Sometimes I listen to my instincts like most normal human beings and the last weekend was a time space meant for some spontaneous experimentation. Life has to be interesting, after all. Working non stop in office and attempting to achieve excellence in an otherwise mediocre environment takes its toll on the psyche. (As usual, I can resist an opportunity to self-praise). So I decided to agree with Anubhuti's plea of heading to Jaipur for the "Jaipur Literature Festival" for a day. To make things further exciting we chose to travel by the iconic Indian Railways and we managed to secure tickets, somehow!
I call the last weekend, a sand-witch experience. Why? This too, shall be evident as you read through this piece.
We reached the Train Station and found that the parking had been closed for repairs. Our plan of parking for the night at the station thus was defeated by the overzealous Indian bureaucracy that is always busy repairing the infrastructure be it train stations, roads, electricity lines etc. The station being a stone's throw from my place, I had reached only minutes before train departure..so I took a cavalier decision to leave my car parked on the main road.
Still pondering about the safety of my only car (which my son Neer adores), I entered the air-conditioned wagon of my train interestingly named "Garib Rath" (The chariot of the poor). I wondered who are these "Garibs" who can afford to travel in a train with all round air-conditioning and was smiling at the politicisation of naming even our trains.
But soon I realised that it is rightly named "Garib Rath". The seats, the coaches and the train overall was shabby, littered with waste and leftover food of earlier passengers. Of course, it was the "Garib Rath" so it deserved least attention of India's biggest bureaucracy i.e. the Indian Railways. We somehow cleaned the seats to an acceptable level and ensured that our son does not catch a disease borne out of filth. Commendable though was the train matching its stated arrival time in Jaipur.
Once in Jaipur, we reached our Hotel and soon headed for the Jaipur Literature Festival. Frankly, I had my doubts about such festivals which are adored by pseudo intellectuals, but I truly found the enthusiasm and the quality of participants of remarkable quality. The atmosphere was literary, the discussions were deep and the experience was worth the effort. I am not a great book lover so I focused more on the latest fashion trends, the quality food stalls and the other displays. My wife focused (sadly for her) on the writers and their literary discourses. To summarize though, the festival was cheesy and delightful in its taste.
Next day, we readied ourselves for our backward journey by another Indian Railway train. This time our choice (which is mostly the one that is forced upon travelers by Indian Railways) was not the "Garib Rath" so I was expecting a healthier experience and a decent value for the money spent on my ticket. The coaches were cleaner (it was a higher class this time) and that was immediate relief for all of us. Our son could at least roam about the coach (the reason we thought he would enjoy the train ride).
Soon however, we experienced the anticipated quality deficit in some other aspects. There was a regular stream of railway personnel who kept coming with a range of inedible quality foodstuff from the train pantry. We bought the soup which was horrid, tried the tea which seemed like a newly discovered beverage and dared to try some snacks which were too salty as well as stale. While we were reluctant to order the dinner, our co-passengers ordered a meal and we too followed his footsteps. We were not surprised, even the dinner was a disaster.
I was wondering, why am I being forced to pay for such food and such service? The answer quickly dawned on me...How else Mr Nimish, the railway would continue to be a monopoly and support a workforce of a million plus. Further, the Railway epitomized in a nutshell the experience we citizens have with our bureaucracies, with the customer care of our telecom providers, with our banks etc. Thankfully, sectors which have greater competition have managed to provide some quality and choice but others like Railways had no reason to improve. And of course, the Railways is known for taking great care of its own Officers (many of them are my friends for the Civil Services) so the experience of a choice-less traveler really doesn't count.
Creditably though the train arrived in Delhi on time and there was further cheer as our car was safe. We reached home after a great Sand-witch weekend, in which the cheesy festival was placed in between the bread-full (sounds like dreadful) experience on the two trains.