Yet again I awoke to the calls made by the catering boy serving bed tea to the passengers. His job is truly onerous given the ‘tools’ he is given to work with and the thankless nature of his job. The passengers can be so demanding as to break even the stoutest of hearts. And the catering team can only use a smile in defense and try to diffuse the situation. Any word, spoken even in harmless jest, will be misconstrued as a retort and then the interface turns ugly.
The breakfast fare was the same as what was served yesterday, but with a difference. Boiled peas accompanied the omelet yesterday, while a few pieces of boiled stringy beans replaced them. I am not a great conversationalist in a train. It is a relic of my days in the Indian Railways. When co-passengers identify you as part of the establishment they normally let loose on you a litany of their troubles with the railways. As a young field officer one normally tends to ‘defend’ the organization, which piques their ire further. Hence, as an alternative to exchanges that tend to become vituperative I often assume a soporific slump or a studious standoffishnous, depending on my reading of what will suitably convince fellow passengers of my need to be left alone. However, an exchange with a fellow passenger sometime in 1994 remains deeply embedded in my mind. After I had made myself comfortable in my allotted berth in a train starting from Chennai Central for Trivandrum I inadvertently gave away my railway identity by producing my railway metal pass for scrutiny by the Train Examiner. However, I did not realize it at the time. As soon as the TTE moved away the passenger sitting directly opposite me remarked ominously: “So, you are a railway Officer? Is that metallic round object your authority to travel free?” I could see sparks in the air already and braced myself to face the worst. I took a few deep breaths to calm myself and make the flush from the face recede. He then said, “Sir, the Indian Railways and the Postal Service are the two best organizations in the country.” I was not sure if I had heard right, for normally such statements are against the norm. He continued, “But I feel that the Indian Railways is the better of the two.” At ease, completely relaxed and with new found confidence in fellow passengers I queried with aplomb, “What makes you arrive at such a conclusion?” The passenger was quick to respond and what he said floored me: “Sir, letters are known to reach wrong destinations, but railway trains reach their intended ones.”
I was more inclined to make conversation with my fellow passengers today as I knew there were only a few more hours to reach the destination. The conversation somehow veered around to the Metro in Delhi. All my co-passengers were Delhi based and their liberal praise for what the Metro has done for the commuting public and how it has ‘opened up’ the congested parts of New Delhi was heartwarming, to say the least. Fulsome appreciation for Mr. Sreedharan and his method of working were mentioned over and over again. Perhaps, Cochin will leverage similar gains once the Metro is completed there, where Mr. Sreedharan is once again in charge.
The Rajdhani Express arrived bang on time into Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station. After hasty bye-byes I walked out of the station into a cauldron of heat, grime and swirling dust. After parking the luggage in the Company guest house I left for Karol Bagh to buy a replacement back pack. I was told by the co-passengers that Gaffar Market in Karol Bagh is the place to look for an imported one. As it turned out, the suggestion was sound. In less than a half hour I sourced a North Face back pack for Rs. 1000 (after intense haggling). Even though I could not go to Church in the morning I made it a point to go to the Sacred Heart Church at Gol Dakhana. Fortunately for me, the Mass was still in progress. The guilt I carried of not having heard mass on Palm Sunday was truly erased. The next task was to retrieve the bus ticket that Ashok Kumar, my batch mate, had been bought for the Delhi-Manali trip tomorrow.