Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Train Rant

The article contains a range of stereotypes which may or may not be endorsed by the author. However, for the sake of looking cool (the raison d'etre of anyone’s existence on social media and using Latin expressions), I would go on, unfettered and undeterred like the Indian Railways.

Rail transportation in India began in 1853 with the first train running from Bombay to Thane, covering a distance of 50 kilometres in three hours, a record that has stood till date. The intent was to ferry goods from the interiors to the ports. That was the last time ‘good’ and ‘Indian Railways’ was used together in the same sentence. Since then, the word ‘good’ has been replaced by freight. So a goods-train is now a freight-train, the word ‘freight’, obviously carrying one ‘e’ too many.

But this post is not about the goods travelling on a freight-train, it’s about the goods travelling on a passenger train.  

But before the train itself, comes the train platform: the only place you find more shit than the Indian Parliament, clearly hinting that (1) we need better cleansing of rails and platforms, and (2) Indian public does more work squatting in train toilets than their lawmakers sleeping in the capital. On the plus side though, all railway platforms are equipped with weight-sensor technology that hastens the arrival of the incoming train if them all impatient passengers stand at its edge, peeping in the direction of the train. The platform is also home to hawkers selling best-selling Indian classics such as Half-Girlfriend, You Can Win and Rapidex English Speaking Course; confectionery stalls that stock all exotic biscuits but manage to sell only water and all other shops which exist only as the solution to the quintessential ‘Bhaiya ye X jane wali Gadi kya isi platform par aegi’ question. For passenger comfort, all railway platforms are equipped with... never mind. A few platforms at select stations did begin to mark the position of each coach, but the move was termed as too-passenger friendly and its expansion plan was, quite logically too, shelved.      

At the onset, one must realize that RAIL is just LIAR spelt backwards. So every time the announcement lady expresses regret about the delay in arrival of your train, she clearly doesn't mean it. Or at least her tone doesn't suggest so. All announcements are made with the same aplomb, the same gaiety.  To think of it, ‘lady’ is just a vowel short of ‘delay’: the same letter ‘e’ that’s extraneous in ‘freight’. Meanwhile, for the uninitiated, there are four categories of delays: (1) No Delay (delay between 0 to 120 min) (2) Minor Delay (2 hours to 12 hours) (3) Major Delay (when AM becomes PM and PM becomes AM and, (4) No delay (train reaches same time, next day as the next day’s train). As expected, as per statistics, most trains arrive on time and hence the terms ‘train’ and ‘late train’ can be/are used interchangeably.  

Once one does get on the train though, he expects normalcy to resume (strictly speaking, to begin). But the wait gets a tad longer, for the railway coaches are military barracks, hermetically compressed with comfort thoroughly squeezed out, placed carefully at the epicentre of a kilometre-long-magnitude-10-on-Richter-scale-earthquake, huffing and puffing through the dark of the night at breakneck speeds touching 50 kilometres an hour. Interestingly though, quite unlike the traditional Indian society, the lower berths are the higher births and upper berths have to actually work very hard to get up there. However, the battle for Middle Earth is the battle to avoid the middle berth. The Indian Railways actually plays a big daddy to those on the middle berths by directing them when to sleep, how long to sleep, when to eat and when to interact with fellow passengers. The middle berth, without a doubt, is the railways’ middle-finger.

Then comes the turn of the very toilets on wheels whose products you see on the rails beside the platforms. One step inside and you begin to wonder how much the Indian Public is capable of delivering in so little time, which further dwarfs the achievement of the lawmakers at the centre, even if we’re talking about just shitty work. Most coaches have both styles of toilets: Indian and Western, basically Indian and Western-followed-by-Indian as none of these have either a bidet* or tissue papers. No wonder in the latest census, 29 lakh people, most of them frequent train travellers, didn't state their religion, for ‘constipation’ wasn't one of the options mentioned.         

Inside the coaches and outside of the toilets, we have charging points which either never work or damage your charger when they do, fans that provide more sound energy than wind energy, ACs that are either not working or too cold, pillows thinner than your biceps, a cotton bed-sheet that you have no idea how to unfold, another identical bed-sheet that is always two cm too thin for the AC and a woolly blanket that is always two cm too thick. 

Finally, a word on your fellow passengers. No matter which coach you book, the family travelling alongside will always have at its head a patriarch who is a high-school snoring champ, a matriarch who would invariably have the middle-berth and will instantly ask you to swap it with your lower-berth and a Kinder-Joy munching youth brigade that would want to consume every wafer and cola it sees along the way, making more noise than the honking-Joe behind you on every traffic signal. There is also the entourage that disembarks just before the train starts, leaving behind all their bags, only for you to realize that all forty-four belong to this family of four.   

The best thing about a train journey, though, is that like most journeys (and this post here), it ends.

*That thing you clean your ass with? Yes. It is called a bidet. Don’t worry. Even I Googled.