Friday, September 30, 2011

Heart Beats of India - Trains @ Indian Railways

Indian Railways, Department undertaking of GOI overseen by the Ministry of Railways, has 113,617 Kms tracks and 7083 stations spread across the Indian subcontinent. 30 million passengers use IR everyday and 1.36M employees work for it. It is the 4th largest railway network in the world. It was one among the few positives of the East India Company. Britons proposed railway network in 1832 and since then it has been serving the masses of India. IR trains have been the most convenient transportation medium for people in India.

Indian Railways' success should be attributed to its relationship with all categories of our society. Most of us travel with Indian Railways in different sorts of compartments. A train, part of IR, contains five sorts of compartments. General bogie, a mean to travel cheap economically, physically and mentally, is for poor people. People having meager pays choose general compartments to travel. Sleeper class is meant for middle-poor class. People of this class enjoy restricted luxury (A sound sleep in natural air instead of AC). 3rd Tier AC compartment is used by people who wish to pay additional money to travel in a hassle-free environment. These compartments are generally filled by middle class or salaried class families. Next class of compartments are the 2nd tier AC, which are filled with middle-rich family. Last but not the least, 1st tier AC compartments are filled with rich and elite people of India. Apart from all these compartments, trains run with one of the most important compartment i.e. the pantry which provides tasty food (We all love it, is not it?) for all the people traveling.

Every train journey is a unique experience. These experiences are sometimes sweet, neutral at times and bitter rest of the times, better to say most of the times. Overwhelming chaos, chattering, pollution, and huge crowd, across all the stations, trains and ticketing windows, make the travel inconvenient and painful.

I have traveled in 3 types of compartments i.e. 3rd AC, Sleeper and General and based on my past experiences I may not like to travel in general compartments (most inconvenient) any more but I feel these are the most lively compartments. I know it is childish but there are solid reasons supporting my childish statement. 

AC compartments are reserved by people who have some etiquette and reservations. Either People, traveling in these compartments, do not wish to talk or their discussions are way far from understanding of a common man. Things that interest them, i.e. economy, history, books, and jobs, do not flatter a common man. 

People, in AC compartments, do not like intruders who can be problematic to the comfort so they keep their mind clear of not sharing the seats with anyone else. Along with all these comforts if you are lucky, then you can find some girls sitting next to your seat without their parents. So all in all AC compartments provide hassle free travel with few boring people. If you want to spend 24 hours in boring travel then be it's guest and pray to god to not hitting a seat next to few uncles and aunts.

Sleeper class receives people who are stuck due to non-availability of either tickets or money. When these two ends(Less Ameer and Less garib) end up sharing the same compartment then it takes plenty of time to break the ice. In sleeper class discussions are not as boring as in AC. People in sleeper class talk about sports, movies, songs, religions and superstitions. Cricket is ever green and the most discussed topic over here. Religions and superstitions are the second most discussed topic there. People share stories about ghosts, bad dreams and temples where blood thirsty souls find peace. Discussion about films and songs are rear and limited to young people. People in these compartments do not discourage intruders much and share their own seats with these intruders. All in all sleeper class is neither much interesting nor much convenient.

Let’s talk about the most evergreen, lively, and interesting compartments of a train. General bogie reflects most of the India. It has people who belong to different social statuses, castes, religions, and regions. These people try to figure out a way to make their journey a little better for the people who are suffering most. People in these compartments have the appetite to accommodate passengers 2-3 times of its original capacity. There is a fight for everything. Sometimes to enter the compartment; Sometimes to save yourself from falling back; sometimes not able to balance the body on one toe; Sometime to settle  at gate; Sometimes to escape from sharing the bench with four additional passengers. Toilets in the general compartments are additional incentives on top of all other human problems.  

Even after so many problems, these compartments are the most entertaining compartments of the train. People are not sophisticated, knowledgeable and literate much but they are curious. They do not talk about businesses, sports, films, money and economics. They talk about dances (Some chammak challo dance in some movie), salvation, love, girls, families, ghosts, problems, travels and places. Most of the discussions primarily revolve around human characteristics which anyone and everyone can understand. Striking the chords with anyone is simple. Within 5-6 hours you will know all about a person's family, business, and reason of traveling, receiver at platform, return date and lot more.

I remember a small conversation between a sage and few fellow passengers. The sage was dragging shots from his chillam and he was releasing the smoke in the compartment. One guy got frustrated and started confronting the saint, whereas few others joined to wrestle with Shiv devotee saint.

Guy 1: Bharat mein sadhu banke bas ganja peena hi dharm ho gaya hai, sharm to ati nahi. (In India, Sage do not have anything to do other than dragging, shameless people.)
Sadhu: Yeh to sambhu ka Prasad hai beta, beta ek baar pi fir dekh tujhe khud bhole dikhenge. (It is Shankar bhagwan's prasadam, try it and you will find him.)
Guy 2: Han baba sahi bol rahe ho. Apka to koi dharm nahi hamara bhi bhrast kar rahe ho.(Yeah, yeah, you do not follow any religion, but do not spoil us)
Sage: Sambhu peete hain, yeh to Moksha ka darwaja hai beta. (It is way to salvation.)
Guy1: Baba, moksha ise peene se milta to sab tum jaise ho gaye hote. (That is why you are here waiting for salvation.)
Sage: Beta moksha aise hi milege. (Accept it, it is the only way to meet Shiva.)

The conversation which was started to persuade the sadhu but did not end and it kept changing paths from one to another character/god. The Sadhu and passengers started discussing moh, maya, ramayan, and mahabharat. It looked like entire wisdom of the world was resting next to my seat. All of a sudden people, who were behaving like retards (before settling down), started behaving professors of philosophy, mythology and history. Everyone started telling truths of the world. 

Now you know why general class is great and interesting. People facing so many problems get the time to laugh, share and advice. To watch the real face of India, travel in general compartment for once in life time. You will realize the beauty and beast of railways. If you are lucky these people will persuade you to join sanyaas as well ;)


  1. Well, Absolutely true. You missed one thing. In the general compartments, you would see the hide-n-seek games between the TT and the ticket-less passengers. It's funnier when the TT is lucky, and catches someone.

  2. I still think, that Sleeper Class is the best..a perfect mix of comfort of everyone which allows the different conversations to thrive...General Compartments are too messy and there is no such have to go standing for for 5-6 hrs. In these conditions...chattering and blabbering is the last things any one would want to do.

  3. @Psycho I never seen TT visiting the general compartments. But yeah there is good cat and mouse race in Sleeper class compartments.

    @Kunnu Depends on the discussion I n u like. I like to hear stupid discussion when there I want to chill out whereas in sleeper classes discussion is more geek type. Yeah the possibilities suggested by you are most of the time but these compartments have different environment and distinct feel, which could not be elaborated in exact worlds.