I hate buses. I would rather spread a Times of India near the toilet and sit on it in a sleeper class compartment all night without reservation than travel overnight in a Volvo bus where they give complementary mineral water. I am like that!
Airplanes are buses that fly which makes the experience a lot worse. The whole excitement of embarking on a new journey usually dies a premature death on the way to the airport latest by Security Check.
Trains on the other hand are wonderful. The ride is consistently smooth. We can roam around or lie down comfortably or stand by the door. We get to see the beautiful country side, meet interesting fellow passengers or just sit by the window and read a book, share food and life stories with interesting strangers and a lot more! Okay, that was the best case scenario in a train journey. But, let’s face it. Not all train journeys are that magical. Here is how an average train journey is...
The Five Minutes of Hope
All Indian males aged 17 – 29 almost religiously practice this ritual. Five Minutes of Hope symbolizes one of the ultimate Indian fantasies – (No, not Savita Bhabi) Falling in love with a hot girl you meet in the train! It has happened in a couple of movies but other than that, no one has ever seen that happen.
The ritual starts exactly five minutes before boarding the train when the Indian Male realizes that the probability of meeting a hot girl in the train and falling in love with her is non-zero. This non-zero probability, even if it is one in 10 billion, excites the Indian Male.
He floats in a dream sequence imagining how he could do the whole “How I met your mother” thing with his children. The ritual ends when the Indian Male looks at the reservation chart pasted near the entrance only to find some old people and other Indian Males like him in the vicinity of his seat.
I am sure you must have noticed while you were traveling overnight in sleeper class that people around you have dinner as soon as it gets dark and by 7:30 in the evening the middle berths would be up, the lights would be off and most of your fellow passengers would be pre-snoring. (Proving that if you take the TV out of the equation, we’re all still cavemen)
One time, it was only 7 PM and a fellow traveler, M54 wanted the middle berth up! Mildly peeved at the prospect of having the middle berth hanging on my head all evening, I once asked him how he managed to sleep so much and so early.
He replied, “Look son, when I bought a sleeper class ticket, I reserved the whole berth. I want to utilize it fully”.
I tried to explain that his reservation has been fully “utilized” the moment the Oriya chap sitting in his seat graciously made place for him as soon as he entered the compartment with a reserved ticket!
“I don’t want to waste my reservation”, he sternly replied.
It is very hard to argue against the Indian Paisa Vasool logic. The gentleman was hell bent on treating reservation like real estate that needs to be fenced and protected. India must be the only country where reservation can be “wasted”. By 7:40PM, everyone in the compartment was ready to sleep! May be that is the reason why the compartment is aptly named “Sleeper Class”.
The Kindly Adjust Family
The Kindly-Adjust family consists of the father M33, mother F29, two kids – M6, F3 and grandma F61. And the whole family put together has one confirmed berth! But they’re a family and this is India where family comes first. Social protocol dictates that you renounce your berth rights, go stand near the door and "kindly-adjust"!
M33 rushed in carrying a lot of luggage and ordered everyone to move their legs keenly scanning for space to put the luggage. He pulled out a huge suitcase from underneath the berth and asked, “Whose is this?”
“Mine!” I replied.
M33 gave me a brief condescending stink eye for using up almost half of the space under the seat. Yes, a how-can-someone-bring-so-much-luggage stink eye coming from a person who brought 12 pieces of luggage, 4 extra people and a huge bag of grain that is too big to fit under any seat!
F29 being the good Indian wife she is, obediently stood behind her husband carrying little F3 in her arms, occasionally criticizing M33’s sub-optimal utilization of limited luggage storage space. F61 agreed with F29’s opinion from which I inferred that F61 is F29’s mother and not mother-in-law as I previously assumed.
Meanwhile M6 being charming little fellow he is, has already started plotting an Occupy Window Seat campaign. The window seat – after all is his legitimate right by virtue of being small and only six. With such nefarious designs in his little mind, he approached me with his most innocent face and asked in his most innocent tone what book I was reading trying to strike a conversation.
Five minutes later he was sitting on my lap looking out of the window and waving to strangers. Who knows, he has probably set his eyes upon his next conquest already – the chocolate bar in my bag!
The rest of the family sat on the opposite berth while other co-passengers did the needful and “kindly adjusted”.
The Train Traveling Wife
Right opposite to my lower berth sat F27, a young mother traveling with her baby probably going back to her husband after a brief stay at her parents’. Traveling alone with the baby, the parents and the husband are naturally concerned about F27. The end result of this concern is an incoming phone call every 10 minutes from the husband who asks her which station has passed by and if the baby is still asleep.
I can’t say much about the stations but the baby would’ve been fast asleep (instead of going “wuah wuah *sniff* *sniff* wuah wuah” on an infinite loop) had the father refrained from obsessively calling to enquire about her well being or had the mother possessed enough common sense to put her mobile in silent mode. (Parenting Tip: Even babies hate listening to the same ring tone every ten minutes!)
Motherhood being such a demanding task probably left F27 too tired. She too, like the rest of the sleeper class people of the country, fell asleep by 7:30PM probably dreaming about her doting husband who would come to receive them next morning without brushing his teeth wearing a sleepy face, an unkempt beard, an old T-shirt and unwashed shorts swinging his bike/car keys impatiently with his index finger eager to carry luggage while nursing that hangover from his brief stint at bachelorhood after such a long time.
The Lonely Techie
M26 is found in the trains only on Friday nights and Sunday nights. All his journeys are short weekend trips to his hometown from Bangalore/Hyderabad where he is a software dude. No one knows when M26 got into the train. No one knows much about M26 because he rarely interacts with his fellow travelers.
But what we know is that as soon as he enters the train, he tiptoes his way onto his upper berth (the preferred berth of choice) with his laptop bag (which also contains weekend clothes stuffed into it) and sits there alone.
The moment the train leaves the station, M26 begins to feel bored and restless with the dull pace of life. M26 is a very private person with his own private Internet connection. He opens his laptop, connects to his office VPN and checks email once again. After the usual status updates on Facebook and Twitter, he moves on to checking out the girls from various matrimonial sites his father has shortlisted for him. This activity bores him too. After all this is what he has done in the office all day!
M26 is restless again. This time he takes out his earphones and continues to the watch that latest (pirated camera-print) movie he has left midway last night. This goes on for about an hour after which his laptop’s battery gives up. He curses the laptop, eats the pantry car made egg biryani and starts forwarding goodnight SMSes before falling asleep.
If it is a day journey, he gets down with his DSLR camera with extra large lens and heads to the door. He carefully chooses his spot and begins to click the cows, the trees, the fields and occasionally, some poor people who live in the slums along the tracks in black and white mode!
M26 doesn't get the results he desired because the moment usually passes by the time he finds the button to set the f-number. After pondering for a while, he declares that sunlight is not appropriate for photography and retires to his upper berth and begins to take a few pictures of his own fingers in macro mode. Satisfied with the results this time, he packs his camera back carefully waiting to get back home and upload them on Facebook so that his friends can “Like” it.
M26 is one of the few people to have mastered the art of traveling in sleeper class without making eye contact with anyone!
The Sound of Music
Note: For best results, imagine David Attenborough reading this out for you.
Out there on the side-lower berth is The Dude. The Dude is no ordinary dude. He is the remarkable DesiDude. Unique to the heartland of this country, DesiDude usually spends most his travel time (literally) hanging out (at the door) with fellow DediDudes feeling the fresh air, enjoying the scenery and occasionally passing comments on girls who use the toilet.
But this particular DesiDude was traveling alone. He realizes that there is little he could do at the door without his mates. Luckily DesiDude has his very desi-looking Chinese mobile phone with questionable battery life and extra loud speakers. And so the DesiDude volunteers to be the TJ (T for Train) for the evening.
Life as the TJ doesn’t come easy this time of the day. DediDude now faces the daunting task of livening up the evening for his fellow sleeper class citizens. DesiDude is fully aware of the calculated risk he has taken. One wrong song and he’ll have to face the deadly stares of his irritated co-passengers – a mistake that could cost him his (cell phone’s battery) life.
DesiDude starts off slow and careful belting out sad “melodies” from the eighties and early nineties sung by an exceptionally high pitched female voice and/or Kumar Sanu. The cheap speakers resonate in the melody producing a dull buzz in the background which sort of makes it up for the complete lack of bass. As he gains confidence with each song, DesiDude carefully moves the playlist into his favorite genre – the latest Dhink Chak Gult hits!
Photo credit: Daniele Sartori