The Ordeal of a Journey by Train

By Anuradha S. Bannore

Shridharan Rao with his wife, Punam was travelling by train to his hometown Kule. Both of them were very excited as they were going there after quite a few years. They lived in Bykur, a very remote place where Shridharan had started a cottage industry. Here beautiful handcrafted things were made like toys, quilts, decorative items etc by the villagers. Punam being very creative and talented was a great help to her husband. She was expert in cooking, baking, needlecraft, knitting etc. It was before about five years that Shridharan got this brainwave when he came across an article on the hard life that people in Bykur were leading. They had no transportation facility. Whatever they grew /made had to be either sold in their own village or walk for miles with a loadful of their product on their head [if they didn’t possess a bullock cart] to a city to sell them. Only a handful could afford it. That article changed Shridharan’s life completely. He shared his plan with his wife who immediately agreed to stand by him. Their friends tried to dissuade them and convince Shridharan saying,’ You are committing the biggest blunder of your life to resign such a cushy job and life’, but both of them stood their ground and shifted to the village within a few months.

They were eager to see the unspoiled environment of this village abounding in natural beauty and the innocent inhabitants who distrusted the city people. In all only about twenty-thirty families made up the population there. Initially the Raos had to face a lot of problems as they were looked upon as city cheats who had come there to rob the innocent villagers. It took almost a year to gain their trust as well as their confidence. But the Raos didn’t give up easily. Punam gradually got very friendly with the family of Dayanand Dhund and taught the women not only hygenic ways of living but cooking too. She would be a child with their children. While Shridharan shared his plans of starting a cottage industry where the villagers could work at their leisure from their own house or at his place, Dayanand wasn’t very much convinced by the plan but didn’t voice it for he thought there was no harm in trying. The Raos handed the responsibility of getting the villagers together for a meeting to Dayanand who wasn’t one bit confident about his people’s response. That evening somehow he managed to get at least fifty percent  of the adults to come for the meeting which was held on a chabutra [cemented circular platform] round the big Neem tree in the centre of the village which was visible from most of the huts. The Raos very patiently explained their plan & tried to convince them that they hadn’t come to rob them but in fact to help them in making their life better. Some readily agreed while others still had their doubts.

So the Raos told them if within a year or two they, the villagers felt it was no good they [the Raos] would return to the city which they weren’t going to do under any circumstances. They had nothing left to call their own in the city and mainly because they had fallen in love with the village, it’s people and the untouched/unspoiled natural beauty that swathed the village. Somehow gradually days passed and within a matter of a few months more and more villagers joined them when they saw how the others were thriving in their work and also how their women and children were learning a lot of new and good things. The Raos had made a shed where the children were taught for two hours every afternoon and the adults at night. Shridharan would once in a while visit his city to get stuff for his industry and also funds as his own savings were almost nil by now. Fortunately for him his friends, office people where he had worked, shop keepers, businessmen etc came forward with whatever they could contribute but many helped only after visiting the village and seeing the Raos hard work and the villagers craftmanship. After a few years of extreme struggle the Raos had set up a very successful cottage industry. The Dhund family was a great help in supporting them and convincing other villagers to join the industry. Dayanand and his wife had become the right hand of the Raos and could manage everything very well hence the Raos decided to visit their home town leaving the Dhunds in-charge of the industry.

The train was late by half an hour and being the month of May it was very hot and crowded as schools had closed for summer vacations. They were getting a bit restless as they had travelled almost the whole day in a bulluck cart to the nearest railway station. Finally the train arrived and they boarded it. To their surprise both of them had upper berths while younsters ie in their mid twenties had lower ones so Shridharan decided to request for at least one lower berth for his wife. He said he would somehow manage to climb to the upper berth. He asked those two young men if at least one of them would kindly take the upper berth as his wife wouldn’t be able to climb up.

He was shocked to hear them laugh and refuse saying,’ Why should we? We didn’t issue the tickets!  Ask the Ticket Checker [TC] to give you lower berths.’ When the TC came they requested him but he too refused saying, ‘Sorry, but I can’t help you. See if some co-passenger is ready to exchange his berth with you.’ Surprisingly most of the youngsters had lower berths but none was ready to exchange it. Finally they gave up and with great difficulty Punam managed to go up but was scared as to how she would come down in the morning. The whole night she couldn’t sleep worrying about it and also the racket the two youngsters made in spite of being requested to keep quiet. This bugged them [the yougsters] and they called their friends in that cabin. It was one hell. It seemed as if these raucous youths had amplifiers fitted in their throats! One of them had a bad cold so he kept blowing his nose like a trumpet, coughed  with his tongue jutting out like a snake  and didn’t even  have the decency to cover his mouth while coughing. It was a very upsetting as well as a disturbing experience for the Raos after having lived a very comfortable and peaceful life amidst the uneducated but cultured, well behaved villagers. All their excitement of travelling soon died away. It was a nightmare instead and they prayed for reaching their destination as soon as possible but they knew it was just a wishful thinking as the train was running very late. It’s really a very sad state of affairs in our country that youngsters are alloted lower berths while adults [fifty plus] upper berths especially after giving the option of upper/lower berths to the traveler. ‘It’s a big farce this option stuff,’ grunted Shridharan disgusted to the core!

The train as usual got further delayed by an hour for which no one seemed to be really responsible. It had to be accepted or the choice was yours get down just anywhere when it stopped and reach your destination on your own. There seem to be no rules and regulations regarding the scheduled time. Neither the railway authorities nor any any superior gives you a straight forward answer. They only know how to ridicule and rebuff you irrespective of your age so usually people prefer to bear the ordeals rather than be humiliated. Raos  had a good taste of it when they complained about the inconveniences they suffered and the young ruffians with whom they shared the cabin. The only answer they got was they were sorry but couldn’t do anything about it especially about the youngsters because everyone values his life and it’s true no one knows what these youngsters can do to you nowadays. They have no honour/respect for anyone young or old.

Shridharan was seething with rage and wouldn’t listen to his wife, Punam to stay calm. The lady who was sitting on the side berth in front of their cabin had heard their complete conversation and seen their plight finally intervened and beckoned them. Punam nudged her husband pointing towards the door but he refused to budge out so Punam went and sat beside that lady who introduced herself as Suvarna. She then narrated her story of what she had suffered a few years before while travelling in a train. She said,’ I was travelling with my husband, Avinash and we were absolutely helpless since no one dared to help us. My husband too argued with some ruffians who wouldn’t vacate our seats and how two of them tried to push my husband off the train when he was standing near the door to get tea as a station was approaching. It was only by the blessings of God and a courageous co passenger who saw what had happened and he quickly pulled Avinash towards himself. If that kind brave man hadn’t been there I would have lost my husband there and then.’ She shivered and her voice trembled as she uttered those words. It’s we who have to adjust to these ruffians because the authorities refuse to help us for the fear of many things they might have to face as a result of taking an action against them. These youngsters have godfathers and therefore aren’t scared of any police/law — you know why, it’s so. It’s we, the common people who have to get together and do something seriously about it before we get trampled by an unruly class of educated pampered lot. Punam was afraid for her husband and finally managed to calm him by narrating Suvarna’s story. Shridharan’s only comment was education has failed in it’s aim to a great extent because of those people who for their selfish motives fan the fire of rebellious spirit in these young hearts making them mutinous and indisciplined. The simple, loving, uneducated populace of Bykur was more educated in life than these boastful ruffians living a luxurious life of indecency, hooliganism and what not! On these thoughts they finally reached their destination and were relieved to get off that train. Seeing their loved ones waiting eagerly for them on the station all their rage dwindled away and happiness flooded their face. Thus ended the greatest ordeal of their life… of travelling by a train!

About the Author: Anuradha S. Bannore is a prolific writer and an alumni of Jabalpur University with M.A in English. She retired as a teacher and currently lives in Vadodara India. Following are her thoughts on some of the questions we asked her.

2 Comments

  1. a good well written satire on the railways and its inconsistent so called privileges given to the senior citizens

  2. O K R Sivagnanam says:

    It’s a pity that the ordeals one face in their daily life, have no answers from the authorities concerned!
    The education we are imparted is of no value in as much as we’ve lost the courtesy of being disciplined while dealing with our fellow beings!
    It seems as if we have to raise the bar of tolerance to carry on with people like those explained in the episode!
    But how far and how long we are going to make unwarranted compromises?
    We are miserably failing in making the citizens courteous and helpful towards others!
    Will our wish for the CHANGE ever remain unfulfilled?
    In that case, it’s a reflection of the total disregard of the people by those who are responsible for the sorry state of affairs!

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