On The Tracks

Part I

This is not a story of courage, empowerment or inspiration. This is a recollection of a train trip and those who are here accidentally will find this worthless and out of the place. At this point, you may exit and read something better. Those who have relevance, please continue to read.

I was on a mission to Delhi and it so happened that a close friend happened to be also heading to the same destination. Let's call him Babubhai for the sake of secrecy. When I say mission, it doesnt mean some RAW or IB mission but a simple official work. So relax. And Babubhai was not on this mission but just doing his duty. He works as a TTE with Indian Railways and it so happened that he was assigned to take Rajdhani Express to Delhi. So "I immediately booked a waitlisted ticket" and decided to make a train trip in a different way.

The boarding point was Kalupur Railway Station and we decided to meet up at 5.15, a clear 30 minutes before the train departs. But it changed to Sabarmati station for better convenience. Sabarmati has been synonymous for a long period as I used to make an hour long trip to Mahesana - some 80 kms from here - daily when I used to serve the government of India. So with the same confidence I reached Sabarmati station only to find that I was the only person at the platform. I waited for a few minutes and asked a completely relaxed vendor whether I was at the right place. I heard a big NO from him. I never knew that Vikas also got into the Meter gauge lines and it has now got converted to Broad gauge. I rushed to the original place where the train was supposed to come and met Babubhai. I am now all set to board the train.

Now this description looks like a script where the protagonist has seen a train for the first time and he is so excited that he writes a memoirs out of it. Hang on. This is partially true. Without much ado, let me continue....

The train majestically chugged on to the platform and like a swarm of bees, a few young turks with well ironed suits and ties made their way out of the Pantry Car on to the platform. Their shoes, however, did not match their wardrobe. They all wore sports shoes and spoke chaste Haryanvi starting every sentence with 'Bhaisaab" may be as a mark of respect or as a conversation starter. They greeted Babubhai with as much respect as Amitbhai greets Narendrabhai. So let's make Babubhai the chief protagonist here. I was later told that they were all international level sports persons and represented India at various levels. But will they be asked by the Railways to run a marathon at the speed of train that they are carrying their sports attires to duty? I stopped short of asking this to them.

How did this name "Babubhai" come into existence for the protagonist is a mystery. It sounds like an octogenarian guy but the fact is completely contradictory. Here is a person who combs his hair and moustache every hour, maintains the body at whatever cost it may take and chills out. You will not be blamed if you have imagined that he may be carrying a mobile Iron to iron out the creases on the clothes. Now all these qualities never suited a name Babubhai. But for the sake of maintaining his secrecy, let's continue to address him with no changes whatsoever.

The train moved out of Sabarmati and I "forsake my seat" to sit with the team of enthusiastic Train Ticket Examiners (TTEs) in the pantry car. I was offered soup - very strangely option of Tomato or Hot and Sour was on cards - and some snacks. The journey will end 13 hours later in New Delhi and there are some interesting moments for the night.

Part II

So after a long break, here is rest of the story. I am writing this after almost 2 years and so excuse some of the amnesia moments. The night at the train normally is long. People unfold their beds as early as 8 PM inconveniencing those who would like to sit a little more. And they wont get up until they are asked to in the morning. In my case the night extended till 2 AM. The Ticket Collectors are supposed to wait till Jaipur arrives - the major station from where a sizeable number of passengers alight and a new set of passengers enters. Once their tickets are checked, the TT has the unofficial liberty to take a nap. And since I was there in the team, the entire set of TTs decided to chit chat till Jaipur arrives. So once the pantry was dried and dusted for passengers, we asked them to give us some snacks so that we dont fall into slumber. They readily obliged.

When the train was making its entry into New Delhi railway station, I woke up. Babubhai arrived soon in a very fresh crease free pant and shirt. I was wondering if he was sleeping with an iron next to him to clean up every crease that happens during movement. At the platform I was given two options. We check in to a hotel nearby or I go with him to the TT resting room - which is his normal. I purchased his first ticket idea and entered into Railways Rest Room facility. A lot of black blazer-white shirt guys were arriving with sleepy faces while a set of same type of guys were leaving absolutely fresh after a good night sleep to start their morning duty. As I entered into a large room, my basic instinct was - why the hell I rejected the hotel option offered at the platform itself. I was under the impression that railways will provide a decent place for them to take rest. I had seen some of the rest rooms in Trivandrum and I was impressed then. But this was no way near to what I saw. The floors of the rooms were cleaned, it so seemed. The rest of the area was untouched since Indian independence. Dust made white washed walls look grey. The coats were broken and corroded. Many of the coats had the support of bricks - an age old Indian way of fixing broken legs of tables and chairs which most patriotic Indians call as the invention of the century. The bed sheets were shabby and may not have got cleaned for months together. But Babubhai's bedsheet was different. It smelled Surf Excel Washing soap which made me believe it was washed very recently.

Here came another confusing offer from Babubhai. "You still wanna freshen up here? We can go to a hotel". But I was adamant we stay here and see how the TTEs live their life. I had already seen then through my journey. Jolly good guys with no BMKJ attitude. They were ready to help any passengers in case of exigencies. But they were equally pissed off with passengers having undue demands and arrogant behaviour. They were great consumers of food. Whatever food arrived, it got finished within no time. So now, I wanted to feel how they spend rest of their day in the rest rooms. A few of them with whom I traveled makes it a point to go for a jogging for an hour after they off load their uniforms. They would then come back by around 9, freshen up, have their breakfast (mostly they skip) and sleep till late noon.

So when this offer came from Babubhai whether I need to have a rethink of my decision to follow him at the retiring rooms, I again refused with a badge of pride. By then it was already 9 and my capacity to withhold my toilet urge was reaching its pinnacle. "Would you really like to go to toilet now? I normally go to toilet at around 10.30," Babubhai quipped again. I was again tossed up thinking why he is discouraging me from staying at the place where he is staying day in and out by giving me obnoxious excuses. But waiting for 2 more hours was something I could not tolerate. Plus I had a meeting at 11. So I ventured into my morning rituals.

This is where the real drama begins. I started nauseating. The toilet was so dirty that my respect for the tribe of Ticket Examiners vanished into thin air. How could a hundred people go to a toilet and then leave without flushing. Then I realised there was no flush at all. The cemented pipes on both sides leaked to the extend of forming a chunk of mildew that could be filled up in a yard. For a while I looked up and lamented the moment I refused the offer to go to a hotel. I immediately got myself flushed out of the toilet and asked for a cleaner. Fortunately there was one standing nearby. I asked if there was a cleaner toilet. Negative - his head almost rolled clock wise and anti clock wise to give this response staring at me. It was not the 'how dare you ask' look but 'at least you asked' glance. "Can you clean up any one of these?" Affirmative came the response.

Needless to explain what happened next. When I came back to the room, Babubhai looked at me with a look of victory as if he has arrested the JNU Tukde Tukde gang. "This is the reason I use it after 10.30," he told me with a smile that ensembled Mona Lisa at Louvre Museum.

Note : Some of the "facts" here are not factually correct. They are made up. Readers are at their liberty to guess which are they.... Not necessary to point out but keep the secret sacrosanct.

August 20, 2019
by Binu Alex

India's Green Industrial Parks

Can you believe this is actually a Food Manufacturing Hub - an Industrial Park developed by KINFRA? It was incidental that I bumped into a place during my visit to Kerala this monsoon. I knew there was an Industrial park near my home but never had the chance to go there despite the fact that it is located just 4 kms away.

I was actually destined to Vizhinjam for a day and later on drop in to some resort at Kovalam for an overnight trip. This was a cool 100 kms away from my home and I had a vehicle to myself and was expecting an early morning departure via tourist spot Veli.

As I woke up at 4.30 AM and peeped out of the window, I realised it was raining continuously for the whole night and I should not expect any mercy anytime soon from the heavy downpour. I could still leave because the weather conditions on my phone displayed light showers on the way. But I had another problem. No company for the trip of around 4 hours each side. 100 Kilometres in Kerala is not exactly 100 Kilometres in Gujarat, where I am based. Let me rephrase this. 100 KM in Kerala will take 4 hours in Kerala while it takes 2 hours in Gujarat. Not because of better roads or infrastructure but because of topography. Kerala roads are mountainous and zig-zagged and take longer to cover a distance than what you find in plains. But I was prepared with the unplayed BBC Documentary Podcasts that I had stored well in advance exclusively for this trip to cover up for my loneliness.

But then suddenly a thought came to my mind. Why not explore the nearby areas? Though I have a home here, I visit here once or twice a year. The childhood memories of visiting home town during vacation are limited to staying at home for a full month. First there was hardly any budget to travel to the famous hill stations or stay at a hotel there. Second, the parents never attempted to take us. When you have a home here, why go to Hotel and stay - was the permanent response when asked to make a trip. Kerala, then was not a big tourist destination as it is now. So we, as kids, hardly got to see even our own surroundings. To make up for those lost years, I make sure, the same excuses are not thrown to my kids when they are with me.

An hour passed since these thoughts went through my mind and I was still staring at the heavy downpours from the window. Water was gushing through the front gates onto the verandah which will make way to the nearest stream travelling all through the backdoor entrance. For a long time, I have been thinking of creating a water recharging plant to get the water down under rather than to the stream outside. May be at a later stage. I had parked my vehicle at the next door neighbour - who happens to be my uncle - and I could easily hear the drops hitting the metal body of the vehicle which indicated the rains are heavier than I can see with the rising sun.

Childhood buddy and former Sarkari Office colleague, Binoy Samuel - who is now based at Kochi - was supposed to come on that day to visit his parents who stays just another 2 kms from the Industrial park. I gave a thought again - let's get around the neighbourhood instead of a long drive. It was 6.30 by this time and I came down to the Kitchen to see my mom and aunt preparing tea. They had presumed that I had cancelled the trip. So breakfast has to be prepared for me too.

Typically, when I am at home, the breakfast is tapioca with sardine fry. But this time I replaced Tapioca with raw jackfruit typically cooked in Kerala Style and asked not to prepare lunch for me. Typically, I prefer lunch at wayside joints in Kerala. They are not only hygienic and delicious but even economical in every sense.

First I set out to buy some Mundu - a typical Dhoti type Cotton drape. I have started wearing Mundu on Sundays to Church. Though I am not very familiar with its nitty-gritties, I make sure it doesnt fall through by having a velcro belt around my waist. You have single and double mundu. Single is more transparent while double have lesser transparency. Though I like transparency in all the field that I work, this is the only field I would stay away from it.

By the time I reached the market area, rain had a brief break which allowed me to park the vehicle and get into a shop - perhaps not more than the breaks you see during Television soap operas - and post shopping I was wondering at the shop how to get into my vehicle which was parked on the opposite side of the road. Rains started pouring again in plenty. Fortunately, break came sooner. I made my way to Binoy's home. Here I was expecting a stomach full of Rambutan.

And I was not disappointed. But consuming it needs special skills. It looks like Litchi but you cannot eat it like Litchi. You need to use your sharp teeth to slice it from bottom - right near the seed. Or else you will end up eating a Cadbury's Five Star Bar with residues inside your mouth stuck permanently like a wrong politician you voted for and cant get rid of for full five years.

8 years ago, at an office party in Kochi, I had met a farmer turned entrepreneur called Alex Thomas. He had told me then that he is trying to harness the potential of agricultural crops grown in Kerala, process it and turn into food products and market them across the globe. After a couple of years, I heard from his consultant - who happens to be a good friend - that he has started his venture called Tierra Food India Pvt. Ltd. at Kinfra Food Processing Park, Adoor - very close to my home. But each time I tried to visit his plant, he was at Kochi. And this time, along with Binoy, we decided to take a plunge and visit the park.

As we drove through the road leading to this industrial park, I was amazed and astonished to see the beauty of nature. I never realised we had a Hill Station so close to my home. I could see the clouds beneath me and the green belt could be a food processing park was something I was not able to fathom. It has a reason. In Gujarat, Maharashtra and a few other places, industrial parks are the most dirty places where breathing is itself a big sin. The canals and rivulets flowing through these industrial corridors are so polluted that you can see Chemical Rainbows through it. Places where you could barely stay for minutes. But here, we decided it was the best place for a selfie.

Now the question is can greenery and industry co-exist? I think setting up an industry cannot be a recipe for ecological disaster. But in India it is not mandatory for industrial parks to have green cover. They are least bothered about biodiversity, retaining soil moisture, ground water recharging or using plants to improve air quality. It is interesting that India's Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) initiated policy initiatives to promote integration of environmental concerns in developmental projects is not visible on the ground. Even notifications on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of developmental projects and provisions of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 has failed in the absence of poor execution and supervision as well as punitive action.

This is what the National Forest Policy, 1988 (NFP) says : Encourage the planting of trees alongside of roads, railway lines, rivers and streams and canals, and on other unutilized lands under State/corporate, institutional or private ownership. Emphasise on the green belt development. Green belts should be raised in urban/industrial areas as well as in arid tracts. But where is it implemented in real sense? On the contrary, such parks have given way to large scale destruction of ecologically sensitive forest areas.

July 6, 2017
by Binu Alex
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