Reflections

I come seeking your alms

Train journeys give a person plentiful reasons to write. It inspires and indeed provides the necessary time and space to think and reflect on a number of things. As a result of my recent express trip to Chennai, I felt compelled to delve into one particular aspect of the great Indian Railways.

It is not un-common to find train attendants coming at the far end of the journey (but well before your destination) seeking his dues from the passengers for various services rendered. You will do well to remember that these are value added services which do warrant smiling Gandhi notes. After all, it was he who got you that extra roll of roti when you wanted or gave you an extra packet of chawal when your stomach felt hollow despite the already eaten food. Then there are guys who gave you comparatively cleaner hand towels and rather fluffy pillows. Not to forget the unaccounted train mechanic who went out of his way to set the AC coach temperature at the rate prescribed by you.

I traveled on the Rajdhani Express from Delhi to Chennai and as many of you might know its ticket fare is inclusive of food surcharge. Considering the meager quantity of food served, it is only natural for a person to yearn that extra roti to satiate his/her appetite. I asked the attendant if I could have an extra one. He said he will check whether there are any left. I recognized the usual trick and smiled. Off he went and in five minutes returned with the roti. I thanked him. During the dinner, I asked him for an extra packet of Paneer sabji and a bottle of water. He duly returned with them.

The train was nearing Chennai Central but not before two attendants came seeking the smiling Gandhi notes. On that particular day, they were rather demanding. “Sir, do remember that we served you whatever you wanted”, “We are two of us.” Of course! I grudgingly parted with 50 rupees with a faint acknowledging smile. So if the two could get 50 bucks from each passenger and in a compartment like 3 AC that seats nearly 70 pax, they could end up earning a handsome amount of over 3500 rupees. Not bad huh? I bitterly complained to my fellow passenger about the day robbery.

While returning I took the Duronto Express. Remembering previous experiences, I made sure that I didn’t ask the food attendant too many favours. However it was not long before I heard myself asking for a second helping of roti. Oh Venky! The attendant was only too willing to give what I wanted. The train was nearing Nizamuddin and I was waiting for him to appear. The person didn’t disappoint. Sporting a large and genuine smile, he had come with a tray full of chocolates. Trying hard to wipe off the glee in my face, I took the chocolates and graciously placed a 50 rupee note on top of the cadburys. I then exchanged a knowing smile with my fellow passenger who was already busy un-wrapping his chocolate.

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