Saturday, 15 October 2011

Unreserved India

Pix courtesy: mapsofindia.com


                                     
Sometimes I travel ‘unreserved’ by train. I want to know how it feels to journey against  the odds and sometimes discern the footfall of the train ticket examiner (TTE) who creeps up behind me.

On other days I take the idyllic Vasco-Kulem passenger train at 7.35 A.M.from Vasco to Sanvordem. Three days a week I have an option to travel ‘unreserved’ to my place of work in Quepem.

‘Unreserved’ because there is simply no place to place your butt in the ‘General’ coaches  – since most of the passengers are traveling upto Howrah -- or Hubli, at least. So where does that leave local intra-state passengers like me who still want to take the 7.10 A.M superfast to reach in time for work?

So, armed with a general class ticket, I ambled down the length of the superfast train at Vasco station. Each of the semi-empty sleeper coaches, viz. S1, S2, S3 . . . winked at me invitingly – I heaved myself into S7. Surely 7 was my lucky number and I would not be detected?!

The thrill of traveling by a superfast train on a long journey is unmatched. The wayside stations which you so lovingly meandered by – to smell the flowers – on other days of the week, now rush by in a blur. You see life in an urgent and fresh new perspective. You reach into yourself and find your truth in the rhythm of the rails.

Sure, I have been discovered by zealous TTEs, but each encounter gives me more material to write about. Benevolent TTEs ask you to cough up Rs. 100 (in addition to the Rs. 21 you pay to travel in the unreserved class) -- the minimum fare for a reserved ticket on this train. Some give you a receipt, others don’t.

One day I missed my 7 A.M. Kadamba from Vasco bus stand to Margao by a whisker. I swerved my scooter and burnt rubber, to dash to Vasco station -- only to see the Amravati Express (as it is also called) gliding imperiously out of the platform. Sans ticket I clambered onto a reserved coach of the train, through a compartment door at which stood a man in black suit. He was to prove my nemesis as he turned out to be the TTE! I told him ‘I missed the bus.’ It did not cut any ice. He fined me Rs.300 for ticketless travel. He gave me a receipt – and the inspiration to write this article!

Travelling in ‘general class’ across India hones one’s senses. Travelling unreserved helps me think on my feet, weigh the options, and act, in challenging situations. It is in the ‘unreserved’ class where you meet unreserved India -- unreserved in their generosity and humanity. You can interact with the simple people who live their silent lives, bound and bonded by a common destiny – of reaching their destination.

No, I don’t baulk at the worthy TTEs now – a pleasant diversion on a ride to the heartland of a billion people
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------            Brian Mendonça, traveler-poet, has recently self-published A Peace of India: Poems in Transit.


This article was featured in the Buzz supplement (page 2) of the Navhind Times  newspaper published from Goa on 14 October 2011.

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