Values that we hold dear to us and practice religiously can come down crumbling like a pack of cards in a moment of indiscretion. Though I am a highly safety-conscious person and rarely can one provoke me to blow my fuse, on that day, in the dead of the night, as I waited on a railway platform, things went awry.
After completing official work at Tiruchy in Tamil Nadu, I had to travel to Thoothukudi by the Pearl City Express that runs from Chennai to the coastal town via Tiruchy, which is at the centre of the train’s route.
As I couldn’t make an advance booking, I purchased an unreserved ticket at the Tiruchy railway station and decided to try my luck with the Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) for a berth in a reserved coach. The train then had a stopover of 10 minutes at Tiruchy. The train arrived and the TTE of an AC coach alighted with a conceited look. I approached him timidly for any vacancy and he said in a coarse voice, “I’ve one in three-tier AC. You’ve to pay the fare difference.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said, and handed him my unreserved ticket. He pulled out his receipt book and as he was about to put his pen to paper, looked at me weirdly and said, “You’ve a wrong ticket, didn’t even bother to check it and were about to land me in serious trouble. Look, you’ve Tiruchy to Chennai ticket for journey in the opposite direction.”
That was a bombshell, but I realised he was right. I pleaded with him, “No sir. I asked for a Tiruchy to Thoothukudi ticket only. The staff at the counter must’ve erred. Can you please bail me out?” He shouted, “How can I? If you want to travel, just go to the counter, get the right ticket and come back.”
I almost passed out as I considered the option of going all the way from a remote platform to the ticketing counter through the subway and back, with my luggage in tow, and it seemed to be mission impossible. I should’ve altered my travel plan but instead, in a rush of blood, darted to the ticketing counter, argued vociferously with the staff there and bought a new Tiruchy to Thoothukudi ticket. As I scampered to my platform panting heavily, the train had just started. The fuming TTE saw me and said, in a twist to the tale, “Try to get in. I’ll help you. Give me your suitcase and hold my hand firmly.”
I sprinted like Usain Bolt, somehow jumped into the train, supported by the extended hands of the TTE. I plonked myself down on the seat, thanked the TTE and at once pledged not to violate my principles of ‘compliance to safety’ and ‘level-headedness’, come what may.