Sunday, April 1, 2012

31 March 2012 – On board the Rajdhani Express to Delhi

On board services on most long distance trains are outsourced these days – catering, cleaning, coach attendants, AC mechanic, etc. The coach attendants are responsive, the on board cleaning is regular and the catering is prompt. At 6.30 am I was woken up with bed tea and a couple of biscuits. Regular meals and snacks followed. Extras are often available on ‘quiet’ demand. Breakfast consisted of bread and omlet, washed down by tea. After the breakfast ‘debris’ was removed I found the catering guy washing cups in the wash basin which was a while ago used by passengers to brush their teeth. The service is unhygienic. The waste is collected in bins kept in the passage between two coaches and near the bathrooms, which were overflowing. Since the Rajdhani has few stops the clearance of the overflowing bins is infrequent. Why trolleys are not used for service and waste removal in the coaches is not known. This brings me to the question as to whether Indian culture and food habits are aligned to AC travel. In fact, I personally feel that AC travel may be a hazard. Consider the 3 deadly F’s of foot, food and *art. Most passengers exude such odor that a closed AC environment can choke you and improperly maintained hair savaged with coconut oil adds to the discomfort. Passengers are uncomfortable with dry food – for them a full meal for lunch and dinner even while travelling is a must. Therefore, curd rice, rasam/sambar, beef fry and their favorite pickles packed from home in adequate quantity are supplemented to the meals served on the train. The combined aroma of these foods assault the nostrils and the head feels as if it is in quick spin in a drier. One quick word about the lunch – I mistook the bread sticks served as accompaniment to the tomato soup for undersized chopsticks; they were that thin and pointed. Much of the dal had spilt long before it was served. Coming to the third F, the brazenness with which certain acts that should be done in the toilet or in private are done in public on the berth is a sad commentary of our insensitive nature. We consider *arting our birth right and an integral part of the freedoms enshrined in the “We the people…” Constitution. Any attempt to even protest, when the olfactory nerves are irreparably damaged, by wrinkling the nose or covering the upper orifices with a scented hanky is met with looks as if a significant pillar of Democracy has been violated and the ‘Indianness’ is threatened by some ‘firangi’.
The Rajdhani is one of the premier trains on the Indian Railway system. However, the cleanliness of the coaches and the toilet left one aghast. Accumulated dirt and grime since the coach was last attended to in a workshop presented the sorry state of railway administration. Indian Railway is good at building assets, but maintenance is normally poor. There is a school of thought that the mindless introduction of trains is a reason for the reduced attention to cleanliness in coaches. I feel another contributory factor, a significant one, is the lack of controls at the field level. Another problem encountered in most AC coaches is that the compartments at the ends of the coaches cool more than the centre portion. Hence, either the passengers occupying seats in the middle of the coach get ‘grilled’ or those at the ends of the coaches ‘freeze’. The AC mechanic has a delicate and sensitive role to play during the journey.
The passengers feel a certain sense of unwelcome ‘ownership’ of the coach once they board the train. While adults use the curtains to wipe their hands children find it a decent mechanism to ‘swing’ from berth to berth. A lady had brought along a water heater that she promptly plugged in to the sockets provided for laptops and mobiles. I suspected in time she would pull out an oven to cook her food, a washing machine to wash her clothes and even an iron to straighten them out! Fortunately, the AC mechanic noticed something amiss on the monitoring panel and switched off the supply to all the sockets in the coach. The crestfallen Madam was not too pleased.
After tea the catering guy arrived to take orders for the night meal. Without hesitation I ordered non-vegetarian and just as a matter of curiosity asked him what the NV fare would be. He said, “chicken, egg”. Thinking I had to make a choice I opted for the chicken. The dinner was served promptly before 9 pm. When I pried open the NV portion of the meal I found one piece of chicken and an egg. I do not know whether the caterer mistook my order or the chicken piece was telling me that the “hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg” (Samuel Butler).
It was time once again to rest on the lower side berth and catch as much sleep as the obnoxious mix of strong aromas would permit.


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