Neither am I Che nor do I have dreams like Ibn Batuta or Marcopolo. I am just going to my home in the mid-term break to refresh myself from the unrelieved daily routine of the college. My college is in the southern part of the India and my home is in the northern part of the India so it’s almost three thousand kilometers apart. For the lower-middle-class student (like me), railways are the only reliable and cost efficient way to reach out your home. Very special thanks to railway ministry that I got a confirmed full birth ticket in a very shorter period of time. So I went for a long trip from Bangalore to Patna. It took 2 days to reach Patna. I crossed 6 states, 10 rivers and a number of cities. Endless ranges of mountains, rivers, forest, city, mines, fields and many other things which gave me an unforgettable experience. However, even after all these ‘beautiful’ things which were going around me, I had to fight with boredom at every instance. Picturesque sceneries, laptop, mobile (with network error) and food can help only for few hours then your life becomes pointless for the rest of the time in the train. One of the ways to fight with less effort is to observe people. Like, some child is crying after two compartments, someone is playing loud music, any argument on burning issue (like corruption) is going in between people or someone is staring continuously at you without any reasons. It’s like a whole society is compressed in very small space. I bet, in any train journey you take, you can at least find 10 weird people in your bogie without any effort. But this time something different happened with me, kind of dramatic. I can’t even remember the names of the trains I board but this time I will never forget my co-travelers- little students. The whole wagon was filled with students. They were on an educational trip. Loud music, shouting, running in the bogie, four and five students are smashing themselves on the same seat for the specific emergency window; some of them were leaning outside the gate to feel some thrill, some of them were singing/shouting some random song in groups. And in all this the instructors were looking helpless and just running here and there and meanwhile I am sitting in between of them. This time I was fully entertained because of them. But in a way, it was quite irritating because after a while you need a good sleep also and shouting was endless. Almost a wagon full of students and me captured for 2 days. There is no way out. But in return, as compensation, I got delicious food from them. They are like students from all over the India. Most of them were North Indian so it was easy to do friendship with them as my home state is also in North India and connection of same belongings and language is enough reasons to be friendly with each other.
Railways are too connected to a middle-class people in India that we start travelling from an age when we can’t even remember things. It is not only the individual perspective but as whole if we see the national statistics, the dependency on railways is highly increased. Meanwhile, from past decade there is a downfall in railways profit even the consumption and prices are increased. While I was thinking all these stuff related to railways, I observed one “grateful” thing about Indian Railways. It was quite surprising that the cleanliness in wagons was far better than past years. Regular sweeping, mopping was done and even mosquito repellent was sprayed in every 12 hours. The train halts at Vijayawada station; the station was also cleaner than usual days. Couples of workers were continuously working in order to maintain the cleanliness. Another unique thing about them was that they all were not wearing Indian railways clothes but the name of a private company was written over it. And it was not only on the shirts of cleaning staffs but pantry workers were also wearing different private company shirts.
I thought there must be some reason that railways became so concerned about the cleanliness of the trains and so to know further more about it, I approached one of the cleaning staff who came to our compartment to clean it in every 12 hours. I asked him that, ‘what is the magical charm behind this goodwill of Indian Railways?
“New government, sir”, he said happily.
As personally I have a leftist approach, so from my point of view what till now I knew is that privatization is not a noble idea. But here it was looking better because finally the wagon is clean and it is creating jobs also. So I interrogated the worker more. Then I get to know that, after privatization, few jobs are created and there is a lot of more cleanliness but all this comes at the cost of workers’ basic facilities as, neither is their job permanent nor is the salary. Neither the working time is fixed nor the weekly holidays. Neither they are going to get pensions nor do they have the medical allowance.
And the charge for cleanliness in wagons is doubled for passengers. So, on one hand, private companies are getting double money from passengers and on the other hand giving less than half salary to the workers plus no allowance and pension agreement.
This little bit of information ignited a kind of curiosity inside me so; I stalked the TET to ask more questions to him. Or maybe it was the boredom which evoked me to do this.
‘Why the railway staffs are wearing a private company named shirts sir?
“It is because of privatization. The government is trying to enter private companies from the back door. Railways give the maintenance contracts to private companies. Later on, plans are working to allot stations to private companies. The discussions are going over that soon railways will be taken under privatization. But for the country like India, it is not an easy thing for the private companies to handle world’s largest public sector.
Today government is trying to run Bullet trains in India which will be more fast and secured. But the reality is that half of the travelers are not reaching their destinations due to lack of availability of seats in railways. On an average, a train of 1000 seats has 400 passengers on waiting. While in local interstate passenger trains there is 3 times more passenger packed like animals in the wagons than its actual capacity. Numerous trains are irregular and delayed. Even the tracks built all over the India are uneven and lengthiest. Regarding this entire situation, the vision of Bullet train seems hollow. And what if Bullet train comes to India; it shall not be cost effective and can’t be used by common people. The condition of travelers and the railways is miserable in India. And now after 100% FDI and extensive privatization, I am not sure that mine job will remain safe”
The TET was staring outside from the window at the railway tracks going parallel to our train while he was speaking all these stuff. Then he suddenly stood up and went to another compartment.
To know more about these things I followed him to sleeper compartments. As expected, the conditions were not as good as the AC compartments. Passengers were swinging from their sleepers due to high temperature inside the wagons. Then I went to general bogies and it was so crowded that there was not even square foot area to put my feet and stand there. People were looking for objects with no feeling inside them. Their eyes were looking into infinity and were making expressions like they are up to discover the logic behind human life.
This kind of travel rephrases the notion of travel that “Travel is not only for leisure”. An endless journey seems good to listen, but when it comes to reality in India we understand its real meaning. Hopeless faces, waiting to reach their destinations gives us a new definition of travel. In a country like India who is still developing; travel is a quite hard thing. Smoke emitting and crawling vehicles, delayed trains, expensive air transportation makes India maim.
However after a delay of 8 hours finally I reached my home.
When I stepped inside my house the first thing that comes to my mind was ‘Oh! I have to go back also’.
Meanwhile, I took some pictures in the journey, which I want to display here—