For reasons beyond my conviction, I have stopped traveling by train and interstate bus. Maybe these experiences could be a few of the reasons.
One morning my aunt was travelling to Chennai by the Shatabdi and the expected time of departure (ETD) of the train was 6 am from the Bangalore City station. It was drizzling a bit, so I cautioned that we leave the house at 5 am, though we were just about 8 kms from the train station. I know the roads and traffic with small rains have perfectly predictable outcomes – road blocks and traffic jams, even when there is no traffic on the roads. As expected there were bottlenecks in Nayandahalli and the BHEL junction on Mysore Road. (I had in the past given practical and implementable suggestions to the Bangalore Traffic Police in vain; but the plight continues).
After some negotiation through the traffic, we reached the train station at about 5:30 am, with about 30 minutes to spare, but I knew in my heart, somewhere there would be chaos – either for the platform tickets or to navigate through the non-manageable platform. To my utter surprise, I was shocked to see that there were about 40 or 50 autos at the entrance, either dropping their passengers off or waiting to pick up passengers. Whilst there are dedicated queues for the autos in the train station – with prepaid arrangements to avoid any unwanted embarrassment with the auto drivers when one gets down, I am not sure how effective and realistic this option is.
I generally never use the car horn, unless I find someone who is violating traffic rules badly and could harm me. Blame it on my brief stint with western driving; I have inculcated traffic etiquette – with respect to lane sense and using the horn. However in Bangalore, I sometimes end up honking the whole drive. I had to use my horn as a weapon and honk for about five minutes to let the autos know that there were people waiting to get into the train station and that it was as important as their fights/negotiations with the passengers or even the simply beedi smoking chat. I was lucky that the drivers seemed to hear and moved their autos unwillingly, as though I was going to illegally occupy their legacy.
When I reached the car park, I could see it was designed very badly. All the cars stopped at the entrance to unload the luggage. And no surprises, it was as chaotic as the autowallas blocking the entrance. I did not have too many choices and had to make a quick decision. If I missed the entrance to the car park, I would then have to renegotiate the autos at the entrance. park I decided to park the car (this was mostly empty; most cars were busy at the entrance and therefore, there was no need for the drivers to park it really) and help my aunt with her luggage. Fortunately for me, her bag was not heavy. I can’t but imagine what old people with heavy luggage go through?
When I got in to the platform area to buy the platform tickets, I had about ten minutes left on the clock prior to departure. There was a window marked “PLATFORM TICKETS” and I jumped in the queue to buy mine. After four minutes of waiting, I was told by the the person at the counter to get to the queue on the rear side of the counter in the next block. I had to rush there and get my ticket.
I was lucky, since most of the crowd there was sleeping as if they had not slept for many years. Finally, with two minutes left for departure, I was on Platform 1 with my platform tickets, my aunt and her luggage. I could breathe now.
But something was amiss; there was an unfamiliar train on Platform 1. I enquired with the porters and they politely let me know that the Shatabdi stopped at Platform 6. There were no escalators or elevators to help commuters get to the other platfor. The station was so poorly designed. Although I had grown up in the city and used this station for many years, I had never felt the pinch, until today.
How wonderful to be in this position.With an ageing aunt who finds it difficult to climb stairs quickly and handful of luggage, I had to make quick decisions. I could have negotiated with a porter, but that would take a while and my aunt would miss the train. I told her to take long breaths and climb the staircase as fast as she could, and told her that we could go home if she missed the train and leave the following day. She cooperated wonderfully well.
How senseless were the guys who built the bridges! Their pictures should be put up on a wall of shame in the train station, along with the pictures of pick-pocketers that the cops put up.
Somehow we managed to reach Platform 6 just in time and I was happy to literally throw her into any compartment on the slowly moving train. Such was the snowballing effect of the bad roads, poor traffic, unplanned signals, speed breakers, unmanned and uncontrolled junctions, senseless people on the road, unplanned entry-exits at the stations, poorly equipped and unplanned platform vending counters, ancient overhead bridges with multiple levels, stations without elevators and escalators and what not.
In short, if someone had no faith in the Almighty, I’m sure he will start believing after a few such instances in India. How deprived we are of the basic amenitiess in life!