Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Frustrated Passenger!

Dear auto-driver of AS 01 M 3974,

Thank you for infuriating me enough to write this down. There have been times when I wanted to write about you and your “clan”, yet I never penned down. Tonight, it was a very minor altercation. For you, perhaps, it is a daily habit; but sometimes it’s the smallest things that trigger the blackest of moods and right now, I am in one.

I am one of the “a-month-per-year” visiting people, who visits Guwahati occasionally and click my tongue at the state of the State but don’t (or can’t or won’t) do anything much. State issues anger me but I feel helpless. The pathetic drainage system, the illegal immigrant issue, illegal construction, illegal mining, corruption in every level- the list goes on, but let’s keep these for another day.

Today, I am angered by a meager altercation of Rs. 10/-. What? Rs. 10/-? Yes, you heard it right.

What do you get for Rs. 10/- in an economy so inflated? The tiniest bar of the cheapest chocolate… perhaps, a cigarette… Who haggles over a Rs. 10/- note?
But tonight, I did.

It wasn’t about the value that a Rs.10/- currency note carries; it was about the integrity of you, yes, you who ride the auto, AS 01 M 3974 and the hundreds of the likes of you who are a continuing menace to the public, ripping-off money from public who are dependent on you, thanks to the poor public transport of this city.

I know, as a rule of thumb, that autos are almost a luxury in this city and drivers ask a premium for their “services”. You demand exorbitant rates with no scale or standard fare. At any given day, a ride from Six Mile to Dispur might cost me Rs. 80, Rs. 100, Rs. 120 or any other amount that suits your mood at that time of the day. Another rule of thumb, of course, is negotiation. You say, Rs. 200, I say, Rs. 120 and so we tug and pull and nudge and push to a decided fare.

You form auto-stands and group together at each of these stands. God forbid, I stand outside Anil Plaza on G.S Road and instead of negotiating with the autowalas in front of the building, try to flag down a running auto. The entire crew of autowalas tries to bully me. How dare I not ask them? Because… you group together and decide your inflated fares and swat flies and mosquitoes till you find customers. Go with the group’s rate or go to hell. The fact that I am a female and I am alone is an added advantage to you to bully me. Sometimes, I protest, sometimes I give up and agree to ride on a premium fare but mostly, I move away from the ruckus, afraid of what an adrenaline-rushing group of men can do.

But you, the driver of AS 01 M 3974, you were quite straight-forward. Of course, you demanded an inflated rate and yes, we did the tug-of-war negotiation and decided on the fare of Rs. 110/-. You didn’t harass me or did anything inappropriate or irregular. But tell me, when I was finally dropped off (and you know I asked to be dropped off way before than my agreed drop-off point), why did you pretend that the decided fare was Rs. 120/-? Yes, it is just a meager Rs. 10/- more. And no, I am not a miser. I am just tired with the lots of you. Of being extorted, of your dishonesty, of being bullied. I need your services, so I suffer in silence like the rest of the public.

You, who take advantage of people in need of your services and demand unreasonable fares; you, who sees a lone female at a late hour and bully her into paying exorbitant rates. You are a menace to the society. Yes, the society is dependent on you but you take so much more from it than you deserve.

You will not adhere to a meter-system of fares because you know you are extorting money from the public. Every time the issue comes up for a metered-fare system, you threat and go on bandhs and ultimately, feed a fat wad of notes to an official and close the issue.

I don’t know how far your regime will continue. There’s a long way for Guwahati’s autowalas to be as decent and honest like their counterparts in other cities. You should learn a lesson or two from Mumbai autowalas who returns the exact change and runs by the meter at any time of the day, or night. Imagine my shock when I received a Rs. 2/- coin pressed against my palm by a Mumbaikar autowala!

Maybe it’s the way the city is. In Mumbai, there’s no dearth of public transport; buses, trains, autos, taxis, hence, the public chooses its transport and the demand for autos never ascends.

In Guwahati, I am hopeful the situation would change. I have noticed that in Guwahati, a number of private taxi services have started. How much will you charge on a ride from Six-Mile to Kachari? Rs. 250 on a sound-mind on a good day? Well, guess what! That’s exactly the cost of a ride in a taxi with AC! Yes, the taxis need to be booked but hopefully, soon, there will be enough of them to be hailed at every nook and corner. And who knows, the metro might start. It will take years but this city will get there… it will be a city with a good public transport system. And then, my dear auto-driver of AS 01 M 3974, your demanding regime would end.

In the hope that karma still works its way around,
Your one-time passenger.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thoughts on a Train


We, Neel and I, just ended a 56 hours journey on a train, travelling from Bangalore to Guwahati. We decided to travel by train as we had time on our hands and it was long since we train travelled. Also, as Neel pointed out, it would be our first train journey together (silly :D, not taken into consideration those Mumbai locals). So, we set out for our three nights’ long journey across the south-eastern part of India, cutting through Karnataka,Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal.


As they say, train experiences are experiences one would never forget. Each person travelling on the train has a different story to tell, I am sure. Our story is also different; humorous, frustrating, irritating and loving in equal measure. A three day story of us in a train can be an extremely long blogpost (one realizes because one is still unable to finish writing that), so here are some of my thoughts/ observations while I sat on my side berth in a 3AC compartment atop the Guwahati Express.
  • Cockroaches can crawl on ceilings, inverted, defying gravity. Guwahati Express gave us plenty of cockroaches to observe and conclude our findings. So many baby cockroaches were around that it made Neel “google” the word used for baby cockroaches. “Nymph” apparently. Sorry, ahimsa guys, but we went totally “nymph”-o-maniac on the train, killing, stamping, stomping all the nymphs.
  • Books can be purchased for three reasons. 1. Kill Time 2. Kill Cockroaches 3. Make a table on your berth and eat food. (Sorry, Jhumpa Lahiri, I mean it.)
Jhumpa Lahiri: your book served a lot of purpose
  • With a side view, watch the aunt from Andhra Pradesh wearing a saree, her hair dripped in oil and in a behaving braid, give the girl from Arunachal Pradesh wearing hot pants and dyed hair an awfully disapproving look. It was comic to see them sitting side by side, yet the disparity between them was a surprising blow. One realizes there are all kinds of people in this world.
  • When girls have too many luggages, they fill up every nook and corner and then an entire berth and later on, two of them share a berth the entire journey! I envy their slimness; I had trouble fitting one body in a berth!
  • There’s always a guy who never came down for 56 hours from the top berth!
  • There’s always an unmarried couple who are stuck together in a berth for 56 hours with so much love and coziness it makes you wonder if love is body-odor too.
  • It is compulsory to have a funny guy in your compartment, to lighten things up.
  • It is not compulsory, but it is almost irresistible to let go the wares of any hawker who passes by. Everything looks better in a train… from bhelpuri to coffee to fruits to torchlights to saree… you get the flow!
  • It is important that you know what is famous in which station and quickly go and buy. Like, mangoes in Malda and biryani in Andhra Pradesh. 
  • A Glimpse of Godavari
  • When the pantry guy is Assamese, you receive an open invitation to join them for drinks. If you are not Assamese and they didn’t invite you, worry not, hang the railway blankets from the high-ceilinged rods, thus blocking other passengers’ view from your enclave, call your friends and quickly have a pass-the-bottle session. Only the smell is the proof and anyway, no one would bother to smell your cavities at 1AM!
  • If alcohol didn’t bind your bonds of friendship, smoking would. That daring activity that everyone fears getting fined, yet everyone can’t resist. At midnight, half the man’s population are out of the AC compartment and standing next to the doors; crowded, jostling rhythmically and smoking cigarettes. Girls, if you can’t find a place there, try going two-at-a-time to the toilet with a room freshener in your hand (at first, I thought she was concerned that the toilet will stink after she shits; na├»ve me!)
  • Don’t bother putting an alarm; not that you have work to do on a train. You will be woken up by the constant rumpus of “Chai, Chai” and “Breakfast, Nashta” of the hawkers.
  • Understand that Hindi is our national language and you will hear different accented versions of it. By the way, even Bhutanese can speak Hindi, can you believe it! The reaches of Ekta Kapoor and Indian TV!
  • Your lunch from the pantry will have a sabzi and a curry of the exact same colour. Same colour, different raw materials. In most cases, it will be a red hue and a lot of masala shall be put in it. Yet, I can’t help but wonder how the food, with so much masala, can be with absolutely NO taste! On second thoughts, don’t bother with the pantry. There may be “nymphs” there considering how many are lurking around in our compartment! Elementary mathematics of food v. cockroach statistics. Just eat from the hawkers or at the stations (I am presuming their level of hygiene, though low, will not be worse than the train’s pantry)
Entertaining us@Shantiniketan with his enthralling voice
  • People are more accommodating in trains, willing to exchange seats. Especially if the Bhutanese-friendly guy is willing to exchange his 2AC seat for a 3AC seat. Aha… Upgradation… mann mein laddoo phoota! The Bhutanese guy and his friends liked our compartment so much, they exchanged seats with anyone who would come to sit there.
  • Hate all beggars in Howrah! They may appear hopeless but underneath that shawl or shirt the beggars carry stolen articles from passengers. Can you believe Neel’s Lumia 720 got stolen at Howrah?! We didn’t realize beggars would enter the AC compartment. Next thing you know the phone is nowhere to be found! When someone accidently picked up the phone while we tried connecting to it, we heard voices negotiating the price of the phone at a chor bazaar!
  • You restore faith in humanity as total strangers try to help you find your phone or to cheer you up or to generally ask you about any update. One guy came and told this funny incident of how his cousin had tea (mixed with a sleeping tablet) on a train and next thing you know, he woke up in his underwear! Everything stolen! He had to sweep the train floors to get a few cents to call his mother! Now, he doesn’t drink any beverage on a train! The way he narrated it was hilarious! He tried cheering us with this story and we are so grateful for that J
  • When Rasgullas are Rs. 20/- for four  (!), share these with the rest of the co-passengers in your compartment. In fact, share as much as you could. Food and anecdotes and joys and opinion.
  • By the second day, feel at home. I did, I also felt a bit sad to leave those fun-loving passengers yet the longing for a clean toilet and my own bed was also getting stronger.
Horror film makes the bond stronger!
  • To bond further, as a last and final act, watch a movie together, preferably a horror one. We watched The Conjuring. It was midnight and there was a storm outside; the train rattled and Annabel became alive… our co-passengers were glued to their seats, except the Bhutanese guy who almost jumped 2 inches everytime there was an unexpected scary scene! Oh… watching horror movies was never this fun!
So, after 56 hours in a rhythmic chaos, we reached Guwahati. Stinking of our own sweat, but with so many mixed memories. It’s not in a while that we shall do another long journey of this sort; not with the recent stealing of a phone that was so close to Neel (:D) but no denying, with all its shortcomings, train travel is fun in the end.
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