I have just returned from a trip to Hyderabad. As the title of this post suggests, my journey was from hell.
I had booked my tickets online. Wonder why IRCTC asks for a berth preference when the moment you enter an age below 60, you're given the worst berth? I had the worst case of bad luck. I got side upper berth for both onward and return journeys. Giving them the benefit of doubt, I supposed that I should have booked my tickets earlier. With that thought and a sigh, I mentally prepared myself for the journey.
The horror began with the onward journey. For starters, I almost missed the train. The scheduled departure time was 16.45. I left my home at 15.35 thinking it would give me adequate time to take the local train to Park, walk the subway into Central station and board the train. How wrong I was!
The line at the ticket counter at the sub urban train station was long. With the line inching ahead and the minutes ticking away, my anxiety levels began to rise. Just as I reached the ticket window, this jackass cut in from the adjacent ticket line. I snapped.
"Hey! Join the queue"
"No.The guy at that counter said my ticket is issued in this counter"
" Whatever! Join the queue"
What?! I couldn't believe this. And nobody else in the queue said a word!
"Well then you can buy your ticket after me." It was the best I could do given my time limitation. Plus, he was holding a five hundred rupee note. It would take forever before he had his ticket and change.
Finally I boarded the local train. But as luck would have it, I had boarded the slowest local train in the world. It chugged along amiably at a leisurely pace, even stopping once when no station was in sight. Must have stopped to let an old lady cross the tracks I fumed.
You think this is bad? Wait till you hear the rest. I somehow made it to Central station with five minutes to spare. Locating my third AC compartment, I wearily made my way to my (shudder) side upper berth.
Remember how they had introduced a 'side middle berth'? Now consider the engineering aspect of it. How do you think Indian Railways managed to accommodate a side middle berth? Well, they raised the side upper berth a few inches and stuck the middle berth in the newly created space between the lower and upper berth.
Now the side middle was so excruciatingly uncomfortable that even the Railways relented. Public displeasure for once did not fall on deaf ears. A decision was made scrapping the middle berth. And so they were. Expect that the smart cookie that took out the side middle berth, didn't think to lower the upper berth back to its original position. The result was that you couldn't sit up on the side upper berth. You either had to lie down or get off it. And when you lay down, the roof of the coach was barely inches from your nose and the wall curved just over your shoulder. The net effect, you felt you were sleeping in a coffin.
And such was the prospect that lay ahead of me in the 14 hour overnight journey from Chennai to Hyderabad. To make matters more interesting, twin babies and their parents were my co-passengers. I don't suppose I need to mention that traveling with babies is right next to traveling on side upper berth in my list of dislikes on train journeys. Of course, in a moment of charity, I did sympathise with the couple who had two side lower berths (to my one side upper). I suppose their journey was worse than mine.
The remaining hours of my journeys were filled with travails and indignities which you will no doubt find amusing. My chimpanzee imitation - hanging and swaying while hoisting myself onto the side upper berth, the wailing of the babies when lights were switched off, the consequent burning of the lights all night (right on my face) - the night it seemed would never end. I arrived at my parents bleary eyed and in a bad mood.
"Side upper eh?" , said my dad. "Too bad". He then went on to express his opinion of what the Railways should do about this problem. "If they allot a passenger a side berth, lower or upper, they should give them a discount for the discomfort". Yeah! Right. Like that was going to happen in my lifetime.
Gloom descended as my return journey neared. Side upper again. But wait! When I boarded the train, I noticed that the upper berth was not placed high as Everest. Some kind soul had lowered it back to its original height. Praise the Lord! Perhaps I would get a good night's sleep after all. But....(yes, my life was turning out to be one obstacle course!), three giggly girls just out of their teens were my co-passengers. I eyed them with trepidation. However, if you discounted the constant giggling, texting and whispering into mobile phones well past midnight, I suppose it wasn't such a bad train experience.
PS: But even after this tirade about the journey from hell, I should tell you that I love the Indian Railways. It is a total paradox. With its beautiful train names (Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Amrapali, Hussein Sagar Exp), filthy stations and perpetual wait lists, to me, it is a symbol of the diversity and plurality that exist in my beautiful country. I'm a railway child. And I suppose that's what gives me the right to criticise!
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