Friday, June 29, 2012

Incredible India - Aam Aadmi boards a train!

This is a post that I thought I would write, first thing I reached back after my trip to Goa. But due to various reasons ( read laziness), it got delayed by a week. Better late than never! So here we go.

I was travelling long distance in a train after a span of more than two and half years. Since I joined the bank, I've been putting in six day weeks and I'd little time for travels. This was my first lengthy leave after getting a job. Though the decision to take this sabbatical was planned, the idea to travel to Bengaluru and to Goa from there was taken on an impulse during the last minute.

Since I booked tickets during the last minute, I'd to settle for sleeper class tickets. Not that I'm one of the Babu Log who always travels by A/C. I had my own reasons - One, I'm someone who likes a lot of freedom and privacy when travelling and the uncrowded A/C coaches are always a blessing in this case. Two, as an employee of the bank, I'm entitled to travels by second class a/c and all my official trips are in the air conditioned coaches. Thirdly and most importantly, they are cleaner! I'm not a cleanliness freak who screams at a spot on the floor, but I prefer things clean and definitely, without odours!

The train was Yeshvantpur - Vasco Express and I was travelling the full distance. So, here I was, sitting by the window, staring at the rushing landscapes on an overclouded evening. It had been a couple of hours since I boarded the train. Suddenly, a man comes with a pet bottle filled with a strange coloured liquid and begins to spray it on the floor. The first thing that ran in my mind was "Oh!!! all of us are going to faint and he is going to rob us of our belongings!!!" But then, I began to smell lemon grass. He took a mop that was resting against the next seat and began mopping the floor. Soon enough, the floor was clean. I was fairly impressed. Indian Railways improved, I thought.

The train didn't have a pantry car since it was a short distance one. As the train pulled into Tiptur, I bought a cup of coffee. I took one sip and decided to correct my earlier thought. Even after all these years, the quality of food hadn't changed. If at all it had, it was for worse. I somehow managed to finished the brew. By that time, the train had already left the station. I crushed the Styrofoam cup well (lest they wash it and reuse it! How thoughtful of me!) and moved to the end of the compartment. I had two reasons for that - One, I had to dispose of the used cup. Second, a girl aged 23 was supposed to board the train from Tiptur and she was alone and was travelling all the way to Vasco!!! But to my great disappointment, there was no waste-bin underneath the washbasin unlike a/c coaches. The words waste-bin was clearly written on the panel beneath the sink but it was well nailed to its place.

I found the man who had cleaned the train a while earlier standing in the next compartment. I went there and asked in Hindi why there was no dustbin. He obviously didn't speak much Hindi but from the crushed cup in my hand and the word waste-bin, he clearly understood what I was saying. After all, languages are for the simple purpose of communicating, aren't they?! He replied in Kindi ( that could be summed as a mix of Kannada and Hindi, more of the former) and from what I gathered, he told me that there were no waste-bins in sleeper coaches. That's available only in the a/c coaches. You can throw the cup outside. YES, he definitely told me to throw the cup outside onto the tracks!!! I didn't do it. I walked back to my seat with the cup still in my hand.

Oh and by the way, the girl was obese!!!

As the train stopped at Arsikere Junction half an hour later, I got down and began the hunt for a dustbin on the platform. But I couldn't find one! On a major station, on its platform number two, I couldn't find a goddamn dustbin! In the end, I ended up walking 6 compartments length in the drizzle to find a dustbin and finally revealed myself of the albatross that came as a brownish hot, stale fluid worth five bucks!

Now for the twist in the kahani. A little time afterwards, another man comes with a yellow slip book with him. He paused for a moment near the seat shared by me and three other people, a family from Tamil Nadu. He then made way for himself among the outstretched legs of others and shoved the book and a pen towards me. I took a quick glance at what was written in it. It was a questionnaire on various aspects of the train compartment and the cleaning process. The Railways was definitely trying to get a genuine feedback since the questionnaire required you to fill details like your seat number and the PNR number. No cheating this time unless you rip of the reservation chart and fill up the book by yourself. But I wonder if anyone ever analyses the data so obtained.

Coming back to the yellow questionnaire, I began to read the questions. I was supposed to award points to each on a scale of 5. Some of the questions made me smile. There was one particular one which interested me. It inquired whether separate disposal bags were kept for degradable and plastic waste! After answering the questionnaire and pouring my heart out in the comments section, I asked the seemingly superior officer in charge of the cleanliness of the train about the question regarding waste disposal. He answered politely in broken Hindi that it was for the Babu Log in the a/c coaches! I asked him politely, in return, what I was supposed to do with the waste 'generated' by Aam Aadmis. Throw it outside, pat came the reply. Nothing more to add. I quickly gave back his book and pen and returned my gaze to the view outside.

I couldn't blame him. In a country where a particular queen bee called Didi, who has recently been churning out soap operas that would put Ekta Kapoor to shame, sacked one of her drones because he showed the guts to increase railway ticket prices after many years of the so called populist budgets and a sinking Railways. A man who wanted to save the Indian Railways, the world's biggest organisation and implement measures like Bio-Toilets and safety features in trains was shown his way out by an intolerant, power monger who had no qualms in mixing economics with politics! Now all those Abala Naaris out there, who frequently crib about the male dominance in our society, what do you have to say about this?

FootNote: If Didi sues me for this post or calls me a Maoist, I'm definitely going to turn into one!

ToeNote: I'm thinking of blogging on socially relevant topics once in a while under the title Incredible India. What say?

NailNote: Today is the last day on my sabbatical. It's back to office from Saturday. Sob sob.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Incredible India - A boy called Irfan

It has been quite a while since I wrote anything at all, leave alone a blog post. I've been having all these self apprehensions and complexes about writing. At times, I didn't want to write and  I didn't find a motivation to write. It seemed like whatever creativity was there inside me was fast drying up. Work was taking its toll on me too. It was at this juncture that I finally decided to take the vacation that I had been putting off for two and half years. I didn't have to think much before I packed my bags and left for Goa with a halt at Bangalore on the way. I knew I had to find a story when I returned.

After a couple of days in Bangalore (one and half to be precise), I felt freshened up. Meeting many of my batch mates after years felt good. And as I boarded the Yeshvantpur Vasco Express on 17th, I knew that this trip was going to be something!

21st was my last day in Goa. During the four days I was in Goa, I had roamed about Ponda, Margao and Vasco all alone. The idea of travelling all alone had always intrigued me and I was now experiencing the same. Let me tell you, I found it an awesome experience. If you can manage Hindi, you could go almost anywhere in India I think! I had been putting off the trip to Panjim ( They don't say Panaji over here; it's Panjim!) for the last day. It was there I found my story in form of a little boy called Irfan!!!

Irfan is one of the brightest kid I've ever come across. Not more than ten, he was managing a small shoe stall on his own inside the Panjim Market. In a market full of small makeshift shops selling everything from shoes, clothes to hair pins, each shop manned by seasoned owners who would quote a price of 500 rupees for a sandal they got for 50 bucks, where you have to bargain till your throats are dry and yet you will feel that you didn't get a good price, I had a grin on my face when I saw Irfan manning one of the first shops as your enter the market. I must admit I felt some arrogance and smiled inside as I thought I could get the better of him. Little did I know what he had in store for me!!!

I had been looking for sandals (or rather slippers) for my one and half year old nephew all over the places I've been to but with no success. And here in Panjim, they were having cute little crocs for the kids!

"Oye chottu, bachchon keliye sandals he?" (hey boy, you got sandals for kids?) I asked him.

"Hena sir, crocs hey. Kitne saal ka he?" (Yes sir, we got crocs. How old is the kid?) He replied in fluent Hindi and with a voice that meant business.

Thus began the conversation that will last with me for quite some time. I found a pair of cute little crocs, the most beautiful that I had ever come across. I asked him the price and he gave me a plain answer - 100 rupees. I liked the price tag but decided to bargain since while in Goa (or rather any place in India), nobody quotes the real price the first time. I tried my best with all the possible bargaining chips I had with me starting from off-season in Goa to the the train I had to catch later on but he didn't bat an eyelid!!! He didn't even look at me!!! Here was a kid who could give marketing grads from the best B-Schools of the country a run for the money they spent on their education!!!

I decided to move to the other shops ahead. Other shops were quoting as high as Rs 180/- for the same pair of crocs and even after bargaining, the least price I could find was 110!!! After roaming inside the market for another couple of hours, I finally decided to buy the crocs from the little boy. When I finally returned to the his shop, he welcomed me like a new customer. Maybe he didn't remember me. And if at all he did, he didn't   show it a bit. We started the bargaining process yet again and we were back to square one. Or rather I was. He didn't budge even a little. This time around, there was another boy in the shop. He might have been around 15 but Irfan was clearly the boss here. He was dictating orders to the older boy, in a commanding voice that would have put team leaders to shame!!!

I felt small standing next to this little kid. Here was someone with confidence in his voice. But I wasn't ready to yield yet. I kept saying that I would pay only 90 rupees for the croc. But he conveniently ignored me and moved to another couple who had arrived at his shop. I lingered there itself, gazing at other items in the shop. I saw larger crocs on the display and asked for the price.

"Kaunsa chahiye aapko? 150 ka chahiye toh 150 ka dikhatha hun, 200 ka chahiye toh 200 ka dikhatha hun, 250 ka chahiye toh 250 ka dikhatha hun!!!" (Which one do you want? If you want the one that cost 150, I'll show you that; I can show you one that cost 200 or 250 also!!!)

And he went on explaining the various crocs on the display and why the difference in price. I admit I was awed at this little salesman!!! I felt humbled and was ready to accept defeat. I decided to take the small crocs for 100 bucks. He took the crocs from the display and asked the older boy to hand him a cover. But he seemed to be busy with the couple who had arrived earlier. Our little hero went inside, pushing the other boy aside, took a cover and wrapped my crocs inside it. I paid him with a note of 100 rupees and asked him his name.

"Irfan", he replied.

In a move that took me by surprise, he shoved a folded note of 10 rupees inside my hand!!! Here was a boy of not more than ten, who had just rubbished all the cliched notions of selling and marketing put forward by the business gurus and had just won a customer and his heart!!! 

"Ek photo kheenju?" I asked him.

"Mere?" He inquired.

I nodded. A smile appeared on his face for the first time. He posed for me and looked into the camera with a straight face. When I had clicked his pic, he wanted to see how it had come. I showed him and  his smile broke into a wide grin. I placed my hand on his head and ruffled his hair with affection and walked into the slight drizzle that had started, knowing that I had finally found my story.

FootNote: I had bought crocs of size 19 fearing that they would be too big for my lil boy. But when I reached home, it turned out that they were too small for him!!! Now the pair rests among other items in the shelf, without any use.

ToeNote: A week into my sabbatical, which I had took for the sole purpose of freshening up and reclaiming my life, all I'm doing is sleep and browse. I feel more lazy and tired than when I was putting in 6 days a week!!!

NailNote: I had started the post with all kind of thoughts about what to write and how to write. But it seems I haven't gotten over my writers block yet. The words were hard to come and I still get a feeling in the guts that somehow the post isn't finished and something is amiss!!!