4-Tier Sleeper Class

I  had  reached  Howrah  from   Mumbai today  morning  on my  way  to  New  Jalpaiguri .  It was  a special occasion as  my  father was   retiring  after  34  years of service  on 31 Mar 1986. I  had  taken five  days  leave from  my  college  hostel  to be  with him on  that  day.  From  Howrah    the  only  train available today was  Kamrup Express  which is a  slow   and  tardy train  known to be always  crowded  beyond  its  capacity. I tried   the  reservation  counters for current reservation  but  had no luck . After roaming  around  the  railway  station  and  having  some  snacks,  I came  and  sat  on a  waiting  bench  on the  platform  from which  the   train  would  leave  in about  two  hours time.

“Do you  have  reservation  in Kamrup Express ” asked  the passenger  sitting besides  me  on the  bench. He  was  a  young man   aged  around  25,  wearing ordinary  looking shirt  and  trousers. Had  a  unshaven  face  and  his  heavily packed  bags  showed  he was a small time  trader who may have  come to Calcutta  to  do purchases.

“No. I  am  waitlisted “ I replied.

“ Do  you have a  seat?” I asked in return.

“No,  but  if  you  have  some money  I  will  manage  a  ground-floor  berth in the train. Some  of  my  friends   like  me  are  frequent  travellers  so we  help  each other. ” He  said.

“”Fine , but how  much would that   cost ? I asked.  Being  a  college  student  I  generally  had  limited money.

“just Rs 20 extra” He said.

Rs 20  was  not  much for a  lower  berth in a  perennially crowed  train, I  thought  . But  how  will  he  manage? Though I had  paid  Rs  80 for the  ticket, Rs  20 for  the  seat  and  that  too  lower  berth was  peanuts, I  thought.

“Do you know  some  TTE  here, because  I  have  tried  everywhere   and nobody is  ready to  help” I said.

“No  need  for TTEs , you  just  see. We  just  need  to  take  care  of  each other’s   luggage  while  I  will  trace  out  my  friends.” said  my  confident  friend.

I  agreed  . I had  little  choice . It was  a  14 hour  haul that too by  a  slow  train which is  generally   full  till  the  brim and   here  someone  was  promising a  berth  for Rs  20  was certainly  worth giving a  try.

The train arrived and as expected  and  there  was  total  chaos  for the  next  15-20  minutes on the platform. Reserved  and   unreserved  compartments  both  got   jam packed instantly . There  were   people  sitting everywhere. Standing   even  in  the  aisle  and  between  the  seats too. We  both  boarded  some  compartment  and  could  not  get  an  inch to sit  down. I  was finding it  even difficult  to  breathe.  Some  one in the cabin  was  carrying  a basket  of  fresh fish  and the  whole  coach  was  smelling like  Sassoon Docks  of Mumbai.

The train slowly  moved out of Howrah station,  and  through  some open window  I  caught  some gush of fresh air to  breathe.  After  some  time  we  tried  to  push  some people  around  and  created  little  more  space  to  stand  properly  between  the  cabin  seats  and  the  side-seats. I  looked  up  if  any  of the   upper  seats  were  empty. But  got a  dirty  gaze  from from people  sitting  there  as  if  they were  saying  “how  dare , don’t  even look  here” So I looked  down.

After  some  time , I looked  at  my  confident  friend  as   if to  ask him what was  his  plan?

He nodded  and said,  “Hmm, you look  after my these  two  bags   and I  will  search for  my  friends”

“Ok , but  lets  keep  them somewhere or  else people  will  step  on them on their way to toilets” I  said.

“Who is  going to toilets? Firstly ,toilets  are  full   with people and their  luggage and  the fish  baskets  and  secondly whoever goes  to  toilets loses  his  seat. So  don’t  worry and  stand  here” he  said.

“ What !  I  can’t  go to toilets  till  morning? OMG, I should  have  relieved myself at the station only.”I  said.

“Is  this  the  first time  you  are  travelling  without reservation. ?  He asked  giving  me a  dirty  look.

“Yes “ , I  said  curtly and  he  looked  the  other side.

“Ok , now  don’t  worry , stand  here  till  I  come back , then I  will try  and  manage  to make  you  get  down  at some  place  when  train  stops  in the  wilderness.” He  said

“Ok, I said.  My  confident  friend  was  smart  also.

So I  muted  all  my  apertures  till  the  time  my  confident  friend comes back from  his  reconnaissance .

I  stood  there  looking  around  . This coach  with   a capacity  of  72  had more  then  150 people in it. All  side upper seats    had  three  people  sitting  and  lower berths had 4-  5  passengers  cramped  filling  every inch of  the  berth.  It  was  more then  two  hours   and  there  was  no  TTE  to  be  seen. I  was  thinking  what  can any  poor  TTE  do  in  this  scenario. He  would  soon   be outnumbered  and  thrown out. This  was  a  reserved  compartment S-2.

I  waited  for my  confident  friend to  come  back . It  was   around  8 PM now.

After  some  minutes  my  friend  appeared   beaming  with some  more  confidence.

“Chalo” He  commanded me.

“where?” I Asked.

“ Next  compartment, five  of  my friends  are  there.”He said.

“So you don’t have  to  pay anything  now”.I asked.

“ Why , they  will  give  us  their seats  for  free? Quickly  give  me  the  money”. He  scolded me.

“Ok , here  take of my share Rs 20” I said taking  out  the  note which I had kept  in  my  pocket.

Jumping  over  luggage  and  pushing people  we  reached  the  other  compartment S-3. Enroute I crossed  the  toilets  and realised my friend was right. With door ajar I could see they were dumped with luggage.

When we  reached  the  place  where  my confident  friend’s  friends were  sitting  I was  shell shocked. This  place too was   as  crowded  as  the previous one   and there was no lower  seat vacant for  us. We  stood  there  with luggage. There  were four   each on  each  seat already  sitting there. I  looked at  my  friend  who was  also  standing  and  talking  in  a  friendly  tone  to them. Just  then   the  train  slowed down and   we  could  hear  that  there  was a  platform. My  confident friend  asked  his  friends  that  he  will go  and  get dinner  for   them  as  it  was  the   dinner  time.

I  asked   my  friend  if  I  could  come  along  as  I  needed  desperately  to relieve  myself. We  went  out jumping  over  people  who had already started  dozing  sitting on the  floor  of  the  train itself. This  was  indeed  my  first experience  of  a travel  without  reservation.

When  we  were  out  I asked  my  friend  about  the  seat. He  said  “first  I  have  to  give  them  Dinner  then  they  will give  us  place”. I  had my  doubts about  this  arrangement  but  then my  friend  was  very  sure  that  they  have  two  seats  under  them   and  they  cannot  give  it   to anyone else but  us.

So in 40   rupees  we  brought   puri-sabji  for  all of his  friends. They  ate  gloriously  while  I  watched  them . By now  I had  been standing   for  four  hours  at   a  stretch and  legs  were  aching and  I  needed  to  just  sit  and  I  would  sleep.

After  they  finished my confident  friend started  telling them   that  it  is  quiet  late  and  they  should  also lay  their  beds. The six  of  them who  had  their berths   got up  to go to  their  berths  and  the  other  two  just  tried  to  lie  down between the  seats. Suddenly I  found  my  confident  friend spring into action . He just  brushed  them  aside   telling them that we   eight  are  together  and this is  our  place.  He  literally  pulled them out  and  threw in our  luggage . He then called  me in and  we  sat on  the floor between the seats. For a minute  my  legs got   a  sigh  of  relief.

Then  what  I saw  was even   more horrifying. Confident  friend  took  out  the  newspaper from his  bag   and  opened  the  pages very  deftly. He started  spreading the paper  under the  lower berth in  the place  meant  for  luggage.  I was   awestruck  at   this  action. He then  lay  down flat  and  slowly  rolled over  under  that  lower berth . He Looked at  me and  smiled as  if he  has  achieved  the  bliss. He  passed the  balance of the  newspaper  towards me.  I kept it aside and gave  him  a dirty  look. He turned his  face to  the  other  side  and  within  minutes   he  was  snoring in his 4th tier sleeper.

I kept  looking  around but  felt  very  creepy at  sleeping under  the lower  berth . It  sounded   like  what  I  read  about  the  jews  being  treated in  the nazi  camps.  No I can’t .  I  rather stay awake sitting here. I had  a place to sit at least.  Cabin lights  were  now  off.  And it was well   past midnight. The train  was  moving  slowly and halting after  every 20-30 minutes. There  was  silence everywhere . My  body  was  aching and  I  needed  to  lie down for   it was  almost  48  hours  that  I  had  left  the confines  of  my  comfortable hostel  room.  My  eyes  were  also drowsy. I quietly searched  for the   newspaper  and spread  it  under  the other  lower  berth and  rolled  over  to  the  place  under  the  lower  berth. My  body felt  relieved   on getting adequate   space  to stretch.

Brilliant  idea  my  friend.

The  last  thought  which came  to  my  mind   before  I  dozed off   was  I  hope  the  person  sleeping above  me  does not  have a  bad  stomach.





12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Aman on December 4, 2015 at 10:14 am

    Sir. Very nicely penned down the experience…


  2. Posted by Col arun joshi on January 7, 2017 at 6:40 am

    Reminds me of my Herculean effort to travel from Pune to dimapur in early 70 s . The ASSAM MAIL would invariably be late upto 8 hrs and would put Jhelum Express to shame. No pantry car. Changeover at Barauni from broad to meter gauge. Only one dosa stand at B . No dare not drink water from any source for fear of infective hepetities. Indian commuters had infinite patience since there was no choice. NE India was always a negelected area and alien to Delhi.


  3. Posted by rana on January 7, 2017 at 7:10 am

    Yup true depiction
    Very humourously explained the plight of Bhartiya rail passengers…have traveled and faced the ordeal numurous time…lovly writng😀🙏😜


  4. Posted by Sharad Srivastava on January 7, 2017 at 8:48 am

    Nice one MP Sir. I had a similar incident travelling without ticket in the general compartment with one Iron Box and Holdall , perched on the upper birth with legs folded like hen and to top it all got caught and paid penalty for travelling without ticket near Pune..while coming home for the first time from Leh during Holiday season.


  5. Posted by Nirmal on January 7, 2017 at 9:42 am

    Nice write up. Brings up the old memories of rail travel as students….


  6. Posted by Shiv Kumar on January 7, 2017 at 9:53 am

    Nicely explained Sir. These unforgettable experience gives turns in life.


  7. Posted by MAJOR MANIVANNAN on January 7, 2017 at 10:05 am

    MP Sir it’s really a great experience which could have come in every one’s life at least once. It’s true your confident friend has fulfilled his assurance but with a shock to you. 😂😂😂


  8. Haha, that’s quite an adventure trip! Great friend you found 😀 Really helpful!


  9. Beautifully narrated story of human ingenuity. Love the details of 2nd class train compartments. Bring back some memories


  10. Posted by Ravindra Shukla on January 8, 2017 at 4:47 am

    Brilliantly narated what all of us would at some stage in our young lives would have gone through. I for sure…several times.


  11. Posted by Harkamal on January 16, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    This story reminds me of almost similar experience I had back in college days.travel in general compartment.. packed to the brim..standing next to door for hours….. on Howrah Ahmedabad route..
    Old memories….


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