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Vol. XXXIII No. 22, March 1-15, 2024

Short ‘N’ Snappy


Train travails

The Man from Madras Musings has been on the move in recent times. He has travelled by train, car and flight in the past few days. And of late, he is increasingly surprised by his growing dislike of train travel. Now, before you brand MMM a snob let him assure you that this was his preferred mode till not a few years ago. Perhaps it is age or may be it is just a growing intolerance of filth or an inability to get along with strangers or whatever. But MMM finds himself baulking at the thought of travel, in particular by overnight trains.

Take the Bangalore Mail for instance. In that halcyon era when MMM was a ccc – cherubic child from Calcutta – this train had a certain cache to it. You boarded at the Madras Central and after a leisurely night’s journey you got off at Cantonment or City station in Bangalore and in a wondrous early morning chill made your way to your destination. Nowadays the journey has been reduced to a mere five hours or so – technology upgrades have shortened the travel time and by the time you have settled down after boarding at PTDMC, shown your ID card to the ticket examiner and had forty winks, people are up and about, declaring that the train has reached KSRBC. That they do this even as the train is arriving at Bangar (formerly Bowring) Pet, with an hour to go for Bangalore, makes it doubly irritating. The return journey is the same, Arakkonam fulfilling the same function as Bangarpet.

The coaches are a second irritant. Have you noticed that these new light rakes may be easy on the eye but are terrible on the ear? You hear everything that is being said in the neighbouring cubicle. And considering that most people roar into their phones or watch videos on them in full volume and do so for half the night, you are assured no sleep. And these coaches jolt terribly, making a journey to the toilet in the middle of the night an outing fraught with many dangers. The swaying in the toilet also makes getting on with the task at hand another challenge. Besides all of this, the berths over the wheel are provided with an extra jerk just to make sure that you are kept awake and can arise on demand.

MMM now comes to the toilets. Why these need to be soaking wet always remains an unsolved mystery. In his most recent journey by the Mail, MMM discovered that one of the four toilets in the AC coach that he was travelling by had a shower provided (why?!). This had overnight leaked throughout and so when MMM opened the door in the morning, there was a lake inside, waiting for him to wade in, which he fortunately did not do. And the other toilet had no lock! Yes, MMM is aware that the railways are terrifically quick these days in responding to messages on social media but as to how many of these really translate into action is another matter.

Snoring in the Train

We now come to the last and perhaps greatest challenge in night trains. The snoring co-passenger. The railways of course cannot help on this but we as Indians really need to do something about our spreading waistlines that are most often the cause of this annoying condition. MMM is aware that there are slim beings who cannot help snoring, but these are few in number and deserve our sympathy. Not so the men and women of full habit as MMM believes the expression is, who got that way by just gorging and lounging. These are a travelling menace.

Thus it was that MMM and two others who had to travel back from Bangalore by train found much to their joy that they were all together in a four-berthed AC first class coach. That was until the far-seeing one in the group pointed out that “the fourth random one” could be a snorer. And sure enough he was. One glance at the outsize specimen sprawled out on the upper berth was enough to fill us with dismay. MMM at the same time wondered as to how this person had managed to hoist himself up to the upper berth and not make the usual request to one of his co-passengers to sacrifice a lower berth.

The train moved off and with that this man began to snore. It was not of the rhythmic variety that lulls you to sleep. These were of so many different kinds that MMM had to convince himself that there were not several people huddled together in the upper berth. There were short explosions, long whistles, high-pitched wheezes, quite a few barks, and some low moans. In fact there was such a lack of pattern that MMM and the other passengers remained awake in suspense, unsure as to what the next sound would be. And all the while this human mountain of flesh slept on.

By midnight MMM had enough. He got up and gave the sleeper a sharp prod. The man awoke with a start and MMM told him that while he, MMM, was quite sure that the man could not control himself, the rest of the passengers had a problem on their hand. The man was offended to say the least. He could not help it he said rather rudely but on being confronted by three irate fellow passengers in a small compartment he realised he was in a minority. Matters had reached an impasse when MMM suggested that the man lie down on his side and perhaps that way snore less. This he was agreeable to and with that the snores lessened to an extent, but only somewhat. It was a terrible night, one for which MMM and his co-travellers had paid money.

The next morning, MMM and his friends got off the train, tired and listless. The only positive aspect was the early hour which allowed going home and sleeping for a while. The fat man, MMM noticed, was all bright and energetic as he lowered himself from the train and waddled off. MMM only hopes he tripped over his shoelace on the way home.

Flowers In, Garbage Out

Last fortnight saw the Semmozhi Poonga ­hosting a flower show. The Man from Madras Musings attended it and was happiest among the roses, the fuchsias and the rest of the flowers. The only disappointment was that native varieties of flowers were all given the go by – perhaps because they do not remain fresh for long on display. But even then, the organisers could have perhaps rotated indigenous plants just so that people know of them.

The biggest disappointment was the exit from the flower show. This was via a food court of sorts and that was where MMM got to see native behaviour at its best. Paper plates and cups were littered about all over the place. The stench of stale food after the fragrance of flowers was overpowering to the say the least. The place was also a vast bin of sorts for every fallen branch, rotting leaf mould, broken pots and torn fertilizer bags.

And then on emerging from the gate MMM found himself in a narrow alley that connect to Mount Road. This had all the garbage bins of the neighbourhood arranged in some kind of a salute. To MMM, fresh from the flowers, they appeared to be welcoming him back to reality. It was a real pity that the organisers did not think of some other exit and even if that was not possible, made no arrangements to clean the place.

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