What a delayed train journey can teach you about Delhi politics

From a conversation about Arvind Kejriwal to the government setting the nation back, all in one long ride.

 |  The Inner Courtyard  |   Long-form |   31-01-2015
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The slated 14 hour journey via Rajdhani - the most expensive and efficient train - from Delhi to Howrah had now stretched to 20 hours. Plus, the "background music" (as the girl from DU would call it) from the 50-something man who snored all night on the side lower berth, also received mixed reactions from the fellow travellers in the same compartment. Additionally, he had also evoked strong sentiments for yelling at the IRCTC service staff for not giving him enough dahi for dinner last night.  

When he woke up at nine the next morning, all eyes were on him. Dressed in a black pant and pale pink shirt, he combed his hair neatly with a side parting, after he was done having his morning chai.

The man from the upper berth on the opposite side climbed down, and, while seating himself on the lower berth, said, "There wasn’t even any fog in Delhi when it started, neither was any on the way, still the train is so late." 



To this, the man in pink replied in a hoarse, high-pitched voice, "This is when the rail fare has been increased. More money for window seat, long waiting lists and higher cancellation charges. And all money is deducted if you don’t cancel the waiting list tickets within two days of the day of the travel. These people said they will lower the prices, they have instead increased them."

"Yeah, sab acche din hai-acche din," said the upper berth man. 



Now, the delayed train was full of people with suppressed morning energy and flop schedules. In this compartment, the husband and wife from Bengal had settled down next to each other nicely, on the lower berth. The wife was reading a Bengali magazine, while the husband was looking out the window. On the opposite side, next to me, was a post-graduate student from DU whose family lives in Kanpur. She was going to Sunderbans for soil research and had narrated the story of how her laptop was stolen from a moving bus in Delhi two days ago, and how it is not so bad in Kanpur, to every single person in the compartment. The man from the upper berth worked as an artisan at a jeweler’s workshop in Delhi. The conversation between him and the man in pink had put out the magnet in the open to attract all that energy that was waiting to be spent in the neighbouring compartments. 



"Now, Kiran Bedi has also jumped in," the man in pink added fuel to fire. 



The DU girl, in a passionate, high volume, responded, "I really used to look up to her. That television serial on Doordarshan… what was it called? Yes, Udaan. I wanted to become a police officer too. Actually, all my friends wanted to become police officers after watching it. But why did she join BJP? What is this? Give birth to four children, Love Jihad, beat up women in pubs? Why did she join them? So sad!”



A man - short, fair, middle-aged, spectacled, in a well-creased shirt and sleeveless sweater, came and sat on the semi-occupied lower berth and observed. 



"Haan, it is not like Kiran Bedi will bring down the prices," said the man in pink.



The observer with a serious face tried to point out the rationale, "But bhaisaheb, the mehangai will not go away so soon. It is all in the deficit. The previous government left it like that. It is not the new government’s fault. They will take time to recover the losses. That is why they need to increase the prices."  



The Bengali girl looked up from behind her magazine in the direction of the conversation. 



The man in pink folded his legs for a more comfortable posture on his berth before answering. "This is the problem. People like you and me are trapped in these rigmaroles… these balance sheets… why? Tell me something, everything is part of the black market. Why can’t the government stop it? Kejriwal stopped it."



The other fellow travellers on the two lower berths perpendicular to him also looked at him, in reflex. I was all ears anyway, as much as I could strain them. 



"But when he was given a chance, he ran away," said the observer, holding his palm up in the direction of the man in pink, to make his point. 



"Arrey, when he came into power with the promise of eradicating corruption, and nobody was letting him pass the Lokpal bill, he left on principle. Usmein kya baat hai?" the man in pink replied.



"That is an easy excuse. Such a fraud!" the observer was not convinced. 



"Tell me, bhaisaheb, why don’t we, as common people, place our demands for what concerns us in our everyday lives," said the man in pink. 



The observer listened attentively. 



The man in pink asked pointed questions, "Give me answers. Can you get a gas connection without paying a bribe? No. Can you walk into a police station and file an FIR and ensure police action? No. Can you get a driving license made without bribing the RTO? No. Can you file sales tax without any corruption? No."

The observer kept nodding in agreement but with discomfiture on his face. 



"Then, the question comes to basics like bijli-paani. The electricity bill is so high, there is a water crisis everywhere. Kejriwal had solved it. And by the way, I am from Ghaziabad so I have nothing to do with Delhi. I am just a vyaapari who runs an artificial jewelry business. But what is correct is correct," the man in pink continued his monologue. 



The observer raised his hand to make a point, "I am also a businessman. But he gave it all for free. Is this some model? Public money is being wasted in giving away water and electricity for free. And that too to people who are illegal settlers - who don’t even pay tax."

Meanwhile, two more people from the neighbouring compartments joined in. One leaned on the ladder to the upper berths in the passage, and the other one made space next to the man from the upper berth. 



The man in pink made a counterpoint in what was taking the form of a newshour debate with several panelists, “Why don’t we get agitated when money is wasted in giving politicians so much security? Or when they live in big bungalows, go for foreign tours or construct statues. But when the same public money is used for something as basic as water and electricity for common people, we are made to believe that it is being wasted. Wah bhai wah! The problem is, we don’t think about all these things."

A moment of silence followed. 



The observer disagreed, "But look at the development model in Gujarat where they have managed to improve water supply."

"That is not true," came a voice much like the akashvaani in mythological serials from the 90s.



A 20-something boy, as he got down from the middle berth, continued in a matter-of-fact tone. "Canal water has been shown as Sabarmati water. It is all a farce. Plus, Gujarat model also has Hindu-Muslim riots in it."



My heart started beating faster. The boy came and settled in the empty space between me and the observer. 



The observer replied, "Owaisi also does the same thing."

"He does but so does Amit Shah. No one talks about that," replied the boy.



The man in pink added, "This kind of mischief is done by people from lower castes and Muslims. Illiterates and poor, who keep adding to the population like insects. In fact, a recent report shows the population of Muslims has risen to 25 per cent."



The observer nodded his head vehemently in agreement. 



Needless to say, the man in pink, who had resurrected himself from last night's follies by the simple, logical arguments preceding the last statement, and the observer, immediately lost all credibility. 



The Bengali man in his mid-thirties, who was silently listening to this profound discussion, jumped in, "Who said that? It is a lie. It is 14 per cent; not 25."

"It has increased by just about one percent. 14.2 from 13.4 per cent," I added. 



The temperatures had started soaring; fellow travellers had started taking off their warm clothing. Some credit also goes to the change in the weather as the train had entered the warmer Jharkhand. 



The observer continued, "But all terror activities are conducted by Muslims."

"Why is fake encounter not terror? Amit Shah was accused of that, no? And Sadhvi Pragya? She is also in jail, accused of terrorism," the young boy added. 



"Haan, poor her! They have been torturing her so much in jail," said the man in pink. 



"Just like all under-trials," I added. 



"And what about the 'haraamzaade' statement for Muslims? Is that correct?" the boy continued.



The man in pink said, “No. That is wrong.”



"And what about 'women should produce four children'," asked the DU girl. The sudden rounds of question and answers had turned into a tennis match.

The man in pink said, "That is careless. One can let go of that. He just said that, he didn’t abuse anyone."

The DU girl, instead of answering, looked to the other side, outside the window, in anger.


"But Muslims are a little aggressive," said the man in pink.


The observer added, "That is true. Yeh toh maanna padega!"

"What uncleji! You are still stuck in some ancient era," said the boy. 



The girl, with disappointment on her face, walked off. 



The observer suddenly had an important question to ask. He asked the boy, "What is your caste?"

"Brahmin," replied the boy as he sprayed deodorant over his entire clothed body, giving a slight migraine to occupants in the closed third A/C compartment.
 


"Accha? From?" the observer was not convinced after the boy’s pro-Muslim arguments.



"Wasseypur, Dhanbad. Heard of it? It was in a film too, recently. We will reach the stop in the next one hour."

Lunch arrived. The man in pink and the observer shifted to the same berth and started conversing over food. 



The observer said, "One should only eat vegetarian food. All the chakras in the body remain active. If you eat non-veg you become ugr like muslims."



The people on this side of the compartment exchanged glances as they all ate non-veg thalis served by IRCTC. The conversation adopted a lower volume. 



The boy smiled, leaned towards the centre and said, "See, both the uncles have allied." To which the Bengali man replied, "This is all middle class bonding. People want development but without shedding off their prejudices. I am a strong supporter of Congress - not the Rahul Gandhi type but the old Nehruvian one with a socialist model. My wife disagrees with me."

The wife looked at him and then at us on the opposite berth. "What we saw here is something I see in my family every day. I am a CPM supporter so I didn’t even open my mouth. Bengal politics is very different from these politics. Like BJP is taking us 30 years back in North India, Mamta is doing it in Bengal. You can convince people to vote for you on the basis of Love Jihad in North India, not in Bengal.”



The boy, who told us that he was a UP aspirant, coaching himself in North Delhi, got down at Dhanbad. The DU girl was absconding throughout while we wondered if she did not learn a lesson after her laptop being stolen. The man in pink and the observer continued conversing for the next few hours. As we got ready to get down, while the train was waiting for clearance on the outer platform, the man in pink and the observer raised their volume. 



"But, you are making the same mistake again. It has been seven months since Modi came. What difference has it made to your life? Tell me? I am telling you bhaisaheb, talk about Uniform Civil Code later, right now it is who makes my life easier,” the man in pink said as he pulled out his luggage from under his berth. 



The DU girl came, pulled out her luggage, gave the two men a look and was the first to deport at Howrah, the final destination.



Train delays clearly may not particularly serve the best interests of political parties.

Writer

Neha Dixit Neha Dixit @nehadixit123

The writer is an independent journalist who writes on gender, development and politics in South Asia.

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