The following is a brief and mildly harrowing account of a train trip undertaken, by A/C Chair in early January from Ernakulam to Kannur. It concerns rodents of various types.
Ordinarily, I do not travel A/C when I am back in India. And I never fly if I can help it while I’m home in India. However relatives persuaded me to cough up the extra dough for the dubious privilege of having some cool air blown on me for six hours, something one doesn’t really need in January even in Kerala. Save the air and use the extra fare to give us a clean and friendly ride.
While returning from Ernakulam to Kannur after attending a cousin’s wedding, The Cannanore Express (the Indian Railways persists in using the colonial name and that’s the way it appears on my train ticket) was reasonably full. I boarded the A/C car and found to my chagrin that there was absolutely no space on the overhead luggage rack directly above my reserved seat. I asked each of the passengers seated around me if the luggages belonged to them. They replied no. Clearly, the luggage spaces were being appropriated by passengers who were carrying luggage grossly in excess of the amounts that can be reasonably transported while traveling in a chair car.
I removed one piece of luggage from the space directly above my assigned seat, and placed it on the floor next to my seat, thus causing myself personal inconvenience as there was barely any legroom. Within seconds, there ensued a pandemonium involving at least ten passengers. Some stated that luggage could not be moved once it was placed on a rack. I asked if luggage was an offering in a temple or altar, some sacred object that could not be displaced. Three presumed co-owners of the offending luggage now descended on me threatening to place my luggage outside the compartment. I asked the most angry one where his seat was. It turned out his seat was sixty spaces in front of my seat, yet he had luggage stored above my seat! The altercations and recrimination continued for some time. Eventually, the passenger removed his luggage from near my feet, muttering altercations all the while, and moved it to his own seat, almost sixty spaces in front.
Within minutes, a passenger sitting near me, who had engaged in the heated verbal exchanges on passengers and their luggage rights, pulled out some paper cups and offered whisky to some of his fellow passengers! Fortunately I was not included in this act of hospitality. Also passed around were peppermints, which I refused. The passenger whose luggage I had displaced continued to make comments but fortunately I had something interesting to read and I wanted to finish reading it. The ticket examiner came around later after the brouhaha had ceased and after the liquor had been passed around and surreptitiously consumed.
As we approached Kozhikode, one of the passengers announced that he had seen a large rat scurrying along the floors of the compartment.. This passenger, who had displayed a somewhat misplaced sense of humor throughout the trip said he had seen at least four altogether. I had heard some scratching sounds earlier near my seat and had wondered what they were. I placed my legs and feet on my seat for the remainder of the trip. I did not want to catch the bubonic plague on the Cannanore Express.
As we left Kozhikode and limped interminably towards Kannur, the passenger load lessened in the Chair Car. Now it became obvious that the three passengers, who had been incensed at my removal of their luggage above my seat, were between them, carrying approximately twenty five pieces of luggage that they had placed on several racks throughout the compartment! No wonder I did not have space for my one piece of luggage, even though I was paying a relatively exorbitant sum to ride in the compartment. This group of three passengers must also have managed to obtain my name from the TTE’s list, because they loudly mentioned me for the supposed benefit of the riding public in that car. I was too tired to care. But the privacy of passengers – does that count for anything on the Indian Railway system?
Here are some suggestions to the Indian Railways, based upon my experience. I was surprised to find no rules and regulations posted anywhere in the compartment:
Passengers traveling in the Chair Cars should be limited to carrying two pieces of hand luggage. This luggage limit should be posted and enforced.
More overhead luggage racks should be provided throughout the compartment.
The consumption of alcoholic beverages should be prohibited and that prohibition should be posted and enforced.
A ban on cigarette smoking should be posted and enforced throughout the Indian Railway system, in all compartments and adjoining spaces. Lip service and meaningless posted warnings will not be enough.
Trash receptacles should be provided under the washbasins in the corridor spaces between compartments. These should be cleared before they overflow, as they often do.
Passengers should be prohibited from throwing paper cups and food trash out the train windows. In fact, why are we serving food in disposable containers on the trains when we do not have a recycling system in place on the Indian Railways or anywhere else in India? I carry metal containers for my own use because I care about the environment of my homeland.
The relatively exorbitant fare for a/c travel should be partly defrayed to maintain clean, rodent-free conditions. We should get what we pay for.
The Train Ticket Examiners (TTEs) should receive mandatory professional training to carry out their responsibilities. They should maintain passenger confidentiality (yes, names are posted outside coaches – why?) and should be fined (yes, hit them in the pocket) for not enforcing regulations against drinking and bribe offers to carry excess luggage or collect fares without issued tickets, or other offences.