Sounds of different frequencies,
each of them loud, sound of a train running at around 100 Kmph, sound of
pantry-car waiters and the train staff making in and out of the coaches, and
sound of the passengers making informed queries and expressing strong
It was not routine as usual for
any train in India,
a Rajdhani Express train in this case, after a recent price hike.
This time, it was in the name
of improving catering standards. The Indian Railways had just revised the
catering charges in premium trains (Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Duranto) and the TTEs
(ticket checkers) were a harassed lot. They had to issue receipt of the
difference of the amount (after the fare revision) to every passenger who had
got the ticket booked before October 16.
Given the rush for the Indian
trains where every ticket of almost trains is booked within two days of the
opening of the reservation window of two months for a train, almost every
passenger in the train had his ticket booked before October 16.
Stung by the sudden pressure of
increased work, of writing and issuing almost a thousand receipts, TTEs were
not even asking for the mandatory IDs for the electronically booked
This increased fare was reason
for the high-pitched sound coming from the heterogenous lot of passengers in
every coach - varying frequencies, modulated tones, but each voicing out
displeasure as loud as possible and this displeasure was forcing the catering
staff of the train to make rounds to the pantry car, keeping them on toes.
Apart from timeliness, a factor
that is certainly uncertain with the Indian trains, one can also say so about
the quality of the catering, that the food being served in Indian trains, even
in premium trains like Rajdhani, is simply substandard.
It was the second day of the
quality mission of the Indian Railways but the ‘quality’ was conspicuous
by its absence. Those regularly travelling by such (premium) trains were
flatly saying that whatever that was there in the name of ‘quality’ had
certainly come down, in quantity, in quality. And to add to the misery, these passengers
were made to shell out extra bucks to improve the quality.
Given the quality of food being
served and the menu items in the platter, the fare revision, in fact, deserved
a reduction in the ticket prices.
Passengers were feeling cheated.
That was hitting them more, being
the immediate instigating factor raising the protesting voices.
And on that day, in the Rajdhani
Express, by certain turn of events, I had the chance to sit for a while
in the pantry-car of the train.
It was more maddening there
than the situation in the coaches, something that is always the case. This
time, it was heightened up. The increased tension in the atmosphere there had
its origin in two reasons.
Incidentally, the food packets
delivered by the base kitchen of the government run catering outfit were less
than the passenger count and the pantry-car staff was in overdrive to meet the
requirement. Okay, it was normal to happen so. But it was on a day when there
was additional mounting pressure on the pantry-car staff.
It was happening along side the
chaos of the anger of the passengers spilling over in the aisles of the
coaches. On target were the pantry-car employees who were still supplying the substandard
food products, even if the passengers were now paying a revised, increased fare
in the name of an upgraded menu.