Tryst with a Ticket-checker on Indian rail
Along with the honour of being the world’s second largest Railway, the Indian Railway also has the distinction of having an abundance of starved TTEs (Travel Ticket Examiners).
Dressed in black, these lean fellows look bright and gay at the start of a journey, keeping both eyes open for prospect victims, in their kingdom for the night. As the night descends, and the train leaves the station, the gentleman in black is the most sought after person on the whole train. He struts through the coaches with a busy look, all the while assessing the number of potential feeders. ‘He is a jolly good fellow… he’s a jolly good fellow…, and so say all the travellers! They sing and dance to his tune, in hope of securing a sleeper berth for the night.
Batman dressed in black is a sight analogy, but this one was just the opposite in character.
Welcome to the world of TTEs, the black crows of Railways. They are the scavengers who eat the flesh from the very organization that houses them.
Not to say that all the gentleman under the umbrella tag of TTEs are as greedy as the one I encountered on my way back from Hardwar, the land of the holy scriptures and Shivji Maharaj. The Ganga flows magnanimously, washing the sins of residents, as well as devotees, who come from all over India and beyond.
This particular Ticket examiner , That I met, belonged to this holy land, and obviously considered it an advantage that he could do as he chose, leaving the rest to Ma Ganga. The cleansing from sins that is!
This gentleman was very worried that he was not able to buy a supply of liquor for himself, and neither could he pack his larder with the most expensive out of season fruit. He hadn’t extorted enough last night that means. So he was fully resolved to fill the gap in his income of the previous night.
We had a wait-listed ticket as our password to the Lucknow-bound Doon Express. The gentleman at the reservation enquiry had told us that there were 5 seats vacant in the ladies’ coupe in a certain coach, and we could speak to the concerned TTE, and secure it for ourselves.
As luck would have it, we couldn’t speak to the TTE in the ‘money-language’. The chap in black was antagonized by our asking for berths without any monetary offer. He asked us to wait and wait and wait… well almost endlessly.
We waited, and one by one he gave away the seats in the ladies coupe to a family of five with a daddy, two grown up sons and an adolescent daughter, and the mother. We were amazed at the three ladies! The other lone lady who was stationed in her berth objected as to the propriety of giving away ladies’ berths to three men. She was requested to condone on humanitarian grounds, the fact that they had to spend the night on the train, and where could they sleep, if there was a shortage of berths.
We figured out that the TTE had charged them a hefty sum, and was thus requesting in their favour. We became adamant to a point that if a man could fall so low as to ask for money in lieu of something that didn’t belong to him in the first place, let him take the lead and ask us for money. We could smell that it was money that he was after.
He stationed himself in a side-berth and waited for us to show him the currency notes, in order to earn his favour in shape of a couple of berths.
A bunch of college kids asked him for two berths which were visibly vacant. They were rudely snubbed off because of their audacity to approach without monetary compensation. They picked a brawl with him on grounds that he was not king of the train. The TTE was one in command, he teased that he was the king of the train for the night, and he had every right to get them off at the next-station, because wait-listed passengers were not permitted to enter the reserved coaches.
We spent the entire night looking out of the open door at the expanse of blue-black speeding past the moving train, with indifference writ large on our faces. We didn’t once fall to his plans and offer money. He took a doseful of XXX Rum, and struggled to sleep. Each time his eyes opened sleepily, he looked at us with a puzzled expression. He couldn’t for his life understand why we had chosen to stand the whole night instead of giving him some money. He even seemed sorry, but wouldn’t let honesty stand in the way of his daily business. He had his larder to fill afterall, and if this self-reproach became a habit, he would starve. We pitied his mental stress, which even XXX Rum could not smoothen out.
Truth has strength of its own, so we discovered standing the whole night on a moving train. We hadn’t slept a wink or nodded or pined for a bed. At 5 in the morning, the TTE straightened himself out and came to us offering us his berth. He folded his hands and requested us to not be angry with him, and added ‘Ya Devi Sarvabhutashu Shaktirupen Sansthittha, Namastasye, Namastasye, Namastasye Namo Namah’, and hopped off the train. We were taken aback! This was not something to be expected of a power-drunk man, who spent the night waiting for us to offer him a couple of hundred rupee notes.