Yes, you got the intention behind naming of the article right. Apart from describing a very adventurous one of my many encounters with the ‘INDIAN RAILWAYS’, it also attempts to bring forth the plight of the near fatal general compartment journeys.

It had been long without a general compartment journey and I had all but forgotten the experience I had no longing towards gaining the experience yet again but what compelled was an inability to book a seat via tatkal quota using what IRCTC calls its ‘website’. That is what is often called, “Sone pe Suhaga”.

The name of the train was Bihar Sampark Kranti. Those familiar with the train would surely be grinning by now, for they know what the content of this article is. For others, I am here for the job. I left from my relative’s house in Gorakhpur (U.P), where I had been attending a function during my summer vacations. The May sun was doing the thing it is best at, scorching anything in its path. I managed to reach the station with some time to spare and I spent it looking for ‘things of beauty’. However such a sight was hard to procure as the railway station felt unusually crowded (one always feels that). Shockingly, the train was running as per schedule. As soon as the announcement was made, I saw people gathering their luggage and little children as they went to the side of platform nearer to the railway track. My heart sank. I had never seen such a large number of people preparing to board a single train at a station. It felt as if the entire station was there for the very train. As people caught glimpse of the train, the rush increased and reached the level of a stampede in no time. As the train reached the platform, I saw a few young guys hurl themselves towards the emergency exit window while the train was still in motion. Seeing the expertise of the guys, I was taken to the thought that they must have spent a good part of their lives learning it. Some very impatient guys were jumping towards the doors and trying to push themselves in while they were facing resistance from people standing at the doors, waiting to alight. Finally, the train stopped and all that could be seen was a mass of people. I was still thinking of a way to get into the train as I approached the doors. I still cannot figure out how I got in but I still regret that I did.general-class

As I got past the entrance, I found people yelling at each other. ‘Aagwa badha‘ (move) was all that I could hear. While a middle aged man was debating with six people about the number of persons a seat should carry, I was still wondering if I would ever be able to make it to Lucknow, my destination. I found the people debating finally agree to seven being the optimum. I also witnessed extremes of ‘jugaad‘, when I saw a young lad tying a towel wherever he could find space. That arrangement was being made to create a temporary hammock to carry his weight as he sat. The debate I told you about inspired me as well and I argued in the hope of finding a seat. Somehow, I managed to put one part of my ‘tashreef‘ on the seat (where six people were already seated) promising the other part a fair rotation policy.

So far, I thought that I had spent almost an hour, but the train had not departed. I checked my watch and to my disgust just 15 min had passed. I was kind of depressed. I could barely keep my feet down and had also failed with the promise made to my ‘tashreef‘. I counted the number of people in my compartment. A compartment is made to contain 8 persons. However, at that precise moment in time 26 people were ‘contained in the compartment’. Adding to the disgust was the heat. The fans, that had shoes hung over them, were not yet working, no need to wonder why. I was getting impatient but I was not alone. I desperately wished for the train to move. Finally, it did.

As the train-paced, there was some relief from the heat. Voices debating the political scenario of the country were there to be heard. Well, I am inclined to consider this as a fact now, that the political quotient of a train compartment is far more than that of the parliament. Not just politics, you can easily find experts on any topic. While a guy was explaining the cons of sidelining Advani, two more were engaged in discussing the military advancement of the U.S. On the other hand, one man was still arguing to try and get the man, to take his shoes off, who had not taken them off before climbing up.

Somehow the journey was still going on. Few people were already asleep and they had started causing trouble to the adjacent passengers when all of a sudden the man resting up in the air was betrayed by his towel as he crashed down and landed on an uncle sitting on the floor. He had covered 3 people and in attempt to get up, had put his leg on a fourth. The fourth man exclaimed “ye kiska goad(leg) meri moodi (head) per hai”. Now believe me, there are only a few things more funny than listening a Bhojpuri speaking man speak in Hindi. After a lot of bickering that followed, the compartment was restored to the earlier.

The journey continued and so did the suffering. The passengers comprised chiefly the labour class of people who were set to the NCR region. They had brought food for the journey. Most of such passengers were sitting on the upper births (generally used to put luggage on). Now as they passed food from one birth to the other, some of the food spilled down. Of course the victims of the spill were not happy. Soon a representative of the annoyed people down below, spoke up. What followed up was a heated debate. Some contacts were recalled from memories and some promises were made. Only after the intervention of others, the matter was resolved.

A major problem with such travels is the frequency of vendors. In a scene where people were hardly able to adjust their feet, a vendor’s presence was met with howling and rebukes. However, this did not affect their sale, on the contrary, increased it. I can still recall the family sitting in front of me purchasing water bottles, tea, gram, nuts, samosas, cold drinks and a few other snacks. Plus they had brought food from home. And yet they were not alone in this. I should not comment, yet does it not seem logical enough to spend this money to get a reserved ticket?

My destination was nearing. It was a matter of a couple of hours more when this would end. A gang of eunuchs rushed into the compartment. Everyone grew panicky and tried hard not to grab their attention. They started asking for money. Left with few options, people reluctantly took out money and started handing over. A young guy refused and was embarrassed in front of the whole ‘crowd’ which was not a less embarrassing moment for the crowd itself (the act could not be explained here). I was frightened and so was everyone. That was the toughest part of my journey. And I was almost clueless about how to deal with the situation. To my respite, students were exempted from such a collection and so I did not need to take my purse out.

After facing all this, I finally reached Lucknow. I got off the train. The journey to the gate was no less than a Herculean task. In the auto rickshaw, I was still thinking about my journey. I was thinking about the guy crashing down. I thought about how easily vendors moved across the crowded compartments. I thought about the guys spilling food on their fellow passengers without realising it. I thought about the guy who was embarrassed in front of the passengers. Yes the journey was as horrible as it could be, but at least it made a story. A story I could share and laugh about and maybe I just challenged some people out there who live by the statement, “The Journey is more important than the End”.

Shrish Chandra Pandey

Team ISMDiaries

The entire ISMDiaries Team comes together to create articles to be shared via the Team ISMDiaries handle. What you are reading is a culmination of efforts of several members of our team and no one in particular.

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