From Hell

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"

"No!"

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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8 Responses to From Hell

  1. Mohan says:

    Ah! ranting and sarcasm gelling together eh?

    True, it was the time when railways wanted to make money and show profits during Lalu's period and they introduced that utterly uncomfortable middle berth. While reading your post, I recalled an article about one of the Indian railway offering to wash the blankets once in a month!

    Uff.. its been ages since I traveled in trains, your article made me recall all those *good* n *old* memories... The co-incidence is I had traveled to Hyderabad too in my last journey using 'Kacheguda' Express :)

  2. Well...the issue of middle berth on side is not totally a case of "deaf ears". Railway board has stopped manufacturing these coaches; many trains they do not book the side middle berth. But the ramifications of the problem will take some time to go away. There is a minor discount on the side middle berth also. Things will change for better soon I suppose :) Kushal

  3. I recently went to Kota from New Delhi. Being on a company sponsored trip , I was booked in the 1st AC compartment of Paschim Express. As soon as I entered the train (which came 90 minutes late after announcing it to be on time on the telephonic tracking system) ; it smelled of old damp carpets which have been dried in shade. Having complained it the coach attendant he first asked me - are you an upgraded passenger or one who has bought a 1st AC ticket. Having said that I am a bonafide 1st AC ticket holder ; he came back with a horrible smelling room freshner sparying it all over the place. Hey but my ordeal was not over ; I was digging deep into a Kiran Desai novel, when I realized that there is something creeping on my shoulder. Don't worry , it was not a snake ; it was a small mouse trying to reach the leftovers of my dinner. I pressed the attendant bell again , asking for a complain form. The TTE was informed who came with a small yellow pad which was the complain log.Since he left the same with me , I saw that there were 18 such complains in the last two months. Railways had apparently paid to some contractor to do a pest control which was just done last week. But apparently the pests were stronger and the treatment....Though I agree Deep that Railways has contributed to Indian society in innumerable ways ; but its time that they change. Else God knows....

  4. really thats how they made the side middle berth? OMG. As it is the upper berths make me feel claustrophobic and dead. I get dreams of being stuck in a tiny cave with no exits. I feel like i am losing my breath every moment. AND the length is never enough in the side one. Now with the side berth being much higher, sigh! I will meet my breathless end there :(

  5. Choco says:

    That must have been dreadful! But it made a very good read :)
    I have heard about the horrors of the side middle berth. But haven't seen it. And now you say that it has been removed!

    I liked your blog and your write ups are so honest. Thanks for commenting on mine. Much appreciated :)

    Psst: Am a follower now :)

  6. Call it 'berth pangs' then ;) :D

    But then... after some time you'll laugh, recollecting all these experiences... trust me!

  7. really thats how they made the side middle berth? OMG. As it is the upper berths make me feel claustrophobic and dead. I get dreams of being stuck in a tiny cave with no exits. I feel like i am losing my breath every moment. AND the length is never enough in the side one. Now with the side berth being much higher, sigh! I will meet my breathless end there :(

  8. I recently went to Kota from New Delhi. Being on a company sponsored trip , I was booked in the 1st AC compartment of Paschim Express. As soon as I entered the train (which came 90 minutes late after announcing it to be on time on the telephonic tracking system) ; it smelled of old damp carpets which have been dried in shade. Having complained it the coach attendant he first asked me - are you an upgraded passenger or one who has bought a 1st AC ticket. Having said that I am a bonafide 1st AC ticket holder ; he came back with a horrible smelling room freshner sparying it all over the place. Hey but my ordeal was not over ; I was digging deep into a Kiran Desai novel, when I realized that there is something creeping on my shoulder. Don't worry , it was not a snake ; it was a small mouse trying to reach the leftovers of my dinner. I pressed the attendant bell again , asking for a complain form. The TTE was informed who came with a small yellow pad which was the complain log.Since he left the same with me , I saw that there were 18 such complains in the last two months. Railways had apparently paid to some contractor to do a pest control which was just done last week. But apparently the pests were stronger and the treatment....Though I agree Deep that Railways has contributed to Indian society in innumerable ways ; but its time that they change. Else God knows....