After Corbett, my next destination was Varanasi. My options were to take a slow train from Ramnagar to Varanasi or take a bus to Moradabad, and then take a faster train to Varanasi that would drop me there in half the time. I chose the later.
I did not have much to do in Ramnagar on the day of departure, so I decided to leave early and take the bus to Moradabad. My train was scheduled to leave Moradabad at 4.30pm but I was there as early as 1pm. I could not find any clean restaurants anywhere close to the station and decided to eat something at the station and rest for a while. That is when I realized that I had high expectations of India’s train stations.
Moradabad is a fairly big station, with four platforms and anything like a thousand people in the station at any point of time. I entered in and searched for a restaurant, and was surprised to see that there wasn’t any! It was hard to understand how Indian Railways decided that travellers in a busy train station like this did not need to replenish themselves! There was a small dark and dingy shop where a sign read “refreshments”. But all that they had for sale was a few biscuit packets, mineral water(thank god!) and chai. And even the biscuits were of just one particular brand that did not enthuse me much.
So I decided to go hungry. I picked up a magazine and walked into the waiting room to kill time till the train arrives. After ten minutes or so, a railway-uniformed lady walked in, and went around with a register to everyone in the room. She came to me too, asked me to fill in my name and ticket details and asked me to show my ticket. I wondered why are they doing all this and asked her –
“Yeh kis liye?” – What is this for?
She did not seem to be in a mood to respond and bluntly said “because you are here at this time!”. I gave a puzzled look and started scribbling into the dusty pages of the register. She loosened up a bit, smiled and asked me if I had never travelled by train. I replied that I never waited in a waiting room!
Looks like the railways were guarding the waiting room as very precious asset! They wanted to ensure only people with an outbound ticket were seated in the room. And they had even hired some one to just sit there, check everyone’s tickets once in a while and make entries in the register. Did one of our netas come up with this idea to create more jobs?! I am not sure if they think waiting rooms are such great places that people all over would flock in to sit there, and there is a need to restrict these invaders! And this jealous guarding of their property seems to be in the blood of the railways. A year ago when I wanted to use the cloakroom in Haridwar, the person in charge denied the service because my ticket to the evening train was starting from Dehradun and not Haridwar. And all this despite the cloakroom being a paid service!
And then there is furious licensing of the economy of the platform. The fruit vendor with a cart in the platform had a seller’s license plate with a license number stuck to his cart. The man carrying a fruit basket had a license too and so did the small condiments shop and the magazine seller. There was nothing you could do without a license inside the station. I wonder what all bureaucratic and under-the-table processes would one have to go through to acquire one of these precious licenses! May be the fruit vendor was station master’s son’s friend’s maid’s son, or may be he had to make an initial investment that was much beyond just buying fruits! And all this would have been done, starting with an ad in the national newspapers inviting applications or tenders to sell fruits in platforms and plenty of other paper work that would have kept our babus busy!
By the time my train arrived, I was hungry and decided to at least eat some Bananas. I wasn’t very keen to eat the dinner served in the train and could not have managed to go hungry in the night too. The train arrived on time. I got in and was alarmed to see someone already seated on my berth. But he quietly made way for me and sat down in a corner. A little later, I wanted to stretch and asked him to move to another seat and he obliged without complaining. As the train moved forward, the TT came, announced my berth number and asked for my ticket. He did not bother to check the tickets of many others(including the guy who was on my berth) who did not seem to have a ticket. His business, it appears, was to check if the legitimate ticket holder actually had his ticket, and ignore rest of the people! People came and went at every station and a good number of them did not seem to have a ticket. I was fortunate to have an upper birth and was not disturbed by this flow.
Footfalls in the compartment came down considerably with the nightfall. Inside of the compartment fell silent as people started getting under their bed-sheets one by one and the only sound that could be heard was the monotonous “dug-dug” of the speeding train. I pulled out my sleeping bag too and spent rest of the night half asleep and half awake, anticipating the next few days at India’s most ancient and holy city. I stepped out on the platform of Varanasi City station at 7am the next morning, again, right on time.