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.
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!
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.