The very thought of train travel scares many these days, not because the rake may not arrive at all or depart, run and reach the destination on time, but because the circumstances of travel are totally unpredictable and subject to developments from start to finish. Whatever be the class of travel, the journey may have to be endured with compromises like forfeiting your favourite berth if you are old and can’t climb up, and without the AC coach being rodent-free or with a faulty cooling system.
Even if it is the second station from the terminus where you are boarding the train with family and luggage, especially at midnight, there may be a late arrival, a locked sleeper coach, non-availability of the TTE to allot your last-minute RAC-converted berth, or there is a distinct possibility of the alloted berth being already occupied by a passenger with an unreserved ticket. So the first thing you will be called upon to do is to wake up the person and ask him about his ticket and berth number. He may get annoyed when you disturb his sleep. He could have boarded a different compartment or you may be at fault for getting into a wrong coach.
And for those who prefer to take the train at the terminus itself, the agony still exists. Their problem will be in finding enough space for keeping their minimum luggage because the place under the lower berth is already filled with huge luggage and bulk of it protruding outside. Even if a person has a single journey ticket, he can get a bunch of friends to aid him as porters to get his luggage bags there and he would have tied everything together with a chain.
Once his friends finish their job, they are despatched and the passenger climbs up the upper berth with a handbag containing his precious laptop and latest smartphone in one hand and a novel in the other. In the good old days, TTEs used to conduct a quick scan of things kept under the seat to verify if there is excess baggage and if you are unlucky you will be called upon to pay a hefty fine for carrying extra weight.
Smart railway staff were hell bent on earning extra revenue. Now the staff are overburdened and confess that there are fewer TTEs with the result one person has to burrow through three or four coaches. With the advent of SMS tickets, they are called upon to remove their specs and strain their eyes for tallying the SMS with the name and age on the chart.
If a person decides to travel during daytime in a sleeper coach because there is more space and better upholstery below and behind his back, one cannot be sure that he performs the journey without hassles. There are a few smart people who board the train well ahead of others and sleep on the lower berth.
No one is bothered about others’ inconvenience and the first commandment of Indian railway travel is “Give way for the catering fellow” as he might be carrying a hot barrel of a beverage or a tray full of heated foodstuffs for the famished travellers. Thus, every train journey is remembered for a long time to come, till a better or a worse trip follows suit.