The transition from the centre of power to arguably one of the most underdeveloped capitals of the country is not as appalling as it seems. To be honest, it was a little hard to explain the reason for this journey to the circles I am accustomed to.
Our journey commences well before we board the train, a whiff of the condition of the state is experienced while looking for means to commute to any part of it. All trains are reserved months in advance; the 90 day advance reservation facility allows ample black-marketing of train tickets. The emergency train ticket service (tatkal) initiates operating 2 days prior to the departure of the train. Seldom are individuals able to enjoy the luxury of booking train tickets during this time period, and those who do are bound to follow the set broker culture. Travelling to this part of the country is preferred either through brokers or through bribing the ticket collector. The trains travelling are almost always catering to many times their permissible numbers.
The Northern Railway is not solely to be blamed for this mismanagement; it is intriguing that such a condition arises in all trains travelling to specifically this state of the country.
Hailing from Lucknow and residing in Delhi I felt obliged to purchase tickets prior to travelling. Since this trip was unscheduled, I was made to experience the tatkal dilemma. My colleague reached Anand Vihar railway station at 6 A.M. hoping to make it early to the tatkal ticketing booth that opens at 8 A.M. To his surprise, there was a queue already present at the booth, a queue long enough to ensure that he was unable to get a confirmed train ticket of the Samporna Kranti Express.
The day of the journey arrived, in our hands were two tickets of unconfirmed sleeper class berths which bore the wait-list numbers 112 and 113 respectively. We boarded the train in coach number S10 hoping to be able to convince the ticket collector to ‘provide’ us with adequate seating facilities. The condition of the train was deplorable; stench of human sweat was predominant, fellow passengers were trying by crook and by crook alone to cater to their need to travel.
Those who were blessed with confirmed train tickets were vary of those without them. They had the liberty to cherry-pick their seat-less counterparts. Conversation was the key to survival once in the coach. Though initially apprehensive of strangers, the passengers were quick and open to dialogue. Behaviour, class, supposed net annual income, language, dialect, accent, political inclination, religion, opinion on national and international issues were some of the yardsticks on which fellow passengers were judged. But most of all the ability to present views and the first impression as a decent yet dynamic individual were preferred.
The first characteristic that strikes the mind of any observant being is the enthusiasm with which those hailing from this state present their opinions. No subject, be it the United States foreign policy or the incompetence of the Manmohan Singh government is left untouched.
A pet favourite was the changing scenario of their beloved state. Opinions both for and against are presented and defended with utmost preciseness. None are willing to back down on their points, parliamentary language and etiquette are predominant. A keen effort is made so as not to offend a fellow passenger and to abstain from making personal comments.
Pride in hailing from the land of ancient wisdom is evident in all; the ability to converse in the regional dialect conveniently brings down barriers.
The arrival of the ticket collector was the moment of truth for most on the train; he appeared distraught, exhausted and saturated by the heat, the stench, the arguing, the convincing, the scolding, the bullying and the compromising.
He was followed by a horde of commuters who were still hoping to be ‘adjusted in’. He glanced at the coach that we occupied, expressed disgust though his eyes and then asked for the ticket by calling out the berth number. Those in possession of a confirmed ticket produced them, those without were simply overlooked.
He directed the occupants of berth no. 8 to vacate it as it was meant for the railway police personnel on board. As we delved deeper into the night the paucity of space to sleep was evident and those affected by it were frantically on the prowl. We were lucky to have been able to muster the support of our fellow passengers and they offered us the space sandwiched between two berths for the night.
The space was cramped for the heavier than average Indian male, and was near to a blast furnace for two of the same. We realized that it was impossible for both of us to sleep at the same time, the first reason for this being out inability to contain ourselves in the chasm and the second being the need to look after our luggage.
As the night proceeded, all present in the coach settled down, the passage leading to the exit of the train was utilized to satiate the essential of sleep. Most berths were doubly occupied, some were occupied in quadruples, and those who could not find a place despite the occupied passages were clinging on to the door of the train. A couple of them dozed off while on the doorway only to bounce back astonished at their fluke, the doors were closed and finally all dozed off to a much needed repose.
A ruffle woke me up, the berth meant for the Railway police was occupied by three strangers to this coach, I sat up to inform them of their miscalculated catch only to sight a GRP constable settled at the floor below the berth. The final berth was sold; three lucky passengers would be enjoying the luxury of a seemingly comfortable journey.
Dawn came knocking earlier than ever before and brought along with it a wave of buoyancy among the occupants, Samporna Kranti had crossed Buxar and they were within the jurisdiction of Bihar.
The occupants seemed changed; their tone of voice had coarsened up many times since they boarded at Delhi, a sense of superiority gripped all.
There is something about the territory of Bihar that fuels these individuals, the assurance that they are within the very land that brought them up revives them. The sense of security coupled with the proximity of their destination resulted in the paradigm shift in their tone of voice.
The train slowed down and halted yet the joy of inching towards their destination was unobserved. We looked out of the window to see passengers rushing towards dilapidated settlements. Our fellow passengers confirmed that the train had been halted not by the will of the train driver but by the convenience of the travellers. Chain-pulling was rampant as the train proceeded; on an estimate one forced halt resulted in a 15 minute delay from the ideal time of arrival.
As the train entered Patna, on every forced halt passengers de-boarded and new passengers boarded. Those who boarded were on the lookout for any form of seating arrangement. I inquired my fellow passengers about them; these were local travelers who preferred to commute within Patna through the train. They generally resided in localities through which the railway line passed and would board any train that halted and de-board at a convenient location.
Our train had crossed Buxar at 4 A.M. and if it were not for the forced halts we would have reached Patna Junction at 8 A.M. It was 11:30 A.M. and our train was still inching into the boundary of Patna.
Tempers were flaring across the coach and a wave of resentment particularly for the local travellers was running lose. My colleague and I were to reside in Alka puri, we decided that it would be best if we de-boarded at the next halt as it seemed way more convenient than hoping for the train to escort us to the railway station within the next one hour.
The train halted, this was our chance, we hastily stuffed our belongings and lurched to the doorway. My colleague de-boarded, my bag followed. The train was in motion; I leaped onto the railway track dodging the human faeces and held my ground.
The excursion culminated and I was in the capital of Bihar.