The truth about Indians travelling on trains

Once the train moves, 'sab adjust ho jata hai'.

 |  5-minute read |   24-09-2017
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A circular issued by the railway ministry stipulates a new bedtime for travellers. We should go to sleep at ten and wake up at six. The reason for this is complex, involving all three sleeper berths, which, like batting in cricket, is divided into three orders: lower, middle and upper.

Travellers on Indian trains can be divided into two types: the sitters and the sleepers. The sitters exchange gossip and food with strangers and play cards. They are the extroverts. The sleepers are the introverts, preferring to stuff their ears with music or read a book.

The upper berth folks complained that the lower berth folks stretch out as soon as they board the train, leaving the former with no time and space to eat. The lower berth guys complained that the middle ones go on sleeping, depriving them of their right to sit. The side upper berth guys have accused the side lower RAC passengers of hogging sitting space. It’s all very complicated

Any frequent traveller on an Indian train will tell you that rules don’t count for much. The only rule that we follow is best described by the word “adjust”. A family gets on with too much luggage and you start to fret. How will I go to the loo? The family will offer you a laddoo and say: “Calm down, behenji. Let the train move, sab adjust ho jayega.” As the train begins to pick up speed, and the carriages shake, the suitcases automatically rearrange themselves to everyone’s convenience.

The Indian going on a train journey follows a ritual. He arrives at his compartment and runs his finger down the reservation chart, lips murmuring. You don’t really need to use your finger — the eyes suffice — but the sliding finger is part of tradition.

Observing Indians on a train, you’d think we’re the most civilised travellers on the planet. We arrive in our “outing” clothes and then change into night pyjamas at around ten. This involves slithering in and out of a wrapped towel, in full public view, but no one seems to mind. (We can look into regulating this, keeping public decency in mind — why not just arrive in your night clothes?).

trains_092417101459.jpgPhoto: Wikimedia Commons

Next the shoes are placed on the fan. As someone once told me, shoes never fall off the sloping fan — no matter how much the train shakes. It also keeps them safe from shoe robbers. This too should be regulated: stinky shoes and smelly socks can cause great discomfort to fellow upper berth passengers.

Indians are early risers and obsessed with oral hygiene. By 5.30am half the compartment is crowded on one end and half on the other — everyone brushing their teeth rather vigorously. Perhaps we can introduce slots: berths 1-15 can brush their teeth between 5.30 and 6am and so on. If everyone brushes their teeth in batches it will considerably lessen the jostling at the wash basins.

All of India travels by train and culture clashes are bound to happen. Once in my compartment there was a Gujarati group on a religious trip to Haridwar. The women were so excited by the trip that they decided to stay up all night singing bhajans. This was tolerated to a point until they decided to brighten up the night by lighting diyas in the train. When fellow passengers protested this was a fire hazard, the diyas were put out. We adjust.

In chair-car journeys on the Shatabdi, habits are somewhat different. They serve you kachauri, Bikaneri sev and Kurkure as soon as the train leaves the station. This welcome snack is a flatulence bomb that explodes an hour into the journey. The closed air-conditioned compartment becomes a gas chamber. The railways should look into changing the snack menu.

On Shatabdis, one also has to be wary of the charger socket hog. This person will stick her charger into the socket and refuse to unplug. Timings should be fixed regarding charger use.

On morning Shatabdis, passengers tend to get into work mode right away: they plug in their laptops and start sending emails. Soon, everyone is shouting loudly into their phones, as the train slowly picks up speed, and the signal comes and goes.

I’ve noticed that most are ordering someone in office to forward mails. As one tries to read a book, the fellow passengers are all screaming: “Hello. Hello? Sunai de raha hai? Acha, Pandeyji, please forward this mail to Mishraji. And this one, send all kar dijiyega.” Does anyone realise that all these orders to forward mails can be sent on email itself? Railways, please note.

And what about the flying cockroaches? A “Hit” in every cubicle is a must, though I’ve noticed railway cockroaches are unsettlingly polite and self-effacing, retiring quickly from sight.

Finally, I think the middle berth should be abolished completely. Apart from making you feel that you are levitating, it doesn’t do much. I cannot travel in middle berths anymore, though as a child it was my favourite. You prop yourself on your elbow to drink some water and bang your head on the upper.

But then, as they say, once the train moves, “sab adjust ho jata hai”. Give the rules a wide berth.

Also read: My spineless country murdered Gauri Lankesh in cold blood

Writer

Palash Krishna Mehrotra Palash Krishna Mehrotra @palashmehrotra

Freelance journalist and author of The Butterfly Generation.

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