“There should be a vacant berth” Rahul pleads like a beggar.
“No I don’t have” The examiner shouts back, disturbed “ I told you that. It is just that day. You have to travel in the sleeper coaches.” Refused the TTE (Ticket examiner) of the A/C coaches.
The TTE was the man of the moment. There were dozens of men surrounding him, jumping impatiently for an A/C ticket .
A sudden business commitment was assigned to Rahul. And he has to be in Bareilly city the next morning. Rahul being a handsomely paid banker, always had the comfort of traveling in A/C coaches. In worst case scenario, his bank would book him a flight. But there are no flights to Bareilly.
All of the men there believed that there are still some vacant seats in the A/C coaches. The TTE is making things up. He is getting things desperate and the price of ticket gets inflated on its own. More importantly all were looking working professionals, like Rahul. They are all equally capable of paying any amount for the ticket. The TTE should be breaking soon, announcing the rates.
In this frenzy, Rahul doesn’t stand a chance. He is not the opt person, for such a scenario.
Rahul feels defeated in this rat race, for a last minute ticket. And walks dejected towards his allotted coach.
But after a few seconds , a comforting news comes his way.
Turns out, that the Railway officer was telling the truth. No one could negotiate with him. It is bad luck for these ‘last minute men’, that he is incorruptible.
Eventually none of the men who competed, got a seat .
Many disbursed hoping to get an A/C seat in the next train. While a few like Rahul decide to travel in the Sleeper class. For them time matters more than comfort.
It was around 11.00 P.M. Rahul boards the Sleeper Coach. He laid his bag below his seat. There were very few passengers in the coach.
Things were not looking so bad.
But still there is a stark contrast between an Air conditioned and a second class coach. The comfort levels are just incomparable.
The train departs. Rahul waits for the Ticket examiner, to check his boarding ticket. But was nowhere to be found. He had a rough day. He is very tired and fell asleep, waiting. After sometime, he hears a voice of a crying baby, which wakes him up. The lights were out. It was dark inside the train.
With his sleepy eyes, he was able to discern in the dark, the presence of large number of men. There were a few women and children as well. He looks up and he saw three men, sitting on his berth. They were constantly pushing his feet inside, with their buttocks, so they can sit comfortably.
In a few seconds he was wide-awake. He gets up and sits on his seat, with his legs folded.
‘How did so many people get in?’ He asked himself.
Seeing him sit, a man standing close by, also sat on his berth. He looks at these 4 men. There was no sense of regret or guilt,for sitting in somebody else’s seat.
They were a pathetic sight, with their torn, muddy attire and lean bony figure. One of the men sitting in the middle, had this red eyes, looking very scary. They were all in a totally deprived state. Their presence made the entire coach musky and he couldn’t bear the smell.
‘Who are these goddamn men? I feel like puking here. These men are stinking like rotten meat’
He is sure that these people are traveling ‘ticket-less’.
The coach can accommodate a maximum of around 70 people, but there are a good 120 men inside. He could now clearly see everything, as his berth was on the lower-side. There were people sitting, tightly packed in the footpath as well. And so many young men hanging from top berths like monkeys.
And the unrealistic part was that, the train was eerily silent. They all looked depressed and not a single conversation was taking place between them. They were also not sleeping. All their eyes were wide open.
Like ghosts they were all sitting ‘lifeless’.
‘Where is the bloody TTE? The Railway police?’ Rahul screams to himself. ‘This is a second-sleeper and not some unreserved-coach. These men cannot simply barge in. This is Bull sh#t”
He kept waiting for some Railway official to come. So that, they can pick these men and throw them out of the running train. But no one seem to be around.
Rahul now feels the urge. ‘Call of nature!!’. He needs to use the lavatory.
But there is no way he is going to reach there, with so many people sitting and lying in the path. The only way, was to trek on these men around. He waited for the next station. ‘May be these men will get-off’
After about half hour, the next station did come. But to his astonishment more men were waiting there to board the train. It was a small station, with no proper lighting. Looked like a village to him. He sees through the window, people emerging from the dark, running towards the train, shouting ‘train aa gaya hain , train…aa gaya hain…jaldhi aayo” (Train has come)
As the train halted, finally there were noises inside the coach. People were fighting at the doorstep, pulling and shoving one another. The men standing in the doorway, wouldn’t allow people from outside to get in. “It’s full, get off” they shouted. And the people outside where desperate to get in and wouldn’t heed. Violent clashes were underway, with people hurling crude abuses from both sides. The small children and the babies started crying. It was a pandemonium inside the coach.
Then suddenly a young man from outside jumps in to the coach and starts tripping on the shoulders of the stranded people. Replicating a chimpanzee. One can see all kinds of acrobatics here.
The train stops only for a few minutes, then it departs again.
Not a single man got out. It just gets more crowded inside. Rahul’s prediction goes terribly wrong. He couldn’t resist any more and proceeds towards the lavatory. It was so difficult to get there, it took him almost 10 minutes, with so many men lying around. His feet gets stuck every time in between them and he would look for his chapels in the dark.
He reached there finally, all to find some men sitting inside the lavatory as well. God! This is one horrible day. This outrages Rahul that he began to swear in the air like a mad man. But no one seems to give a damn. His voice was no match to the thundering sounds of the train. No one heard him swear. Not even him.
The toilet was anyways so filthy, that he decides not to use it. He gave an ‘angry stare’ to the two men smoking beedi inside.
‘It can’t get filthier than this”. Rahul moans on his way back. “What am I supposed to do? Looks like I am the only civilised being, among a brigade of barbarians.’
He goes back to his seat in the same manner, stepping on the people around. This time he was so angry, that he gave them all one good stomp. But there was no reaction. They took his stomping and yet remained silent. One man gave him a frightened look. Seeing the man looking at him painfully, oozes his anger .Rahul suddenly felt sorry for what he was doing.
It made him feel guilty for stepping hard deliberately on these poor men. He now walks carefully and slowly , making sure not to disturb the ghostly men.
By the time he reaches his seat, it is gone. Two more men have grabbed his place.This is unbelievable. He is completely exhausted. There is no energy in him, to express his anger.
He stands there in the dark, silent, thinking what to do next. He is not in a position to humanly reason with them. His ‘confirmed ticket’ has no value here.
Then he takes his bag and walks towards the exit doors.
‘I cannot travel like this, I will get down the next station, no matter what.’
The space between the doors, was the only place, a man can stand in this entire coach. The floor in between, was also occupied completely. But lights were ‘on’ here.
Bareilly should be at least 3 hours from here. The train got delayed, stopping at almost every crossing. Rahul stands holding his bag to the right and resting his other hand to the wall of the coach.
He is in a drowsy state and keeps losing his balance as there was nothing he could hold on to.
Looking at his ordeal, an old man sitting close to his feet, touches him. Rahul looks down, sees the man. He signs Rahul to sit next to him. He asked the boy to his left to stand up and he obeys. Rahul then keeps his bag down and sat on the small space, shared by the old man. This was the first time he was traveling sitting on the floor of the coach, close to the stinking toilets.
‘What a relief’, he sighs. He gets to some rest finally.
He thanks the old man for his gesture.
The old man then takes out a beedi from his pocket. And was about to light it up.
Rahul is a non-smoker. He cannot stand the smoke. He requests the old man politely not to smoke. Hearing so, the old man cut the burning bud of the beedi and puts it under his feet. The fire goes out. He then put the rest of the beedi in his pocket and sits there silently. He can smoke his beedi later.
Rahul then looks at him. His eyes were red too. This man must be in his late 50’s. Was looking decent and dressed quite neatly, compared to the other men.
But one was able to clearly tell that he, like the rest of them, is struck by poverty as well.
Both the men sat there quietly for a while. Rahul sat with his head resting on the wall of the coach, thinking what to do next. He doesn’t feel like sleeping and so was the old man.
So finally he decides to break the ice.
“Where are you going?” (in Hindi)
“Dilli” ( in a strong rural accent)
“All are these men going there too?”
“No, some Bareilly, some Kanpur, Ghaziabad, there are men going to Amritsar as well. Some of the men here, are from my village. The others must be from neighbouring villages. I am not sure”
“Why is there such a crowd? Is there any festival ?”
He laughs . “No, our holidays just got over and we are going back to work”
Yes it was the weekend, but still the rush is unusual. It was a mad-rush. Rahul tells him that what they were doing was wrong. How can they enter the coach, when they don’t have a confirmed accommodation. Because of them, men like him, with proper ticket are getting affected.
He then replies quite impolitely “ We will see about that when the police gets in. Police threw us all out from the previous train, we waited for such a long time and finally this train arrived. We don’t have money and we have to go to Dilli. That is all we know ”
Rahul didn’t like that rude reply. But no point arguing with him, he is just the same. After all he is one of them.
Seeing Rahul silent and dissatisfied with his reply, the old man opens up. He explains, “We are all basically farmers. It is not like we all were born poor. We were able to make sufficient money in the past. But for the past few years, nothing grows in our land . ‘Akaal pad gayi hain, hamare zameeno pe” There is no water and the rains are not predictable. The crops keep failing, in spite of our hard work.”
Then he points to the boy, who was standing next to them. “That is my son, the youngest” He introduces his boy to Rahul.
Rahul made some space in the floor and asks him to sit. He sits quietly. They adjusted. By now the stench was not an issue for Rahul. He was smelling like them too.
“He looks very strong.” Rahul tells smiling.
“Yes. That’s true. I have 2 Bheegas of land. He is so strong, that he can single handily, plough my entire land. We don’t need any tractors” Said his father proudly. “But our income from the farm is too low. We have all taken loans, all of us. From banks, local money lenders. Many have taken from both. Every one owes to them, at least 2 lakh rupees. We are just left with two choices, kill ourselves or work in the cities. I chose to live.
It will take us four to five hard years. Then we will all be debt free. I will get my land back, then hand it over to my sons, like a responsible father”
Rahul finally understands what was happening here. A mass migration, of debt- ridden farmers into the cities.
They could be travelling from places beyond Lucknow city. From the interior villages of Uttar Pradesh state.
He needs to be very careful here. Not to reveal much about himself. There are too many of them and he wasn’t sure how they will react, when they get to know, that he is a banker. He did ask who Rahul is ?.
‘I am student, studying in Bareilly’ Rahul lies
They continued speaking to one another. They spoke a lot about farming,then banking, about villages getting abandoned. Their conversation was very serious and dismal. Rahul could sense how demotivated the old man and others were.
Time went by. And all conversations, end with a joke.
“ You know what!’,said the old man ‘my son and I owe about 4 lakhs. I am sure we will return back in four to five years time. But you see that drunkard over there,” he points to a man, sitting close to the trash-can, beneath the washbasin. He was smoking beedi. “He is a fraud, lost everything in the fields and then playing cards. He owes at least 10 lakhs. The bankers and loan sharks are scouting for him in the village. And here he is, travelling shamelessly to the city for a vacation” he laughs “That b##tard has to work for at least 20 years to show his face in our village”
Listening to the ‘joke’!!, there were laughs all around. They all laugh like mad men, pointing to the man sitting beneath the washbasin. The man himself was laughing at his cursed life. It was not amusing for Rahul, but he laughed too. That joke finally gives some smile in every ones face. Ensured that he is not surrounded by ghosts, rather with humans.
Then after a few minutes, they were back to the grim realty. Back to silence.
“So what about the land? who will take care of it. Do you have other sons?” Rahul enquirs
“No one. What is the point? All our men have left. If you go to our village, you cannot find a single man there. But our ladies, small children and the old. There are some God-forsaken villages, were you cannot find any body now. Every one has moved to the cities. I was one of the first to do so. Now I am taking some more of the villagers with me.
WE ALL WANT TO QUIT FARMING.
This is the time of the year, we get holidays. Construction will start soon now ”
Rahul is now able to visualize the scenario. If farmers like this old man here, continue to displace themselves from their villages, there will be nothing left. All the villages will become ghost towns and the cities will be over crowded like never before.
After a few hours,the train stops in the next station. There was commotion again in the coach. People from outside tried to force themselves in. But the old man and his team wouldn’t allow anyone to get in.
After a few seconds the train leaves the station. The old man advises Rahul not to get of the coach. Wait till Bareilly. Cause they are not going to open the doors in the upcoming small stations. They will not allow men from outside to get in, even men with confirmed tickets.
The immorality happening around, transformed all these good farmers into anarchists. They have no fear for the police nor the authority. No fear of the law.
Rahul was fine with that. It is better to travel like this, rather than being stranded in an unmanned station, in an unknown place. Either way he has no choice but to listen to the old man.
Finally the train arrives at Bareilly. As the train enters the station, the old man asks Rahul to get out .
The train slows down. They can’t keep the door open for long. Rahul has to jump from the moving train, which he eventually does. He falls on the standing people. Then the old man throws his bag from inside and closes the door immediately. Rahul pushes the men around and picks his bag.
Standing on the platform, He looks at the Train.
There are so many men lined up in the station, to get in, without tickets. All banging the doors from outside. The state of other coaches is very similar to the one in which Rahul travelled. All , except the glassed A/C coaches.
He shakes his head and leaves, seeing the miserable condition of farmers in the country. His own country men.
In all this ruckus, Rahul never got to say ‘good bye’ to the old man. His farmer friend. The ‘anarchist’ farmer.