How about ‘train’ing the yatris?

I’ve been doing a great deal of train travel of late which has given me the opportunity to notice incidents that reflect traits that are quintessentially (and embarrassingly) Indian. But I started to think about how people from abroad would be judging us as a nation merely by observing our ‘railway travel’ behavior when I traveled with a group of Americans travelling in the Delhi- Chandigarh Shatabdi. The train had slowed down in Sonipat for an unscheduled stop. Looking out of the window, I saw dozens of people standing on the railway track right next to our train. Was there a dharna? I wondered aloud to the cabin attendant.

‘No, Madame, they are waiting for their train.’ He responded.

‘But why not on the platform …why on the patri? ‘ I asked, thinking how dangerous and disruptive this behavior was.

Their train chugged in just then and the ‘patri people’ scrambled in, climbing on one another, pushing, shoving, clambering. And that’s when the foreigners, after gaping in disbelief, started filming it on their cameras. They smiled, they pointed and they shook their heads and knowing that they would upload it on Facebook pretty soon; I winced in shame for my countrymen.

A short while later, having partaken the breakfast served in the Shatabdi, the passengers had settled down to their naps or reading. I observed a cabin attendant, stopping before every American traveller and asking for tips. He smiled in a servile way, peering greedily into their wallets as they looked for some money to tip him with. It was obvious that the Americans did not like it, but a sense of courtesy to their host nation compelled them to pull out fifty and hundred rupee notes.

I asked the fellow: ‘Why are you asking for tips from the firangis?  Don’t you know it’s absolutely not allowed?’

He looked at me straight in the eye and insolently retorted: ‘What’s it to you? I’m not asking you for tips, am I?’

The young man was fine example of politeness and Atithi devo bhava!

A few months ago, while travelling to Indore, I had stepped out in Agra station to get some tea, when the train started to pull out.  Hastily jumping into an unreserved compartment, I travelled in it from Agra to Mathura. There was a group of labourers and their families in the compartment. The floor was strewn with a carpet of peanut skins.  India certainly produced more peanut s that I’d ever realised!  The walls had marks of paan spittle for decoration. I dared imagine what the toilets were like!

‘Bathiye behenji’ – they offered me a seat. ‘Moongphali  khaiye’.  I passed the second offer.

The thing is that railway budgets may usher in faster trains, better facilities and toilets, but who is planning the budget to change in the yatri behavior?

Bottom line: Till the behavior of the yatri and karamcharis changes, the experience of the yatra isn’t likely to be too sukhad!


This ‘middle’ appeared in The Tribune on the 2nd of March, 2015:

Categorized as The Chronic-colour