Train travel travails

Train travel travails

Train journeys are always varied and interesting as one gets to rub shoulders with a motley crowd. This does not generally happen in overnight bus journeys as the commuters climb onto the waiting buses, and thereon quickly hop on to their sleepers or seats and settle down at the earliest. After being tossed around like potatoes in a frying pan, the passengers wake up the next morning bedraggled, and venture not to indulge in parleys with co-passengers in the swaying bus, lest they miss their stop.

Now, train journeys are different indeed. It is a known lacuna in railway booking that one does not get to actually select one’s seat and it is a sort of a lottery. Later, during the journey, if a family is separated or seniors are allotted upper berths, adjustments are made with mutual consent of passengers or with the intervention of the TTE.

Recently on a journey, my husband and I were allotted berths at two ends of the bogie but I never requested for a change as we were travelling just for a night. I had specially booked a lower berth instead of the preferred upper one, as I had developed a slight knee and back pain. But onboard, a wizened senior couple, who had been allotted upper and middle berths, looked at me meaningfully. Although my knee and back creaked, I volunteered to exchange my berth with one of them. They were grateful and even graciously enquired if my back and knee would allow, as I had indicated my disability initially. I replied with a smile that I hoped to be better off than them.

On the return journey, the husband and I boarded the train at a small station from a pilgrimage town. The “express” train was an hour behind schedule and we were quite tired waiting for almost two hours post dinner. So it was a bad surprise indeed to be commanded by the attendant to occupy two side berths instead of the ones allotted to us in the regular rows. He expressed that a ‘gentleman’ had occupied my regular upper berth leaving his side lower berth — “seemingly” apt for a lady — to me.

Fortunately, the TTE made his appearance and came to my rescue by commanding the gentleman to occupy the berth allocated to him. The only reason he had occupied the upper berth was that the side lower one had a joint in the middle! I apologised to him for not “adjusting” but explained that, being a lady, I do not prefer the side berth, as it lies along the passageway. It was indeed a slight hassle and a loss of precious sleep time to get back my berth.

On another long journey, when we ladies travelled with infants and were allotted upper and side berths, it was heartwarming that a 76-year-old gentleman graciously offered to exchange his lower berth after initially declining, whereas a sprightly person flatly refused to sleep on the side lower berth, leave alone handing over the regular lower berth allotted to him. He even reprimanded us for our request. It certainly takes all sorts to form the Lord’s kingdom.