On Indian Railways, Thoothukudi express, Waiting list booking,TatkalThrills, Pulling the chain and a train journey that has no logic whatsover!

I recently made a trip to Kanyakumari. I had an initial set of tickets which had everyone on a waiting list. I was hoping that would clear when I realized that it wouldn’t. I had booked from Bangalore city to Vaanchi Maniyachi junction. According to wikipedia, Vaanchinathan Iyer shot dead the collector of Tirunelveli, a britisher named Ashe on a train that came into this station exactly at 10:38am.

According to wikipedia, Vaanchi shot himself in the toilet after killing Ashe with a letter on him that read as below:

The mlechas of England having captured our country, tread over the sanathana dharma of the Hindus and destroy them. Every Indian is trying to drive out the English and get swarajyam and restore sanathana dharma. Our Raman, Sivaji, Krishnan, Guru Govindan, Arjuna ruled our land protecting all dharmas and in this land they are making arrangements to crown George V, a mlecha, and one who eats the flesh of cows. Three thousand Madrasees have taken a vow to kill George V as soon as he lands in our country. In order to make others know our intention, I who am the least in the company, have done this deed this day. This is what everyone in Hindustan should consider it as his duty.
sd/- R. Vanchi Aiyar, Shencottah.

While my whole Iyer fraternity back home was advising me against getting down at Vanchi Maniyacchi due to lack of connecting trains/buses to Kanyakumari and that they put a scare into my brain that its a non descript village, I was rather euphoric that Iyers too had contributed ousting the British and really wanted to see this place atleast for this historic reason 🙂 However after speaking with some real close friends from the region, I was strictly advised to get down at Satur, or Kovilpatti and take a connecting bus to Kanyakumari unless I wanted to re-enact the pre-1947 long walks to nowhere in search of freedom (read: to catch a bus from Maniyachi to Kanyakumari).

So practicality prevailed and we decided to get down at Kovilpatti. There still seemed to be one hitch left to solve – that of the waiting list ticket status. So knowing that the Tatkal procedures had been eased out lately, me and KK naturally sat down to work to get ourselves tatkal tickes to ensure that the journey part would be done in peace. Indians are always a bit disorganized when it comes to last minute activities and the Tatkal was no different. Of the six tickets we booked four with valid document numbers but one of them with dummy document numbers since the said persons were traveling with us. Having confirmed tickets now I still did not cancel the waiting list ones for those two people who I had entered dummy document numbers for. After that started a bit of mental hell as to whether they would be allowed by the TTE or asked to get down from the train and this uncertainity lasted a long time until the last minute.

I being a very organized guy, did all that was possible to try to resolve this document number error, and was promptly told by customer service that I would have to forfeit my ticket if the TTE would not agree to the error. I even tried to get in touch with people in railways who could reach the TTE but to no avail. Finally as the night of the journey approached, I learnt that the waiting list ticket that I had also was now RAC. So I now had atleast one legit ticket and decided to take the chance to travel. We arrived early at Bangalore city station to rectify this error but learnt that the TTE would also board only at 9:20 when the train departs from here to tuticorin. When the TTE finally came to our seats, we showed the tickets and six our ID cards in all possible jumbled ways. We also told him two of us did not have our ID cards, but he was okay with that and let us travel in peace.

Act-1, Scene-2: Kovilpatti to Bengaluru, Sunday evening: All our tickets were confirmed onto the S-11 coach and the same train was supposed to halt at Kovilpatti for a minute and nothing more. Heeding the practical advises from the fellow beings of the society, we decided to give Vaanchi a miss even for history’s sake and returned to Kovilpatti to board for return. After a lot of photography in and around the platform with a cool evening sunset, the train finally arrived onto the Kovilpatti platform a full 20 minutes late. By now the mind was calm and wanted to just board the train, find our confirmed seats and sleep in peace upto Namma Bengaluru. Here is where hell decided to unleash its own fury as a last minute surprise for us. As the train stopped, all the people at Kovilpatti rushed toward the entrances of the compartments. As we tried to get in quickly I realized that I was not making much headway through the door even after half a minute.

This is when a bit more of depth of the situation dawned on me. At the door were atleast 25-30 people organized into stacks of lines fitting into a tight package much as you would know about the Krack jack biscuits inside their packaging. I had a very heavy luggage which I pushed and tugged in every manner I could. Just as I was about to get into the walkway of the comparment, an old grandma lashed out at me and others boarding, screaming hoarse that her daughter following her was pregnant and it would be a crime for us not to respect pregnant ladies getting down by giving way. And there was only ONE freaking way. The way out! Who can argue against Vibhuti weilding furious grandmom’s having pregnant daughters? I had already had enough arguing against my own grandmom all my life. So even for a moment, this was needless. I promptly walked and pushed everyone out of the compartment and got down myself only to be blessed by the granny that if I was lucky enough again, I can successfully board the same freaking compartment.

Exercise repeated, I was in the walkway again. Only to find 200 more people dotted all along the walkway. Everyone of us believed – yes – BELIEVED – we boarded the wrong train by mistake. Yet we jostled our way in to reach our famed confirmed seats only to find the last six challengers of the trophy, the unreserved class sitting on our prized possession – confirmed seats. Asking them to get up and out only meant they went lower by status. From the lower birth to the floor. Same place. Nothing else changed. Having been scared out of our wits, we threw our luggages on the top berths and sat down sweating with a feeling of achievement, the same what you get when you pass complicated exams within predefined time frames. After having a tough time being concerned about the TTE with our tatkal tickets, we were sure of one thing – IF EVER A TTE managed to get into S11 coach this day – he would have his name engraved on the nearest station for being skinned alive. Not quite the Vaanchinathan types you see.

There was one issue with so many unreserved guys sitting all along reserved compartments. All of us. After having sat for 3-5 hours on that train, everyone wanted to take a leak. At the nearest toilet. Whichever direction – IF THEY COULD REACH IT ! The challenges dont seem to stop do they? Given that no one could board the train or no one could get down from the train, it was then a challenge even to get ourselves some water to drink and food to eat. At Viruthunagar, we managed to buy so many things including cakes, water, chocolates and whatever else was left off the cart that was going about on the platform. Drinking and eating all of that meant only one thing – we were also in the queue of people wanting to take a leak. Only question was how? And then the train suddenly stopped. Screeching of the brakes, and halting few metres away. Someone in our compartment were pissed off (literally) and had pulled the chain. The officials came to inspect what had happened and they could not even get in, leave alone listen to what we were saying. And then a few of us managed to go upto the toilets without causing a stampede of sorts of the people lying beneath us. Meanwhile an RPF guard in an unreserved compartment next to ours literally kicked a guy who flew and fell to the next track as the train started moving slowly. Dazed he asked his family to get down as well and a set of people and the guy on the track quietly slid away into the darkness knowing pretty well that they could not board an overflowing compartment.

Reaching the toilet was only one part of the adventure. The toilets were locked. We waited patiently with our bladders full for few mintues yet no sign of anyone opening up. Its only after sometime we figured out that some smart asses had locked themselves inside the toilets permanently upto Bangalore. There went our hopes of answering nature’s call as well. This is seriously when I lost my cool and the train again stopped suddenly 😉

Routine check, routine assurance, routine resets and train started moving. The only time the TTE came to the coach, he was hassled so much that he begged our pardon and said – “I’m the TTE only for coaches S6,7,8,9 and not s11 and that he came only due to respect he had on us” – He says even the poor unreserved people deserve some respect. Sure why not? Of course in India we have to be tolerant. Even to the extent we let people sit below our feet in whatever space we can afford to give them. Actually what the TTE really meant is that (and he actually said it to me) – if I forcibly pull a female’s hand and ask her to get down from the train, then it will become a communal riot! But seriously Indian Railways, for the face of modernization you have put up in a short span of time, how about adding more coaches to an already lengthy train, or how about introducing more trains along the route? Won’t you people think of such things?

There was no better thing than the feeling of euphoria of having pulled the chain, a long time childhood fetish come true. You know you get to understand the physics involved in getting the train to stop. After rebuking the authorities multiple times, the crowd was slowly flushed out between Virtuthunagar, Madurai, and Dindigul. As we neared Dindigul station we could see a group of 20 people clinging onto another ten people who were inturn clinging onto the door of the unreserved compartment. I mean if this isn’t craziness then what the heck is? Even after that when we got down at Carmeleram in Bengaluru, few people stepped on the people sleeping near the door and the babies started crying at daybreak. A man becomes wise only with experience and this was no exception.

The wise need to note down these points stemming out of experience:

  • Firstly, if the waiting list is a 100 3 days before the journey, it will never clear to RAC.
  • Secondly if you are in RAC it will always most often clear to confirmed as they add a coach and clear up parliamentary quota in each train.
  • Third, hours before the journey there is no point trying to negotiate with the TTE
  • Once the chart has been prepared and it shows RAC you are guaranteed sitting at least and that status isnt going to change anytime in near future
  • Do not go to stations where the train halts only for a minute or so
  • If your confirmed ticket is in a coach right next to the unreserved coaches, expect loads and loads of turbulence including grandmas screaming at you
  • If you are still confirmed in such coaches and you have heavy luggage, then god save you
  • Last but not least, never try to board a running train as its very dangerous and that could be the last journey you undertake for the rest of your life

On the part of Indian Railways, just after a recent purported sabotage indicent happened in which a bogie was completely charred with the passengers before they could wake and up and react in the middle of night, my experience just goes to show how these types of incidents are repeatedly going to happen time and again and how in the midst of 500 passengers within a compartment there could be one terrorist who could spell disaster within a short time. Unless this country and its government learn to value human life they will not be serious about any such possible damages. Neither would they provide more trains or alternate arrangements to make life better. However when it comes to claims, they would make many which are focussed towards customer friendliness. For now my open challenge to them is to try taking a leak in S11 coach at Kovilpatti on a Sunday on the Tuticorin express !!

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