I don’t like flying much.
Well, the shopping, the food joints, the in-flight entertainment make it more than bearable. And sometimes enjoyable. But it’s never touched my soul. Not like a train journey does. Even though they leave me exhausted, grungy and dying for a deo and a leisurely pee, I still look forward to a train journey. And if I am taking it with friends and loved ones, I feel a faint flutter. Even now.
I think it’s like Bollywood. Loud. Colourful. With an assortment of interesting characters. And oh-so-musical. Ruskin Bond eulogized it. Malgudy Days entrenched it for a few of us. There is something very covertly organic, hugely nostalgic, endearingly chaotic about our train journeys. For me it is quite the breeding ground of little neuron sparks. I naturally switch to observation mode, oily pakora and kullad chai mode, effortlessly eavesdropping mode, and all things quintessentially middle class India that feels alive and fertile.
But then, why is it elusive?
Middle class India is also large and over populated . And now-a-days, everybody is travelling. All the time. Which is why there is that devil called The Waitlist. And his more amicable sidekick RAC. Who tend to play havoc with journeys. I have come back dejected from the station when not allowed in, done the cool but not comfortable sleeping- bag- in- the- corridor thing, spent a good distance perched on a hard base waiting for the Ticket checker to come and haggle etc etc. And, it just doesn’t leave you with the same feeling. It’s like a date gone wrong. Like onion breath at the least.
What’s the way out?
If you would like to keep having the one-off affairs more frequently, here are a few things you should keep in mind:
- You should have an IRCTC internet account [ Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation limited] . It takes only 5 minutes to sign up. And it is very easy and way more reliable than an agent or the office travel desk.
- Train bookings usually open around 63-65 days before the journey date.
- If it is a popular sector, or during a popular holiday season, it gets booked out on the first day itself. Sometimes in the first one hour [ the population strikes again].
- If you really want a lower berth, or a side lower[ my favourite, where i get two windows to dream out of], then you have to book before the Waitlist strikes.
- The sleeper waitlist moves the fastest, followed by AC 3
- There are times when I have moved straight from waitlisted 25 to confirmation during the last chart preparation. And then there have been times when I have got stuck at 1 for many days without any conversion [ yes, the lover has a cruel sense of humor]. So be prepared for anything
- If you are even vaguely interested in travelling to a place, just book it. Or block it is more like it.You can cancel as many times, till the last day of travel and get your full refund.
These are little things, but they have made a big difference to my love affair with train journeys. It is far less disappointing now. Am right now doing Kolkata to Delhi, with my dad who refuses to fly. And as soon as I finish this piece, am going back to eavesdropping on some kitchen politics
and Puja shopping.
I say, try the train more. You will have grunge but more colour. Noise but more music. At times, irritating crowd, but definitely more stories to tell.