Platform No.9, Bangalore City Railway Station, 2100 hours approx on Saturday 18th April 2009: "ಇನ್ನೂ ಸ್ವಲ್ಪ ಹೊತ್ತು ಒಳಗಡೆ ಕುಳಿತುಕೊ೦ಡು ಆಮೇಲೆ ಆರಾಮಾಗಿ ಇಳಿಯಬಹುದಲ್ವಾ?" (Kannada for: “Why don’t you sit inside for some more time and then get down?”) said a middle aged gentleman as I hurriedly got down (read jumped off) from YPR-MAQ Mangalore express as it was gaining momentum.
“Oh Jesus, please forgive this gentleman. He wouldn’t have made that statement if he had access to full details why I had to board the train” I said to myself and instead of retaliating opted to say “Thank you sir” to his surprise.
Flashback: Had booked train tickets for my Mom and Sis to go to Mangaluru from Bengaluru. Mom hasn’t travelled much in train, because we had to travel a lot to catch nearest railhead - buses were most convenient for us as they pickup/drop us on the highway near our home. In order to give her an experience of overnight train journey booked tickets for them in 3 Tier AC coaches. With 300 Rs tatkal charges the fare was twice the AC bus fare.
We reached Bangalore city railway station well in advance, showed her various information systems in railway stations, under-bridge, over-bridge, touch screen kiosks that shows real time train location, ticket status, coach position etc (it’s there on platform 5) and then we reached platform 9 where Mangalore express was supposed to arrive. (it starts from Yeshwantpur)
Train arrived little late and our compartment halted about a hundred meters away from where it was supposed to (as per markings displayed). Our seats were No 23 and 24. We checked passenger chart for the correctness of seats and names, and then got into the compartment, searching for our seat. There were 2 sets of seat numbers- one with printed number plates, and another written with markers (Some changes in seating layout due to introduction of additional berth on the side- details in this post-most of the trains do not have confusion free seat numbering yet.)
I asked my mom and sis to sit at the seats marked 23,24 with metal stickers, while another group of passengers who entered insisted that we should follow the numbering done with marker and our seats would come elsewhere. Meanwhile two ladies entered the compartment announcing “sit in 23, 24” (as if shouting the seat numbers makes them theirs). I was taken aback for a while-I’d reasonable faith in Indian Railway’s IT system that they don’t allot same seat to two parties. I asked this lady for her ticket-she said she’ll show it, but comfortably sat in the seat (marked 23,24 with marker) instead. Several minutes had passed and it was time for the train to start. Since it was an AC coach I couldn’t talk to my mom and sister from outside the coach-I had to be inside to ensure everything is in order. She was travelling for the first time and is facing confusion over seat number-How can I leave them without verifying everything is fine? will they be able to manage if something is seriously wrong? I repeatedly asked the lady for her ticket-after several minutes she checked her tickets and admitted that 23,24 are not their seats.
Now that there’s no clash of seat numbers, confusion over which seat numbering system to follow (marker ones or metal stickers) still prevailed. Train started moving… I had to leave. I told my mom and sister to hold on to their seats and wait till the ticketing inspector comes-check with him for correct seating and relocate if necessary. They said fine and I headed towards the door, preparing myself to disembark from the moving train.
Then this gentleman at the door passes a comment: “Why don’t you stay inside for some more time”! (of course I would have loved to travel all the way to Mangalore and go home, but I had to return the Innova and reach Chennai next day-who will explain all these to this gentleman who enjoys passing comments without knowing why I had to be inside the coach for so long?
May the God almighty forgive this gentleman for his comments, that lady for her false claim of our seats and Indian railways for confusing seat numbers.
Epilogue: Learnt later over phone that one is supposed to follow the numberings made with marker. Mom and sis relocated to the correct seats (which that lady had occupied before realizing that her seats are different) and had comfortable journey. Train reached Mangalore by 10.30, about 2 hours behind schedule and Mom and Sis took a bus from Mangalore and reached home by 2PM (by bus they would have probably reached by 8-9AM). It was a good journey for them, though ate off half of Sunday.