They say ‘Indian Railway is the pulse of the nation’. So if you want to see the ‘incredible’ India, travel on their wheels. I have often had this privilege to explore India, for I study in Delhi, my home is in Kolkata, and my elder brother is settled in Chennai. In July end, I have had another such experience on my return journey from Howrah, where I met several people, besides co-passengers of my Sleeper coach. Like always there were old aunties, one sick patient (this time another aunty), many kids, of whom only two fitted my definition of ‘cute’; alien looking uncles, and hardly any girl, who was both of my compatible age and beautiful. Then there were vendors, beggars, Hizras, who were somewhere between beggar and robber (sorry for the insensitive remark), and last but not the least train staffs.
However, there was one group of passengers, who really provided me with lifetime experience. They were Kanwariyas, who had boarded the train on one of the junctions in between. It was not one group, but congregation of many smaller groups of varying sizes. Some of them had tickets. Most of them did not. But they all boarded on the train nevertheless, and not only general compartments, but even in ‘reserved’ sleeper coaches. Mine was a lower side berth and the sick aunty had upper one. As it was twelve-noon, both of us were sharing the same side berth. Before we could utter a word, two very old ladies, a boy of about fourteen, another guy of my age, and a badly stinking man in his skimpiest cloth had already made themselves comfortable between me and the sick lady. So now we were seven people sitting on one long berth. No fellow passengers could really complain for the situation was almost same in entire train. Few brave and gutsy bhaias did try to explain them rules, but one common answer one hears every time you pass through Bihar and UP, “seat reserve kiye hain pura train nahi”(you have reserved just one seat, not the entire train). Adding to our pleasure were some other passengers, who kept boarding and getting down from the train on various junctions. We were relieved from our ‘incredible’ experience only after five hours, when most occupants got down from the train. I was ‘shocked’ and ‘awed’ and could not decide on whom to get angry. My father, who had booked a sleeper class ticket (and not a comfortable AC 3 tier ticket), those passengers, most of whom had no civic senses, train staffs, especially TTE, whom I did not see even once during that masti period, our honourable Railway Minister (or the Government), who is so busy in making profit that he forgot to make any alternative arrangements for them. I am sure one or two festival special must have started but that was of very little support to such crowd of devotees.
I somehow reached Delhi and my roommate informed me that near Rampur Kanwariyas had blocked the NH-24 for three days. I mocked at him, “Dear, its Democracy, and we all have the right to do whatever we want.” Few weeks had passed, and there was Shab-e-Barat, a night of prayer for Muslims, which turned into a sort of ‘festival’, and has given an excuse to many people, including night-birds, ruffians, etc. within the community. It is ironical that even if they flout some traffic rules, or behave rashly cops on the spot become the mute spectators. It was rather disgusting that while on ordinary day traffic police would challan for tripling, or riding on a bike without helmet, that night they did not even stop a vehicle, even if there were sometimes four hooligans on one bike, and without any helmet, but colorful skull caps. I am not that a ‘religious’ person to say that the night is just for simple prayer not flashy rituals. Its ‘democracy’, and if one really wants to see any (and every) place on a particular night, I really have got no right to stop them. But one must not interfere in other’s freedom (for God’s sake). At least one of the residents of this city complained (to me) about those hoodlums, who had brought many areas into standstill. Instances of teasing and misbehaving are ignored.
(A Shab-e-barat ritual)
What kind of Governance is this? What surprises me most is that people do not seem to have much problem. One may criticize when people from other community creates some ruckus, but would not dare attract the wrath of his own community. But then this is democracy, and we are the biggest democratic country in the world, and possibly the most democratic country among all the third-world nations. Jawaharlal Nehru perhaps rightly remarked, “With all my admiration and love for democracy, I am not prepared to accept the statement that the largest numbers of people are always right.”