Category Archives: Railway

Mumbai Rajdhani: Another Trip

The thought of going back home on the Mumbai Rajdhani invariably fills me with  excitement and ebullience like that of a 4 year old when he sees candy. The silent motion coupled with high speed and the few stops this train enjoys sets it apart from any other Rajdhani in the nation. Mumbai to Delhi in flat 16 hours and that too, with convenient timings, makes this an enviable option to the myriad of flights available.

I reached Mumbai Central, the source station an hour and a half before departure by one of the new age locals that seem to be getting a lot of attention these days owing to frequent  malfunctions.

At 2:30 in the afternoon,the Mumbai Central platforms bear a bored look, one that is accentuated by the empty platforms, the dead locomotives in the pit lines, the napping railwaymen, a couple of strangely coloured stray dogs and the odd traveler.

The main hall of the station, however, portrays a different picture, with its swanky new Mcdonalds and Rajdhani restaurants, the buzzing mass of people, all conversing animatedly and  few railway workers checking, loading and unloading parcels onto carts

I preferred to stay away from the hustle and bustle and found myself comfortably placed on a new steel bench that seemed to have been victimized in some metal bashing session. 

A few locomotives kept moving up and down the lines, shunting themselves onto different platforms. The locomotives of Mumbai are unique, in that they run on both AC and DC. These specialized locomotives were created because Mumbai and areas around run on DC while the rest of India runs on AC.

By 3:30 pm a handful of passengers had arrived on the platform.  Two gentlemen chose to accompany me on either side of the steel bench. The one to my left kept himself busy over the phone, while the one to my right, obese from all ends kept nudging me for more space. all this when the benches ahead were empty. 

In the midst of our fight for space, which seems to be the story of every Indian, we were approached by a eunuch, begging (read demanding) for money. 

“De beta, paise la…bhagwan tera bhala karega” (followed by the quintessential kissing sound and the clap). Her sweetness, as in most cases, was shortlived and when she realized that we were hardly paying any attention to her, threw a string of abuses and went on ahead.

In the meanwhile, I was also fed up of the obese gentleman’s quest for space. I finally got up, glaring at the gentleman, who at that point in time, represented a  ripened tomato (in his red shirt), all ready to be squashed underfoot.

I moved on to another bench.That the train was going to Delhi was validated by ” auntyji, train ithe hi aayegi, aap kithe jaa rahe ho” ,zebra striped and gaudy sarees and salwars and a couple of surd boys jumping up and down on the platform:Punjabis 

The rake of the Mumbai Rajdhani was shunted onto the platform at 4:00 pm and it was a pleasure to see the queen, all washed and jacked up for the journey. 

As i watched the rake being shunted in, the same eunuch walked up to me again, delivering the same few lines. I refused again and protested saying that she had come to me earlier as well. Her memory seemed to be in auto mode however and she had no recall whatsoever and after an “uff ohh’ moved on to another bench.

The one disappointment on seeing the Rajdhani rake were the meshed windows, with the words ” There’s a little bit of Sail in everybody’s life” screaming out at you. My disappointment was amplified when I realized, that the usually clear view outside was now marred by the mesh across the window.genius thought for a marketer, a genuine disappointment for a railfan.

On the train, my neighbours included a couple of young chaps,a Punjabi businessman and two probably bengali ladies.A compartment ahead, sat a group of tough looking policemen with sten guns.

The train left on time and we were soon chugging along, though at top speed, across the Western terrain of India.

The Punjabi businessman sat right opposite me in the side berth. An unobtrusive man, he knew perfectly well to mind his own business. Apart from the open mouthed snores and the constant “Hey Prabhus” , he was the perfect co passenger.

Of the two young chaps, one seemed to be around 17-18 years of age, measly thin, with an army cut. He had an accent that seemed to suggest he had had some exposure abroad.

What made this character intriguing, however, were his phone calls.All his friends seemed to have nicknames assigned which included Baby Goose, Momma Goose, Tiger, Captain etc etc

He would keep referring to Western Commnd and war at this front and that front. His size didn’t seem to suggest any relation to the army, although his fervent talk seemed to suggest deep affiliation to whatever he was involved in. He had, infact come down to Mumbai because there was a lecture by Tiger, meant for the Western Command(??). 

The only other plausible reasoning for this  lingo was gaming. It was tough for me to comprehend, however, that young guys were travelling across the nation to attend lectures on strategy for a virtual world??

I resigned to Mary Higgins Clark’s “Where are you now?”and most of the evening was spent reading, interspersed with glances here and there and small naps, with my mouth wide open.

Dinner time came and went with the service good and the dinner served hot. I actually didn’t miss the soup and the bread sticks, items which have been discontinued from the Rajdhani menu by the IRCTC, citing enhanced quality focus by restricting themselves to fewer items. Fewer items meant no ice cream as well.

After the stop at Baroda (9:30 pm) ,I climbed into the cosy, side upper berth and in a matter of  minutes was lost in dreamland.

Morning was a rude experience. I was jolted out of sleep by a white light beyond the folds of my eyes. I found myself staring at the tube-light on the ceiling. The attendant had switched it on on duty’s call.

Waking up, I realized, to my dismay, that as usual, I had forgotten to bring my toothbrush and paste. Brushing would have to wait but could not afford to allow my mouth to stink. I didn’t have my pack of Happydents as well and was wondering what to do when I remembered the welcome kit (given on the Rajdhani) included a mouth freshener pack as well .

So, within the confines of  an Indian style toilet, while the others outside thought I was busy attending to the call of nature and brushing my teeth, I popped the sweetened saunf into my mouth.

Bad idea…The welcome kit included paper soap as well and the the soapy taste of soap and the sweet taste of saunf had combined and culminated in a truly disgusting taste. The mouth smelled fresh, however, even if it smelt of soap.

I got down to eating breakfast, which comprised of  tasteless vada and tangy idlis served with a hopeless green chutney. Whatever hopes I had had of the IRCTC delivering to quality were lost with this breakfast. There was no packed juice as well, which had become staple for me in my frequent journeys.

The breakfast was followed by coffee. Instead of the regular Nescafe, they served TaTa Coffee and as a proud South Indian, I must say, this will surely appeal to all who favour roast and ground coffee to the bland Nescafe.

The coffee was invigorating enough to help me finish around 50 pages of “Where are you now?”  in a span of half an hour. The train, meanwhile had reached Delhi and was slowly making its way through Hazrat Niammudin, Tilak Bridge, Shivaji Bridge to finally reach New Delhi at 8:36 am, for all practical purpose, on time.

A metro ride later, I was home, treating myself to chapati and Kerala style Chole.

Another succesful trip  and another good ride on the 2951 down Mumbai Rajdhani Express

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Indian Railways and Toilets…Did you Know?

Talk of a second class toilet on any Indian train usually evokes faces of utter disgust or a sling of the choicest abuses on how the Government/railways has failed in providing sanitized rest rooms for the traveling masses. I haven’t had to care much as a matured internal digestion cum egestion system ensures that I usually don’t feel the urge to use one. After reaching the destination, however, it is usually a mad and frustrated dash to my dwelling place.

Anyway, one should consider himself lucky to be born in an era where not just 1 but 2 toilets are provided in each coach, irrespective of class. Did you know that in the first 55 years of the Indian Railway’s operations, there was no toilet provision in the lower classes!!

It is, they say, a result of the following letter, that the railways decided to be more humane and include toilets in all classes of coaches for trains running more than 50 miles.

“I am arrive by passenger train Ahmedpur station and my belly is too much
swelling with jackfruit. I am therefore went to privy. Just I doing the
nuisance that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running
with ‘lotah’ in one hand and ‘dhoti’ in the next when I am fall over and
expose all my shocking to man and female women on plateform. I am got leaved
at Ahmedpur station.
This too much bad, if passenger go to make dung that dam guard not wait
train five minutes for him. I am therefore pray your honour to make big fine
on that guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big report to papers.”

The letter was written by a certain gentleman named Okhil Chandra Sen to the Sahibganj divisional railway
office in 1909 and is on display at the National Rail Museum in New Delhi.

The Locomotive drivers,however haven’t been so lucky and till today, don’t have toilets on board. I guess it’s the vast semi barren landscape that currently bears the burden of their discomfort.

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The Choices I made: Oracle

A good placement, not surprisingly though, is the primary driver for any MBA student. Getting a job of his choice or rather, getting a job of good social standing, is important to each and every student who walks through the gates of any b-school in this nation.

I was clearly a 5 point someone in college. My understanding of the post graduate course was limited to working for the placement committee, participating in inter collegiate quizzes and generally looking for an excuse to travel the world. For some reason, text books and formalized education were things that I abhorred and yet I felt that it was a drill that every Indian needed to go before entering the ‘corporate’ world’

Well, as a five point someone, a combination of my inability to rote learn and laziness, I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive of whether I would even be placed. This apprehension continued on till the first company came on campus.

Oracle: a coveted brand and one of the fortune 500 companies had agreed to come to campus and it wanted to come first. The profile was that of a Business Development Consultant and I believe the prospect of getting into the company itself shaded our ability to think straight. I was ecstatic, especially so since the company was from Bangalore, my region of operations (for the placecom).

In Delhi at that time, the pre placement talks and the interviews were to happen the next day. I booked an early morning flight to Nagpur and by mid afternoon was on campus.

That evening, the entire batch assembled together to hear the suave Oracle guys talk. The session lasted for an hour and the profile sounded like nothing but fun, fun and more fun. Yes, this was the profile I had dreamed of…to be able to lead a lazy life at the helm of affairs (atleast some ) and yet rake in lots of moolah…Only a few fortunate ones had ever managed this nirvana.

The session was followed by a round of telephonic interviews, which i cleared with flying colours (thanks to railfanning…it always works) and I was called to Mumbai for some further interviews.

A final batch of 15 out of around 60-70 applicants left for Mumbai a week later. We were the fortunate ones and here was a chance to be the first guys to be placed since since, well, last year.

Mumbai, the land of dreams, had always fascinated me. It’s beaches (or beach?), its people ,its autos and cabs and its trains have always been awe inspiring. My best friend also studied in this city and more than the interview itself, this was a chance to meet him and spend some ‘quality’ gossipping time.

It is this ulterior motive that kept me motivated through my entire stay. So much so, even a day before the interviews, I was sitting with my friend at Marine Drive, pondering on where our life would take us ( Nothing much has changed…we still do the same).

The d day had been scheduled at the Le Meridian, Andheri. I am not sure what made me more nervous?…was it the interview? or was it the prospect of displaying proper ettiquettes in a five star setting?Around 200 odd students had managed to make their way here from colleges in Mumbai and Pune.

After a rather sumptous breakfast, we were all ushered in for another lengthy brain washing session which involved fun videos, some games and lots of goodies. Soon after the session we were distributed across 3 interview rooms.

Well, my interviewer was a lady, dressed in Oracle colours, including the heels she wore. A seemingly tough lady, she seemed all geared up to swat the insignificant flies (us).

“Everything without God is nothing and nothing wih God is everything”, a chant that my mom taught me, was to me the last bastion of hope as I made my way into the room. The questioning started and I somehow wriggled my way through, gaining in confidence with each passing question. 20 minutes later, I was out of the room, all beaming:Indian Railways had done it yet again.

Another round of mind games and another wait for the first shortlist.”Robin Jacob Abraham”, my name was announced, a confirmation of my decent performance in the interview. Among my peers, only 5 of us had managed to make it to the next round

The next round was with the General Manager and it was entirely his call to select or unselect. The questions were simple and this time Robin Cook’s Invasion came to my rescue. I am somehow convinced that the wild swinging of my hands and a bit of  animated talk (reserved only for interviews) had managed to impress the interviewer.

After the interview, we were made to sit in the main conference room. The tension was palpable and the sweat seemed to be streaming across grim faces despite the air conditioning. A full hour and a half later, the Oracle managers walked in. They had finally come out with a final shortlist after much deliberations and discussions amongst themselves and with the hotel staff ( They had crossed their booked time schedule). I was ready to hear the best (I admit, I would have been shattered, if otherwise).The names soon started rolling out…blah blah…and blah blah… and blah blah…and last but not the least from ‘A’ group…Robin Jacob Abraham. Did I hear it correctly…yes I did…I am supposed to stand and I need to hear some loud claps…As i stood, I saw the entire IMT group ( or watever was left of it), cheering for me…I had been placed and to my peers, it was reassuring to know that if a five point someone could be placed so could they. As for me, I had managed to be the first guy to be placed in college which itself was a special feeling.I could almost see the Cadbury’s ad playing in my head…Pappu pass ho gaya!!…Robin place ho gaya!!…I was sure all my professors would exclaim, either in genuine relief or shock.

I was also fairly confident that my grades mattered no more and I could retire to more mundane activities in the confines of my room (read movies, cream rolls and sleeping). The next 60-90 days were spent exactly that way…

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Some Cherished Railway Gifts

Each year, my birthday warrants people gifting something related to trains. Usually these are kid versions of trains running around on plastic tracks. 

However, the year 2006 was special. Some of my closest friends went to the rail museum in Nagpur (around 40 kms from college) and brought me some amazing models of trains, pictures of which i am posting below.

The Fairy Queen miniature : The world’s oldest running locomotive

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The Rajdhani Express: India’s high speed all A/C train

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This coupled with a book on how the Mumbai local system came into being have probably been the most amazing ‘railway gifts’ I have received.

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August Kranti Rajdhani

29th December, 2008: It can classify as the worst day of my life. I am holed up in the side upper berth of the Super Fast A.K Rajdhani express which was supposed to have reached Mumbai around 7 hours back at 10:30 am. I am told it might just make it by 4:30 pm.I love trains but traveling with a terrible bout of cold and a chest full of phlegm isnt exactly my idea of a good ‘railfanning’ trip.Thanks to the delay, I spent 5 hours at the New delhi station itself with only a half sweater to protect me from the heartless cold of Delhi.As if the wait wasnt enough, the crowd at the Hazrat Nizamuddin was overwhelming and a simple cup of coffee required me to climb up and down 3 platforms!!! 

Back to the train, I have been assigned the seat number 72, another reason to my woes today. The berth is right next to the compartment door which has ensured little sleep through the night and day. The constant opening and closing of the door,mostly by motion affected fellow passengers has had a direct bearing on my grumpiness which is at a new high today.
Then there are the voices…and I attribute it all to the passengers from Mathura.Loud and booming, in typical Mayawati style, these guys seem to operate in night shifts. Through the night, they were animatedly discussing politics and the nation and today, even if their voices are silenced by their sleep, their snores have ensured that the ‘good work’ is carried on.

It is interesting to note that despite being late, the train is full. It feels privileged to know that there are so many more like me who lead time independent lives.

Update: 4:45 pm… I have finally reached. I am hungry and disappointed. I hated the tip taking exercise on the train by the train waiters, inspite of the delay!! It was the first time I had travelled by the August Kranti Rajdhani and hopefully my last.

2951/52 Mumbai Rajdhani still continues to remain my favourite.
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Now thats a crowded train

Came across this video on YouTube. Would do really well for a Fevicol ad on rails.

On a side note we are slated to be the most populous nation by 2030. Hope to have more trains by then though

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Chuk Chuk Push..Chuk Chuk Push

I thought India was the only country where trains were jam packed with unruly crowds. The Mumbai local has long been used to showcase India’s growing population issues. However, Japan seems to have its share of overcrowded but air conditioned trains. What’s more the authorities ensure that people are shoved and pushed inside so that the always punctual japanese train system remains punctual!!

It seems that Indians are more self driven than the Japanese.How else can you explain the daily deluge of people that manage to get on and off the train without the assistance of any official!!

Jai Hind!! but hope we go easy on the current population explosion

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Death by the Rajdhani Express

The Following incident happened more than a year back in 2007.

An unusual ting happened on the 2441 Bilaspur Rajdhani on Mar 10. I, along with my friends from college had boarded the train from Nagpur for one final journey to Delhi after two long years of studying. The train was on time and reached Bhopal on time as well.It was headed by a WAP4E from Vadodara and had nice,neat coaches with an equally nice and clean looking(both from inside and outside) PC.Clean toilets added to the experience.The train started at around 3:50 pm and arrived at Bhopal at around 9:30,although we were in the outskirts at 9:05 pm itself.
Between Bhopal and Jhansi the train came to a sudden halt in the middle of nowhere.The manner in which the train stopped got me to suspect that something was amiss.After halting for around an hour,the train inched slowly for another hour or so before it came to a final halt in the outskirts of some non decrepit station.We had been put on the loop line.Around 4 trains towards Delhi passed us in the meanwhile.It was a bit amusing to think that the mighty Rajdhani had been halted to let the others pass by.Saw some express train with a Wap5/7 and had 5 AC coaches as well.Any ideas on which one this could be?.Also saw the Ap express passing us.
My curiosity got the better of me and I made my way to the pantry where I asked the cooks as o what had happened? “engine failure” replied one of the cooks ” There’s a body that has been caught up in the engine” he added.Shocked to the core, I opened one of the doors and tried to look towards the engine,around 8 coaches ahead with my weak eyes.I could only make out the silhouettes of  around  5-6 rpf  and GRP  personnel with large torches.
Sleepy,tired,shocked and disappointed: An unusual mix of feelings,nevertheless ones that I felt at that moment.I made my way to my berth,apprised my friends on the issue and went off to sleep. Tired as I was, my deep slumber could not have been broken if it had not been for the attendant, who insisted on having the Blanket at 6am in the morning,the scheduled arrival for the train at NDLS.Disoriented, I was getting a grip on my spinning head and thought that New Delhi was near.I handed my blanket over to the attendant.It was only then that one of my friends started quarreling and arguing that New Delhi was still a good 3 hours away!!!!!! He told him to come when NDLS was near,but the attendant insisted that on Bilaspur Rajdhani,blankets needed to be and have always been collected at 6am.Somehow we managed to shoo him away,at the same time wondering as to how tough it is on the customers when the Rajdhani gets delayed.No tea and Breakfast as well.At around 8am,the people in the next cabin started discussing the issue at night.These guys seemed to be railway officials.I couldnt help being a Peeping Tom and this is the story I could fathom.
It seems as if between Nagpur and Bhopal someone either jumped from above in front of the train.The body got wedged in the ‘tracer??'(Cudnt get the word properly) of the engine.The loco pilots didn’t get to know this and the body was carried along for more than  5 hours before the first 1 hour stop.Here the RPF guys tried pulling the body out but were unsuccessful.The train then moved towards the second stop,where it seems the RPF guys had to do some cutting to get the body out. A gory story but a sad reminder of Prakash Tendulkar’s stories on how Loco pilots are affected both emotionally and psychologically by deaths on tracks.The 2441 Rajdhani Express arrived at New Delhi, a full 2 and a half hours late at 8:35 am.

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Thoda Adjust Kar lo!!

One of the most irritating aspects of a train journey, especially if you’re travelling by Sleeper class is someone walking upto you and while comfortable seating himself, asks you to adjust on a reserved seat!!!

“Thoda Adjust kar lo” seems to be the favoured line of “Jugaad technology” across India and across the Indian Railways. I have always attributed it to apathy and lack of willingness by government officials to hold the bull by its horns. Sometimes, I wonder if POK(Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) is a result of “thoda adjust karlo”
.

People dont seem to care and officials couldnt be more indifferent. Being a part of “IRFCA”, I come across stories that depict this apathy in the “indian Railways”. The following is a story one of the members posted expressing the “sab chalta hai” attitude of a TTE ( Travel Ticket Examiner)

Nowadays, everybody goes “ga-ga” over the Garib Rath Expresses. But
let me recount one of my most harrowing journeys ever on IR on board
the ASR-SHC Garib Rath Express on which I had the misfortune to
travel recently between NDLS-BE.

1. The train arrived at NDLS 5 hours late (around 4 PM as against
1110 AM)headed by a LDH WDM 3A.
2. We had our reservation in the AC Chair Car (thinking it would be
a journey of hardly 4 hours) but hundreds of passengers were trying
to get into this compartment.They were the usual UR Jansadharan Exp
type of crowd with big tin cannisters and over-flowing gunny-
bags/sacks on their heads. Hence getting into our compartment was an
ordeal by itself (stoppage at NDLS was only for 10 min), with the
danger of getting hit by sharp objects always looming large in the
jostle.
3. The AC Chair Car was overflowing to the brim with the
passages/other free spaces blocked by people, obviously without
reservation. Predictably, our seats were also taken away by “others”
who had to be pursuaded to vacate.
4. The seats were narrow and uncomfortable with hardly any elbow and
leg space. I think more than 108 seats are provided in the GR as
against the customary 70 or so.
5. The atmosphere was stiflingly hot with so many people inside the
compartment and the AC threatening to shut down any moment as the
doors were kept open by the motely crowd. People were even sitting
on the hand rests of the aisle seats as well as on the floor.And the
noise ! Just like in an UR compartment.
6. In this confusion, somebody vomitted on the passage floor and the
mess was obviously not cleaned by any sanitary staff in the four
hours that we spent with handkerchief pressed against our noses. We
thanked our stars for some other small mercies (nobody did no. 1 or
no. 2 in the passage as it was impossible to go to the toilets
because the coach was so overcrowded with passages blocking the
passage). We also had no other alternative but to strain our
bladders to the maximum for over 4 hours !
7. When the TTE came to examine our tickets, I asked him how
unauthorised passengers in such large numbers were being allowed
inside the reserved AC CC coach. He replied sternly that every body
had a ticket, albeit WL ticket, and that all WL passengers were
allowed inside AC CC coaches in GR trains. I was too fed-up by then
to argue with the TTE any further.
8.We were more than happy when we got off at BE at 8 PM as our
gruelling journey came to an end.
Regards,
Bhaskar Roy

I too have had my share of experiences with TTEs unwilling to take any disciplinary action. I remember,on my trip to Goa with friends on Goa Express in 2004, one side of the coach was full with home going jawans of the Indian Army. The noise and the ruckus they created was enough to ensure that we couldn’t sleep in peace. Add to that their squatting at the doors ensuring that no one could get on or off at the stations.Finally at Jhansi,I think, we got down and spoke to the TTE. The TTE’s response ” I wont do anything about it, but if you have a problem,pull the chain and present the problem to the officials”.

The eternal optimist in me still believes such issues would be resolved….till then “thoda adjust kar lo”!!

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Railfanning: from Inside the Mumbai Rajdhani

I arrived in Mumbai on the 29th of March. Travel Mode: The Indian railways, The Train: Mumbai Rajdhani. The furious beauty chugged and puffed and ensured that I had another memorable journey across the Indian plains.

Bang on time on all the occassions she has so kindly allowed me aboard,this train never ceases to amaze me.

Here are some videos I took aboard the train enroute to Mumbai.

1) The approach to Mathura

 

2) The Sweet revenge: The Mumbai Rajdhani gets overtaken and overtakes the same local a while later

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