Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Lessons learnt at the Railway Reservation Counter

I went to the Eastern Railway booking office this morning and learnt the following:

West Bengal is ahead in women's liberation stakes. There were four counters with a sizeable crowd in each but unlike elsewhere including capital Delhi, no "women-only" counter! Women are obviously considered at par with men, and up to standing for long hours in hot stuffy reservation queues, shoulder to shoulder with the men. Don't know if this is quite what we wanted.

Road to Salvation is through the queues at the Eastern Railway reservation counter. An elderly vaishnavite monk in saffron robes and chandan marks on his forehead and down his nose was taking an inordinately long time at the ticket counter. He finished and then we had just moved a place forward when he returned to the window once more. The others were obviously not very happy about it but let him through where he exchanged angry words with the clerk who kept telling to go to another counter. Turned out they kept giving him a side berth which he did not want because of "disturbances" due to a constant stream of passengers going to and fro from the toilets as well as attendants and vendors. Quite lost his cool. Looked quite odd for the swamiji to lose his cool so. But perhaps the Indian Railways are enough to rile even the wisest sage. And who knows maybe his order sent him here as some sort of a final test!!

The third one pertains to Murphys law (I think) - the slowest line is always the one you are in. A and I stood in different lines (one of us was bound to reach the window before the other). Two old ladies took their time at the counter fumbling over their reservation form. The clerk kept returning their half filled form and pointing out errors or something they had missed. And they kept clucking and smiling. The clerk took his time counting and recounting the money. The sighs and occasional grunts of impatience had by now grown to a loud murmur. A young chap was quite vocal. One of the two old biddies asked him to pipe down because they couldn't hear what the clerk was saying. The young chap asked them to use an hearing aid. The biddies then indulged in 'today's youngsters, how rude, what is this country coming to' for another 5 minutes with much clucking and seeking support from other old people in the line.

But this (Being in the slowest line) is not necessarily a bad one, as I (nearly) found out. We were making very slow progress when some one realized that the 2nd counter was closing for an half hour for lunch at 11am. Counter no. 3 was closing at 11.30 and the counter no 4 at 12.30. So people in line 2 got really mad; those in line 3 got panicky and those in line 4 looked smug for having made a wise decision! (Counter 1 simply gave out train forms). By this time, I was making pretty good progress and kept wondering if the people would get wild if I called A from his line. This was after all, a sort of cheating. Most people came by themselves and had to wait out in a single line.

We had quite forgotten about the monk in this discovery about lunch hours when some one spied him inside, behind the counter. An officer was listening to his problem and then walked up to our clerk and told him to attend to the monk first and solve the problem. Any sympathy for the monk evaporated instantly.

I felt thunderclouds gathering and not all of it in the skies. Thankfully, both A and I reached our respective windows at the same time and I was saved the hassle of calling him out from his line to mine and surely having to face the Bengali public's wrath (which can be quite amusing if you are just a bystander...the Bengali vocabulary is wonderful and so is their wit in any given situation; but obviously its not quite the same if you are in the receiving line).

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