Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Great Indian Tamasha of Indian Railways

by D. Dhanuraj

After a long time, I was standing on the queue to book my Tatkal tickets. I was at the reservation counter of Chennai Central Railway Station Reservation counter to reserve my return journey ticket from Chennai to Ernakulam. 
Luckily I had Tatkal booking forms with me, which I had taken along with me from Ernakulam to ensure that I can afford to be there at the Tatkal counter at 9.50 am equipped with the filled Tatkal form. 
It was not a long queue (I am surprised; may be off-peak season) and I was probably 6th or 7th in the queue. I could sense a kind of excitement and curiosity on everyone's face as the counter opens for Tatkal reservation at 10 am. There were chairs for 5 or 6 to sit and relax before the crucial booking starts. As the clock ticked 10, everyone stood up. 
I was not able to see the booking agent (not sure what is the designation of the officer; officer, inspector or agent?) at the counter. As I was lurking at the window, the booking Inspector (hope I don't get into trouble calling her agent; let it be bureaucratic and colonial, lets call her Inspector) started shouting at me. I was wondering why ! The reason is that she does not want anybody else to stand up other than the first person in the queue. Since it was very impulsive, I did not know what to do. Then she shouted at me again; "Hello Mr. Why are you standing up? Why cant you sit on chairs?" in her chaste Tamil.
I could not resist laughing at the way she shouted at me for none of her business. I wondered whether Railways started considering all those who visit the reservation counters as creators of law and order problems.. I do not know how many times such troubles are reported. I thought of giving her a prompt response then I realized that it does not match with my character.

As I was laughing at the Tamasha of Indian Railways, I heard another shout from the Inspector; this time she was shouting at the person in front of me. Again, I was clueless about what is happening there. Then I overheard; "Don't you know that the photocopy of the id shall be self attested?". He said "No". Then he added that the id is that of his relative so that he can't get the signature then.  I think this remarks has really angered her for no reason. " Are you stupid?" she continued screaming at him while he gently avoided from the scene without making any noise. I was wondering why should she shout at him? Even while we ignore the stupid laws and the resources wasted over it, I can't accept the fact that she has the guts to call someone a Stupid. I remember what a Malayalam cine actor, Jayasurya had done at a toll plaza. While the toll plaza ticket collectors said 'No exchange balance' and gave chocolates instead of balance money, next time, he tried to pay the toll ticket with chocolates. If anyone had called her 'Stupid', it would have been an offence leading to penalty of a few thousand rupees and sometimes jail term also!

Finally, my turn to reserve tickets. I felt happy despite all that happened, when she told me that I could get ticket under Tatkal. I thanked God for his grace and Indian Railways for the ration. 
Then I gave the Inspector Rs 500 against the ticket price of 435. Immediately she shouted at me again for not giving her Rs 5 denomination for Rs 435. I said I don't want Rs 65 and she can return Rs 60. She did not relent. She asked me to get the denominations of Rs 5 then only she will give me the ticket. Understanding she is furious and I am not ready to accept another 'Stupid' call from her mouth, I started asking for denominations of Rs 5 against Rs 10. I asked many, then I understood that early in the morning at the reservation counter at Chennai Central Railway Station, no one keeps Rs 5 coin or currency note! (Our Planning Commission will be happy hearing this). Finally I thought of approaching her and pleading for the ticket. Then another Gentleman came to me and offered Rs 5 coin. Then I gave him Rs 10 currency note, he said he does not have another Rs 5 to give me back. He asked me not to bother about Rs 5 that he had given to me. He said it is only a matter of nice gesture!.  I returned to the counter and gave her Rs 5 and escaped from the place. 
On my way back, I was wondering who are the public servants and what are the qualities and attributes of a public servant in India!

Later in the afternoon, I was having lunch with my friend while I narrated to him on what all had happened in the morning. 
He was totally merciless in his criticism on the current way in which Indian Railways operate. He wants different railway companies competing with each other for their share for the quality service offered to the passengers. 
Suddenly, it came to me that the history of Indian Railways is like that; in fact the British Government had floated and facilitated the formation of different Railway operating companies in the early 20th century. 
Finally what had happened in post independence time period is the setting up of this mammoth white elephant called 'Indian Railways' !
Not surprising,  they could create rail for another 25000 Km only in the last sixty years.
Forget about it; 'Have you seen any change in the Chennai Central Station in the last ten years?' my friend asked me. I had to say a big 'No'. I have been to Chennai since 2003 on a regular basis. 
That summarizes the big Tamasha of Indian Railways.