On The Tracks

by Binu Alex
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