Less Order On The Superfast Express!


I was happy to see the train already placed and ready for boarding as I entered the platform that afternoon. I was happier to find my two-tier compartment sparsely populated, a bright-looking young man sat hunched over his smartphone on the lower berth opposite to mine and the two upper berths were unoccupied. The two side berths were empty too. I accosted the young man perfunctorily and sat down on my berth in royal comfort after pushing my handbag under the berth. Normally, I don’t get too talkative with fellow passengers, because most of the times they disappoint you with their casual time-pass manners and, to make it worse, they always seem to take advantage of anything at your cost. Therefore, on my train journeys I mostly keep myself busy with books and phones. Of course, I invariably enjoy the food on board, and in the night, I enjoy lying down on the berth with the rhythmic movement lulling me into a good slumber. My gastronomy works much more efficiently too than otherwise.

I felt a little annoyed when the train, supposedly a superfast express, refused to budge an inch at the appointed departure time. My annoyance grew as the minutes ticked by. There was no information or announcement, as usual, and on the platform, I couldn’t detect any activity that could possibly delay the departure, it was almost empty with all passengers already on board. Finally, after half an hour, the train made the familiar screeching sound of movement. I felt angry with that totally unaccounted for delay of thirty minutes that might, in the final count, result in a late arrival by hours. I wanted to give vent to my anger with a few words addressed to my only fellow passenger, but he was immersed in surfing on his smartphone and was totally oblivious of the delay or anything; perhaps he had already developed a thick skin to all those antics of the Indian Railways. A bit prematurely, I thought wisely. I relaxed now trying to push out the negative thoughts from my mind, and hoping that the train would definitely make up for the lost time.

After one and half hours of non-stop running the train made a halt at a junction. More passengers, reserved from that station, started boarding. A short and stocky middle-aged man with a horse face, a brief mustache and a stubble littering his whole face, his wide forehead making inroads further up and dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, entered the coach, and occupied the lower side berth in our compartment. ‘This goddamned train is already forty minutes late,’ were his first words, giving me the all-too-familiar warning. He had two suitcases and a bag with him. Staring with undisguised greed at the empty spaces around us he pushed in the two suitcases under each of our lower berths although the space under his own berth was empty. I’ll refer to this person as Mr. Negativity or simply N from hence. A tall and lanky student also boarded and sat opposite to N, his reservation being for the upper side berth. N immediately got into a chat with the student and embarked upon his observations about the superfast express: that the train runs late up to 3-4 hours on every journey in both directions, and how he always suffers. To my growing consternation, he found a ready and attentive audience in the student.

As it was getting dark outside, and as I was getting tired of N’s greedy stares and pessimistic forecasts, I drew the curtains across to put him out of sight, if not his constant negative chatter. Just before supper time N pulled the curtains apart as if he owned the railways, and entered our space. He sat down on the opposite berth, took off his shoes shoving the pair under my berth. Then, I was not at all prepared for what he did next.

He began to undress right in front of me. His t-shirt pulled out, his trousers rolled down and finally taken off, leaving him in his underpants which were, fortunately, of the traditionally long variety. Then he pulled one of the suitcases out from under my berth, opened it and took a perfectly ironed night dress out with utmost care. He put it on with equal care and love. Then folded his pair of jeans and t-shirt as perfectly as possible and placed those inside the suitcase. Finally, he locked the suitcase, pushed it back again and left our space without even a glance at me or at the young man who was smiling at me now. Of course, N left the curtains apart, and I pulled it across instantly. ‘My goodness! What an impeccable specimen!’, I thought.

The night passed off peacefully though and I had a sound sleep. Just before breakfast time, a tall, fair and handsome gentleman, smartly dressed in suit and tie and probably in his fifties, was passing by us through the aisle; he stopped and retraced his steps examining the numbers of our compartment, and finally sat down on my berth, smiling sweetly at me. I didn’t say anything; at daytime two people sit on the berth, and I assumed the gentleman must have made his sitting reservation.

Meanwhile, the train was running two-hours late and unfortunately, was prolonging it, instead of making up. N was in a winning mood; the student too now was expressing his disappointment loudly. I couldn’t help interjecting at times, ‘Don’t be so pessimistic! The train shall definitely gain time, there are not too many halts ahead.’ N gave me a pitying grin.

By evening the ticket examiner came. We all showed our tickets. Looking at the gentleman’s ticket he muttered his disapproval and the gentleman muttered something back to which the examiner seemed to agree, although unhappily. The handsome gentleman got off at the next station giving me that sweet smile again. I realized now that he enjoyed the journey with only an ordinary ticket, without any reservation, and I had grave doubt about the exact class of his ticket.

The train arrived at the station immediately preceding my destination. I checked the arrival time and found that the train was bang on right time. Now, it was my turn to be in a winning mood. I deliberately addressed the student sitting opposite N and told him proudly that this superfast express always kept some buffer time, and so, the train would finally arrive on right time. N looked disinterested, looking out of his window, for a change.

I started packing my things up as it would take only an hour now for arrival at my destination. The train entered the town premises, and I moved towards the exit passage with my baggage, not knowing which side the doors would open to the platform. Suddenly, the train came to a screeching halt at the traffic junction, waiting for the green lights. And, the halt went on and on and on. My knees began to pain as I was standing in the passage hoping to get down soon. The wait extended to nearly two hours, and when finally, it stopped I alighted as a totally disillusioned man. N got down too, perhaps for a walk on the platform. As he passed me, he gave me a lazy look, still his triumph was written large over it. Yes, he had a right to be triumphant, the train would surely arrive at the terminus at least three-hours late. I cursed N or rather the negativity syndrome, as I strode up the stairs with my bag thrown round my shoulders. 

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