The much-touted double-decker train arrived at the platform. There was a frisson of excitement among the waiting throng. Out came the cell phones to take pictures and upload on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites. Railway officials and porters posed against the coaches. The Man from Madras Musings then joined the waiting passengers to board the train.
Once inside, MMM located his seat only to realise that someone else was already occupying it. Or, at least, it appeared to be so. In order to accommodate double the usual quota of passengers, the railways in their wisdom had decided to halve the space for each of the seats. The passenger who was occupying MMM’s place was actually in the neighbouring seat but being a gentleman of full habit, as the expression is (in other words, plain obese), he had spread himself on to MMM’s space also. There was very little MMM could do other than squeeze himself into a crevice of sorts besides the giant.
The authorities being the epitome of thrift had also apparently decided to cut the airconditioning capacity by half. What with the heat without and the heat within and the friction caused by His Heaviness in the neighbouring seat, MMM soon realised what it was to commit suttee. The situation improved somewhat once the double-decker moved, but it was very marginal.
Once the train was in motion, MMM’s co-passengers resorted to what most of our compatriots do on train. Several tried making phone calls to tell their ‘near and dear’ (to go with the expression often used in invitation cards) that they were on the double-decker. But the signal being weak, they decided to make up by exercising their vocal cords to the fullest. Added to this was the steady din of the vendors carrying food to all the compartments. MMM’s neighbour snored raucously, his head lolling on MMM’s shoulder.
Unlike the Shatabdi (which was a haven of peace until some sick mind decided to install television sets in each coach), where the fare includes food which is served at fixed times, the double-decker sells food from its pantry car and this is done throughout the journey. There were some passengers who had decided to sample everything that was on offer. The airconditioning in the train being what it was, there was soon a strong smell of stale food in the coaches. It clung to the clothes and multiplied itself into a potent force. The gourmands added to the odours by letting off various appreciative vapours.
So much of food meant the problem of waste was just around the corner. Trash bins were soon bursting at the seams. The vestibules separating the coaches became extensions of the trash bins. Those who needed to use the toilets (and there were many, what with the unending browsing and sluicing) had to step over leftovers, food wrappers, paper plates and cups. And as for the toilets, imagine having just four in coaches that were seating 120! They became unusable after the first couple of hours. And when you consider the way in which our brethren pour water all over the place when they perform what are known as ablutions, MMM has pretty much said it all.
MMM had to get off midway. When he reached the door it was only to find the way barred by trays that had once borne food. An apologetic attendant explained that there was no other space to store them. They did not think anyone was getting off midway. What with the halt at MMM’s station being just for a minute, MMM had to dash through the vestibule, past overflowing toilets and rubbish bins and reach the door of the next compartment, which was fortunately accessible. MMM was informed by reliable sources that by the time the train reached Bangalore, most of the passengers had experienced something akin to the Black Hole of Calcutta.