But this piece is not about the ‘aam aadmis’ that are selling like hot cakes, are in vogue and capture headlines. It is about lesser mortals and their humongous problems that ‘system’ inflicts on them. One such prominent problem is rendered by the Indian railways. The world’s fourth largest rail network, having over 14 thousand trains running daily, used by millions of people, is nothing short of an ordeal to deal with. An ordeal that steps on your fray nerves and tramples it. An ordeal that reflects the frustration that the ‘aam aadmi’ has to deal with, day in and day out.
Having left the confines of home 12 years back, to pursue higher education, and then to work, travelling thousands of kilometers by train has become an integral part of my life. I sometimes feel a personal account of the vagaries of train travel spanning over a decade could be an ideal topic for a novella. But if the novella materializes, it will depict a picture that will not be beautiful. With each passing year the deterioration in quality of train travel is on the rise, the inefficiency, and the lackadaisical attitudes almost nauseating.
Time keeping probably would be at the bottom of the list of complaints, it just follows the national standard in that department. I have had trains arriving up to five hours late, without any foreseeable pertinent issue. But then if the comforts of the coaches were excellent one could bear with the delays; just to provide yourself some solace. When I started travelling regularly more than a decade back, at least there were no cockroaches or mice inside the bogeys. But now they have become permanent residents.
You might be wondering why pest control cannot manage the situation. A recent travel early this year revealed that both pest control and the pests are updated, that is, the date of last visit was recent, yet cockroaches were also visible. During Lalu Prasad Yadav’s regime, toilets cleaning at major stations was introduced. It was a highly effective measure which has seen considerable dilution in the subsequent years. And mind you, it is not about the Sleeper class toilets that I am talking about, even the 3A and 2A have pitiable condition. When I pointed it to the TTE on Vivek Express a few weeks back, he assured that it will be addressed. We however travelled for close to two days in unclean conditions.
Over the past few years I have observed the over pricing of goods both inside the train by the caterer and by shopkeepers in the platform. And the over pricing occurs to the tune of 5 Rs on a 10 Rs product! Haggling with a shopkeeper, while your train is ready to depart, can be a truly harrowing experience, which unfortunately is increasingly occurring. The AC coach attendants indulging in nefarious activities, especially supplying demanding passengers with illegal substances is best not discussed in detail. The price of meals in trains have shot up exponentially and its quality spiraled down like economy. A visit to the pantry car could help your resolve to stay away from food that come through that door.
That was mostly about the Express trains. The condition of local trains, the intercity trains is all the more pathetic. No TTE, no security guards patrolling, unhygienic berths, unclean toilets, are hallmarks of thousands of such trains. While the attitude of the masses needs to be severely criticized in lieu with civic sensibilities, the onus falls on the railways to ensure them instead. A travel of hours in such a train will instill the belief in you that the country is actually left to rot.
But how much of it is news to you? If you take the aerial route, certainly you wouldn’t be aware of such distresses. If you do not travel long distances by trains, or just travel the Metro, or the select few elite Rajdhanis and Shatabdis, you wouldn’t alight with the thought expressed above. But if you are that ‘aam aadmi’ who is at the mercy of Indian railways, you will identify with the excesses that this state machinery causes to you. The helplessness, the powerlessness of the common man to change the sorry state of affairs in railways, which is the only source of your travel to your home, your relatives’ house, your workplace, your dream destination, is stifling. Prolonged stifling is not healthy for a nation.