The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Indian Railways
... and the profile of your fellow traveller
Such is life, and such is the human race. Wise words these, specially
since they don't mean anything. But they come to mind, so they
must be written.
Having written them, an effort must be made to give them meaning.
So life, in this case, is a train journey. It's a four hour journey,
between two cities. Life is also, essentially, a box. In this case
the box is a second class, non-AC compartment, secretly coded
on the outside as "SC2".
Why are these details necessary? They are not.
What does the human race have to do with this life? Read on if
Enters with children, in various stages of hysteria.
Hyperventilates if she can't find her seats within the first 10
seconds of boarding. Bleats out commands, often senselessly. On
sitting, proceeds to kiss one child, slap another, remove her
chappals, put her legs up and stroke the soles of her feet. Loves
buying film magazines, though she can't read them because the
kids want Gems which she won't buy for them, resulting in mass
Initial tension about seat arrangements turns to irritation
with the kids, smoothing out into a period of calm (as children
sleep, having out-screamed themselves) and finally climaxing in
utter confusion. As the destination approaches, all the kids
want to answer various calls of nature separately, water is spilt,
a bag is dropped and there is no coolie in sight.
Proud Papa Accompanies Single Mother
No problem for Proud Papa.
In this scenario he must, on sitting, immediately impart education
insights to his pack, showing his knowledge of the world, the
ways of people, life. Soon the children are fed up with this unwanted
patronage, and may choose to spit, kick or urinate on him. At
which point, he suddenly realises that Single Mother is not suffering
as much as usual, and throws all the children back onto her.
work done, he needs a cigarette.
Single PapaBut the alternative scenario is quite different.
Proud Papa looks terrorised: alone with children, what to do?
Maybe incessant babble will help, so Papa launches off into a
detailed explanation on the railways: train timings, signals,
the nitty-gritty of railway life all pour out to him in a desperation
to stall the rising flood. But the inevitable must occur, the
dam must break.
Slowly his world must collapse, as the kids bore
of the railways, their father, life, and crawl all over him, or
mistake his gently protruding paunch for a punching bag. His time
is running out, his stock of railway information is almost over.
Desperation, a prayer, thoughts of Single Mother come to mind.
But the battle is lost, mayhem reigns. He begs, he cajoles, he
buys cart loads of Gems, Cokes, candy, everything. Ensures that
the end result of this journey is continuous dental treatment
for his brood, their lives marred by root canals, their mouths
forever scarred by cavities, as dentists further flourish.
SleazeEnters, pen in hand. One thought on his mind -- What fantasy
will he draw on the toilet walls today? Will it be the one where
he.... well, never mind. That's for later. For now, checks out
the compartment. Slithers to his seat very carefully, making sure
to rub himself against every object of interest. Takes his seat,
opens a crossword, proceeds not to look at it. Alternates between
direct, hungry-eyed letching and indirect, downcast-eyelid-but-roving-eyeball
letching. Visits toilet often.
End of the journey: depression
strikes. There's this woman in the third row, he's drawn her so
well in the toilet but he can't summon up the courage to talk to
her. And one more thing, mid-journey he must eat a huge amount
of batata wadas.
Lovers: The New GenerationThe Bold and the Beautiful
has forever altered for this generation their Indian Values of Decency. Enter
together, sweaty palms entwined. Search for their seats with disgust
(that they cannot be alone in this compartment, why can't the
other 102 passengers have travelled on other trains?) and with
a look of intrepid adventurers (Yes, we love each other. Yes,
we would die for each other, come to think of it we're dying to
As the journey progresses, lover-boy makes his railway moves.
Pushing his Madhuri Dixit against the window, his arm gradually
strangling her in a serpentine grip, he coos into her ears, words
of a song he once knew, but now, in this moment of ardour, can't
clearly recall, "Tell me how I am supposed to live without
you". Their mood, at the end of the journey, depends on which
equation they will be following on disembarking: Home Alone, or
Your Place or Mine.
Railway RegularEnters briskly, takes out handkerchief, wipes
seat, throws himself into seat, flings out newspaper, orders tea,
unbuttons collar, this man is in charge. His look now changes
to one of brevity, as he realises that the time has come to make
one of the Multiple Choices of Life. Either he has to open out
his shoelaces, lean back and scratch his underarm with a "Ssss....
Kya garmi hai boss", or he must find a waiter whose back
he can slap, with a, "Arre Samant, train time pe hai kya?"
Having made and implemented his Choice, he has completed the mandatory
requirements of a daily traveller, and passes the rest of the
journey in virtual somnolence, or joins a raucous card-playing
group. His big moments, however, are when something goes wrong
mid-journey and the train suddenly stops. At such times he knows
his responsibilities to this beast in which he spends eight hours
a day. He is the captain, the master. Instructions fly, contacts
are established, the passengers want an explanation and only he
can get it.
He returns to his seat, under the hopeful gaze of
the entire compartment. The Hour of Judgment is here, and our
Railway Regular God will deliver it with dignity. "Shee..."
he spits out, his voice cutting through the expectant hush like
a knife. "Derailment ahead. Now full night we will be on
the train only." At which point the "arre baap re"
combined sigh of resignation of his loyal dependents dies down
only because the train instantly jerks back into motion.
Such is life.
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