That was mid night when I got inside train. AC 3 tier, B2, RAC 19. Everything became haste when my friend suddenly went back from accompanying me in this journey. Already I had booked tickets in sleeper class for us long before a month. But as he drifted back, I was left in situation to cancel sleeper tickets, since I find hard to travel alone in Indian sleeper railway classes. So, I re-booked tickets just the day before my train’s departure.
Usually, Indian Railway opens its reservations 60 days prior to the journey. Within a day or two total seats get reserved in main rail lines. Getting a seat the day before journey will be considered miraculous. But it’s possible. Through agents, it’s possible. That was the day I came to know this.
I gave my details to an agent and paid some extra bucks. He handed me WL 1 ticket the same day. It was really surprise to me because when I checked, the coach status was WL 160. He had taken me ahead 160 waiting members. I was astonished since that was the first time I’m moving with an agent.
Considering those, who are unaware of Indian Railway terms like WL and RAC, I will discuss details in grey. Others can just skip grey.
Indian Railways run reserved coach trains with several classes. The top being 1AC tier with separate air-conditioned private compartment to accommodate four persons. Next to that comes 2AC tier. It will host air-conditioned six berths per screened compartment. 3AC tier, air conditioned eight berth screened compartment coach. And lastly SL, called sleeper. They are non-air conditioned eight berth compartment coach. Price for these coaches double ascending.
Let us come to reservation. IR provides Confirmed, Reservation Against Cancellation (RAC), Waiting List (WL) seats. There is no uncertainty with confirm seats, it simply means your berth seat is confirmed. The confusion is with RAC and WL seats.
Indian Railways reserve some seats assuring passengers to provide seating but not berth. One can be seated but can’t lie down. The berth will be divided between two persons thus making two seats. They need to share it throughout journey until some others cancel their reserved seats.
WL means Waiting List. It will be numbered with priorities WL 1, WL 2 and so on. One need to wait until the ticket promotes itself to RAC or Confirmed ticket taking chance from cancelled ones.
Within a day my agent’s WL1 seat advanced itself to RAC 17 seat. Here 17 is seat number, not priority. As per RAC regulation I need to share my berth with some other person. We also need to travel sitting stiff for two days if there is no cancelled seats. Climbing up from WL 160 to RAC 17 in a day is impossible if ticket is booked in person.
I had not a grain of trust in him when he asked me to pay ticket price plus some commission. I was well aware that the waiting list is far beyond Indian standard to catch. He insisted. I paid him doubting. If he makes it, I shall have a ticket to my surprise. If he deceives, no problem, I shall have another story to reveal. To my surprise, he made it. He bribed some of the railway officers to make my ticket application enter on Emergency Quota.
That was mid night when I got inside train. AC 3 tier, B2, RAC 19. I was eager to see my RAC partner. He was an Old retired Gujarati Man. He had settled here in Coimbatore right after his retirement. Now he’s on train to attend his son’s marriage in Ahmedabad. Soon after seeing me he spoke in Hindi. I told him I’m Tamil and he switched forthwith to Tamil along English. I could understand Hindi at best but can’t reply very quickly. I need some time to pull them out. This problem in speaking reflects even in my native Tamil.
We Tamils feel Hindi much alien than English. Due to anti-Hindi political agitations of late 30’s Tamilnadu (Then called Madras Presidency) chased Hindi out thus without knowledge enabling English to take it’s place. Tamils will know the importance of India’s mass language Hindi only when they venture out of Tamilnadu.
I left my RAC seat to enable old man to have berth. He thanked directing me towards an opposite free seat stating that it will be free until morning. I went there. Arranged comforts. There emerged a boy from upper berth, Introducing himself Rahul Nair. He asked about me. I told my name. He was shocked. And a voice came before him from my RAC partner asking ‘Are you Muslim?’. I told ‘Yeah. I’m. Is there any problem?’. The expressions changed. Soon, their face returned normal. RAC partner told me that I resemble Hindi speaking Brahmin by face and physique. Rahul felt surprised on my English. Muslim speaking English. Old Man and Rahul conversed themselves in Gujarati which I was unable to grab except excessively used word ‘Musalmaan’ meaning ‘Muslim’.
Rahul studies higher secondary here in Coimbatore. He’s off to his hometown Rajkot on to spend his exam vacation. Rahul Nair. Nair being surname denoting a caste from Kerala, I inquired him. He told that his father is from Kerala while mother being Gujarati. His father seem to work as an officer in Shipyard near Okha.
That was it. Everybody went to sleep. Myself, I was unable to. It was strange. Gujarat. Musalmaan. Everything had some tie. They spanned. I was correlation, I closed my eyes and compartment lights were lit.
(To be Continued)