Sunday, 18 May 2014

Indian Railways – the good, the bad, the ugly

 -Brian Mendonça

The Good: When we got our tatkal tickets across the counter for the next day to Mumbai from Goa, the Sawantwadi-Diva passenger had already derailed 30 minutes earlier on the same route.  The next day after badgering the Margao railway inquiry number for constant updates for the 12620 Matsyagandha Express (ETD 2040 hrs), a trip to Margao station at 2 p.m. saw me reassured by a kindly Konkan Railway (KR) official that the train would run on schedule. When we got down at Panvel station I saluted the guard waving his green flag as the train pulled out of the station, for restoring the track and making this happen.

The Bad: After 10 a.m. – when the tatkal booking opens – it is impossible to make a reservation on the IR internet booking portal, or sometimes even to log in! The website gets mysteriously jammed and only opens well past the time all the tickets are gone! So I went from Khargar to Panvel station for tatkal tickets for the next day to Goa.  At 8.30 a.m. I was directed to a line for tatkal transactions in the booking hall. I also confirmed this with the railway booking clerk issuing the tickets and stood in the queue. When I reached the counter he says, ‘Tatkal booking has not started. There is a different queue.’ The tatkal queue had formed outside the gate of the booking hall and there were around 40 people standing ahead of me. Just before 10 we were herded by railway police into 3 lines which included one for ladies. Unfortunately I got the same line I had been standing in earlier. Instead of moving faster our line was moving slower! One person who was parallel with me in the accompanying line reached the counter while I still had 15 people ahead of me in my line. When I reached the counter (for the second time) he tartly informed me. ‘You are too late’ after putting ‘WL32’ with a flourish on my reservation slip. A tout came to the counter and asked, ‘Hamara ho jaega dada?’/ ‘Will our reservations be done Sir? I then realized what a fool I had been. The booking clerk was perhaps booking the tickets of the touts while we were waiting in line. Queenie was trying for tickets online – the site would not open. Surprised?

 The Ugly: Luckily, in March itself we had booked tickets to Goa via Pune since we could not get direct tickets from Mumbai. As we boarded the majestic 12123 Deccan Queen from CST/VT the journey left a bad taste when prim old ladies were merrily eating and throwing the waste outside the window as though the countryside was an open dustbin. Only while getting down at Pune did I spy one packet hanging defiantly on a peg with all the refuse neatly collected in it. Our connecting train from Pune the next day -- the 12780 Goa Express -- reached Vasco around 2 hours late.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 18 May 2014; Pix of us taken on skywalk at Wadala Road station, Mumbai on the Harbour Line on 9 May 2014. 

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