in the dream world.
But more than the event it was the return journey that took the cake. I had to be back on Sunday and due to lack of any other option, I entered sleeper class for the first time.
It was the Bareilly Bhuj express which, thankfully, starts early in the morning. Now I knew that people in that part of the country eat Aalu Puri, Kachori and Jalebi for breakfast…but Jalebis being made at 3:00 AM was something my eyes saw and my nose whiffed but my brain refused to acknowledge and tossed it out it as irrational and illogical updates from the sensory organs.
Coming to the train. I stood at the station. The train announced her arrival. I came rushing in and it went straight without stopping. That woke me up better than the sweetened drink they were serving in the name of tea. It came back again after half an hour. I guess the driver realised that it was feeling a bit lighter. But more than that it was the fact that the engine was being replaced.
Then began my Odyssey. The entrance of the sleeper class is rather…,,,different. After taking my seat. I was about meditate on the songs I had in my ipod when suddenly a few people nudged me. They wanted me to adjust. The guy was with his mother and didn’t have a reserved ticket. I wanted to protest but I realised that more than half the bogie was full of people with general class tickets who were travelling in the reserved coach. And the funny thing is all the “without proper ticket ones” act as if they own the railways.
So we (the already seated) adjusted a bit to fit in a few more. The checker came once, twice, thrice…..6 times to check the ticket in a span of 3 hours. Seventh time, I would have stapled the ticket on his forehead. Guess it was his lucky. He caught a handful of defaulters, despite the fact that the cabin was a gold mine to be explored. And the few were left with a warning after they waved a Rs 50 note in front of his eyes. It is amazing, how a small piece of paper can have such a hypnotic effect. But there were two unlucky souls who were sent packing towards the general coach by the lath wielding, moustache twirling coach bouncer.
The train became a bit lighter on some station. This time again I went out to spend some of the journey drinking the hot sugar syrup….amazingly the coffee also tasted the same as tea…milky and sugary. But then started the drama. A couple teenagers were caught smoking a bong filled with ganja or marijuana. One was too high to realise what was happening while the other after pleading for mercy for about half an hour, managed to cough up the Rs. 250 fine. But his troubles were not over, the fine was for travelling without ticket. He still had to pay the police.
Before that commotion died, another began. The train had made an unscheduled stop at some place. A man went an laid down on the parallel track. He wanted to die. It is incredible how people have suggestions for every situation. “Kaan pe maariye saale ke, akal thikane aa jayegi.” “Marne chaleina hain *****, do maariye hosh mein aa jayega.” “Arrey ghaseet ke laiye to andar.” Yes, that is how they speak in that part of the country.
It was on a station 2 hours from Delhi that was the most impressive. Suddenly people poured into the train like water does when a dam breaks.
It was a tsunami, a tidal wave….and we were packed like fishes in a net. 6 people to a seat meant for 3. I climbed up and went to sleep. But there also a man came and asked my to fold my legs, so that he could sit.
When one protested that it was his seat, he was shut up by someone else. “Arey hogi tumhari seat. 1 ghante ki baat hai, baith jayiye jahan jagah mile.” with a wave of hand to dismiss his pleas. A man found a very unique spot for his journey. The closet near the wash basin. He curled up and slept away happily.
Then there were people discussing. More than half were shouting on the phone and the other half were shouting at each other. They were talkng but in a very loud voice. A man was telling that he would come back in a week and then they will plant wheat in the fields. The other was talking about some other agriculture issue. The name Tyagi ji was heard about a 100 times. A few were discussing the philosophy of Ramayan, a lady prayed with her beads, a family made a huge noise because they had entered the wrong train and got down at the next stop. A couple net savvy guys had net books in hand and a Tata Photon broadband key.
I enjoyed playing dumb while he was explaining to me how sites are opened and the marvels of youtube and live news feed. “Ye dekho isme. Koi bhi news site khol ke aap live news dekh sakte ho. Kitna fast hai. Poora TV ka kaam karta hai.” “Hmmm!!!” (insert an expression of amazement). It went on for some time and he was rather proud of himself till I started asking questions about things which I was sure he had never heard of. Yeah, I know it was mean of me.
The train arrived at Old Delhi and an old lady asked my help to help with her luggage while she got down the train. Then there was another problem. The metro was too packed. I was not going to suffer from another bout of claustrophobia. So I went Auto-rickshaw hopping. Finally a traffic cop helped me by stopping one and ordering him to take me to my destination. Before I could make my self comfortable, the same old lady cam again. She also had to go and now I was forced to travel with her. “Beta, samaan ka sahayog bhi tumne diya aur ab auto mein bhi tum mil gaye.” “hmm….” Then came a shocker. Midway she revealed that she had to travel to some other direction. Next half an hour was a colourful symphony of abuses between the auto driver and the old lady.
Finally home. People had told me that I should travel once in the sleeper class. That I will view the real India and it will be a colourful and unforgettable journey. Yes it was no doubt. But the question is..will I attempt it again? Hmmm…..I think…once is enough.