After many years of travelling by road to my working place, the train has become the new mode of travel from my new residence. Earlier I preferred the bus than train, because I could be assured of a seat, unlike travelling standing in the crowded train. The buses normally arrived in time; whereas the trains are always late. Since the bus crisscrossed the villages and towns, the route was full of people, houses, shops and cattle. But the train routes are plain fields and jungle with monotonous stations.
But all these fears changed when I started commuting by trains.
While India is introducing bullet trains, moneyed-people opt travelling by speedy and luxurious trains like the Duronto, Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Mails and Expresses. Many affluent people also prefer to fly by planes or travel by cars. The comfort loving people also prefer travelling by various classes of A/C coaches according to their financial income. In both the ends of these long route trains, one or two bogeys are attached for the common travelers, who can’t afford the money or who could not reserve their Sleeper.
Have you travelled by these general compartments in the Mails and Express trains? Many times I had the misfortune of travelling in these bogies. People are herded together like chicken. You hurry to reach the far end of the train searching for these unreserved compartments. Then at their entrance the crowded passengers don’t move an inch for you to squeeze inside. Woe to you if you carry a heavy luggage and if you have kids or women accompanying you. Whenever I had the misfortune of travelling by these general compartments, I wondered why the commoners were considered scum by the Railways.
After successfully managing to squeeze inside, you curse yourself for not getting a little space to keep both your feet on the ground. As your legs ache standing for a long time, you fury over the fat lady lying comfortably on the seat or the youngsters lying on the berths meant to keep your luggage. When these trains have so many Sleeper and A/C coaches, but just two or three general compartments, you begin to question, is the government running these trains only for the affluent? If you manage to get a seat after standing for a very long time, you take a great risk of losing it, if you get up and go to answer your nature’s call. The new occupant will question you, “Is it your reserved seat?” So you prefer to suppress your urgent natural needs until you reach your destination.
But thanks to the Indian Railways that has also introduced a number of Passenger trains for short route travellers. Due to which you don’t need to have the agony of travelling standing in the general bogies of long route trains. Since the railways have introduced a number of local trains, they have become very convenient for the daily commuters and short-distance travellers. These Passenger Trains may not be fast like the Expresses. They stop in every station welcoming the ordinary villagers to ferry them to their destinations.
Whereas I have to pay Rupees 115 in the Express trains to reach my centre, I have to pay only Rs 30 for the Passenger trains. The government has made the travel so cheap for the poor people. But there are also so many wealthy preferring to travel by these cheap trains to save their ill-gotten money. Though the ticket fares are so cheap, even then many, even the well-off, don’t purchase their tickets. The TTEs come rarely in the Passenger Trains, unlike in the fast trains. If they are caught, the commuters don’t feel guilty of bribing them.
Why can’t the railways improve the punctuality of the trains, especially the Passenger trains? But due to the short distances, the passenger trains are not too late like the long route trains. But they are always sidelined to give way to the speedy trains as if the commoners don’t count.
When I get into the Passenger Train, normally it is crowded. But there is a hope that in the next junction, many will get down and I am assured of a seat. In the Sleeper or A/C coaches, many of the reserved travellers will not allow intruders to sit even on vacant seats till the next stop. But in the local trains, people accommodate four and even five people in the seat of three. Since most of the travellers in the Passenger trains are ordinary people, they understand the sufferings of others. If they see women standing with their babies, they will offer them their seats or take the children on their laps. Before they get down at their destinations, they will offer their seats to the elderly.
There is so much of humanity in the Passenger trains. In the A/C or First class compartments many people don’t interact with strangers, and even often with their own family members. They are busy themselves with their smart phones. But in the Passenger trains, many are engaged in talking with one another as if they are all intimately known to each other. Their conversations range from politics to cricket, tips on health and wealth. You admire their sense of knowledge and convictions. Their WhatsApp messages are enjoyed by their neighbours.
If one caries a newspaper it becomes a common property. People are generous in allowing others to read it. And the readers too do not feel hesitant to take and read it without asking the owner’s consent.
Though the local trains used to be dirtier, especially the latrines, thanks to the Railways, who are endeavouring to keep them cleaner. But when will our people learn to throw away the plantain skins, the ground nut shells, wrappers out of the bogies? Why can’t the educated teach these people to keep the public places clean, even if some resent to their advice?
Continuously the blind, lame, eunuchs and children exhibiting their circus skills, stream into the Passenger trains. And it is touching to see simple people offering their hard-earned coins out of genuine concern for them. And then there are the vendors throughout the journey. How these hawkers can afford to sell 4-5 samosas for mere Rs 10, I wonder! There seems to be no problem for these villagers to enjoy the cold, fly-eaten vadas and samosas.
So, next time prefer to travel short distances by the Passenger train. And enjoy it too.
(Published on 04th December 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 49)