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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Travel to North India - New Delhi Railway Station

Way back in September 1989, my to-be boss told me “Work life is all about managing expectations”. He was referring to a simple fact of life – if you deliver what you promise, whatever it is, everybody is happy. But if you bust your ass and deliver the sky - but they, for some reason, expected the sky AND the moon - you have failed. In other words, make sure you set the expectations right – so that you can work on delivering to that right level. Simple.

I have never forgotten that lesson. Actually it works not just in work life, it works for everything. Wall Street hammers a company if it has fallen short of market expectations, even if it has announced record profits. Roger Federer’s losing a Grand Slam semi-final is seen as a failure – we expect nothing less than a Grand Slam final from him. At the same time if an Indian player reaches the second round of Wimbledon (men’s singles), he has over-achieved. Sachin Tendulkar’s getting a 50 in Test cricket is counted as a failure, we somehow always expect him to go on to a hundred. In business, salespeople often push a sale into the next month the moment they have achieved a certain month’s target.

So what has all this got to do with Delhi ? It does – it is just that, as usual, I do not come to the point straightaway. I quite like the long-winded route. It will be clear soon enough how the subject of managing expectations is relevant here.

Let me come back to my story, the one I started in my previous post.

Where was I ? Oh yes, I am making my way to New Delhi Railway Station (New Delhi RS) on that Monday to meet my sister and brother-in-law by around noon. We are to catch a train to Punjab that afternoon.

If you remember, I had had the most fantastic two days in Delhi. I had stayed at my friend’s place (bordering Delhi and UP) and had been chauffeured around in my friend’s car by his driver through various parts of Delhi, mainly South and Central Delhi, upto Connaught Place. I had been very impressed by the wide roads, the traffic signals and the signposting. There had been some visible construction activity, put down to Delhi preparing for the Commonwealth Games later this year, but even this had not been disruptive to traffic. All in all, everything I saw impressed me.

As we near New Delhi RS, I begin to get a feeling of déjà vu. Not déjà vu as in seen yesterday but déjà vu as in seen 28 years ago. The last time I had been to New Delhi RS was in July 1982. I remember that very well because it had not been a particularly enjoyable experience then. I was to catch the Rajdhani Express to Howrah (Calcutta) and my auto-rickshaw had got stuck in the traffic near the station so badly that I had got to the station only at 5.15 p.m for a train that was to leave at 5.10. I had barely managed to jump into the running train, luggage and all. (It is another thing that I thought the departure time was 5.30 (never bothered to check the ticket actually) and was therefore still pretty cool about it all, till I reached the station and a coolie told me “Rajdhani ? Woh to nikal rahi hai (it is just leaving)”. I remember doing an Edwin Moses 400m hurdles impersonation, dodging the crowd, climbing up and down the stairs to get to the right platform to jump into the moving train. Just threw my luggage in, threw myself in and found both of us, in acceptable condition though one of us was a few breaths short, inside the moving train. I was not even 20 then. Such acrobatics are only distant, wistful memories now.

Anyway, back to March 2010 - and memories of that experience outside the station come flashing back. If anything, the chaos outside the station seems to have grown manifold. There is utter confusion and a huge amount of swearing as every vehicle of every type seems to be looking for just that much space to be able to squeeze its way between two other vehicles and get ahead in the race to enter the station parking area. Roads near railway stations tend to be crowded anyway but this is way worse than anything that I have ever seen in Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai put together. (I will not talk about Calcutta because my experience in that city, the return trip of that July 1982 trip to that city, beat even my Delhi experience. I had to abandon my taxi and walk the whole length of Howrah Bridge with my luggage to get to the station because the traffic just did not move an inch. I am not exaggerating – my cab driver gave up and suggested I walk !)

I am told that some of the East-bound (UP, Bihar) trains that currently arrive and depart from New Delhi RS will be diverted to a station near Noida and will not touch New Delhi RS in future. I don’t know if this is true but it would greatly relieve the congestion at this station. Already we have Nizamuddin and Old Delhi RS taking some of the Delhi traffic anyway. And, from what I can remember, these stations are much better stations than New Delhi RS.

Anyway, so I finally get to the station and, after some “where are you ?” mobile phone communication, manage to meet up with my sister and brother-in-law. There is another person from their office with them who is to be part of our trip to Punjab.

Our train is the 2203 Garib Rath, scheduled to leave at 14:05 hrs. We have something to eat at the station itself and then go on to the platform. The information board announces a delay of 10 minutes.We just shrug this off. It is already 1.30 p.m, so it is no big deal.

There is a huge crowd at the platform, with classic Punjabi salwar-kameez, colourful patkas and Sikh turbans visible everywhere. We initially think the crowd is waiting for our train but then realize they are waiting for an earlier train, going to Amritsar, which has not yet arrived. As soon as that train arrives, we manage to get seats to sit at the platform. Not bad, I think.

When I go to check the information board after a while, it says 30 minutes late.
Hmm. The first signs of doubt begin to creep into my mind. In the last several years, the only train journeys I have done in India have been between Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and once from Mumbai. All terminus points, not intermediate stations. The chance of a train starting late from a terminus point is much less than its getting delayed down the line.

I ask my sister, who has booked our tickets “Where does this Garib Rath start from ?”

As if on cue, the PA system announces “Saharsa se Muzaffarpur aur Moradabad hotey hue Dilli aane waali do do shoonya teen Garib Rath ek ghante late chal rahi hai”. (The 2203 Garib Rath, coming from Saharsa via Muzaffarpur and Moradabad to Delhi, is running one hour late).

I am like “WHAT ?”

(For those of you who are interested in facts and train schedules, here is the train being discussed.)

My sister says “I don’t know. I booked it online. I asked for “Delhi to Jalandhar”and this was the first train that came up which suited our timings, given our flight arrival time”.

“Do you realize where this train is coming from ?”

“No. Where ?”

“Bihar. And not just that, it is just travelling the whole distance of UP, east to west, to come here. You think there is the SLIGHTEST chance that it will EVER arrive here on time ?”

I do not have the slightest harsh tone in my voice but I think my sister feels a bit offended. By then it is beginning to get a bit warm also, it is that time of the afternoon.

“How was I to know ? I thought it starts in Delhi. I would never have booked a train that has to come from somewhere else to go to Jalandhar. Especially from Bihar. As it is, Garib Rath was introduced during Laloo’s time and maybe Mamta is trying to put Laloo down by intentionally messing with the trains that he introduced.The Garib Rath down South seems to be running OK, how was I to know about this one ? Anyway, I have booked AC seats ”.

She seems hassled and I have absolutely no intention of upsetting her. Would not dream of it.

“Ok, it does not matter. I don’t think it is Mamta, I think it is the passengers. Anyway, I am having fun here, so I’m fine”.

3.05 p.m comes and goes. The train is supposed to be one hour late but after that announcement there is no other announcement. The information board is also not updated.

Some other train headed for some place in Bihar (I do not remember the name now, let’s call it ) now comes on Platform 1. People board it and it leaves.
After two minutes, there is an announcement “Platform no. 1 se nikli express chain-pulling ke kaaran ruki hui hai. Kripaya karmachari jaanch karen (Train no which has left from Platform no. 1 has been stopped due to chain-pulling. The appropriate personnel may please investigate the matter).

My sister and I look at each other. In all these years, we have never heard such an announcement being made.

A few minutes later another train headed for UP arrives and leaves from Platform no.1. And believe it or not, exactly the same thing happens. The same message ! Chain-pulling ! My sister and I are in splits by now. The announcement is all so casual, as if it is routine business.

I remind my sister that we better not laugh too much because it sounds quite ominous. Trains leaving from Platform no.1 (from which our own Garib Rath is to leave) seem not to be able to go two minutes without chain pulling. She says she would rather first see the train coming – and worry about its leaving later.

Anyway, it is 3.30 p.m by now. There is no sign of our train nor any announcement about it. I have read the day’s newspaper from front page to last page, I have had two cups of chai and I have started singing Rafi songs, rather loudly. This last bit, possibly causing my sister to want to distance herself from me and divert me into some other activity, makes her tell me “Why don’t you go check with the station master what is going on with our train ?”

So I look for the station master’s room – he is not to be found but the Assistant Station Master is.

He is busy chatting with somebody and, judging by the nature of the conversation, I am totally convinced that it is anything but official work that is being conducted.

“Sir, ye Garib Rath kab aayegi ?” (Sir, when will the Garib Rath arrive ?)

Hain ?”

“Sir, ye Garib Rath kab aayegi ?”

“Kaun si gaadi ?” (Which train ?)

“Ji, Garib Rath. Jalandhar jaane waali. Do paanch ka time hai par abhi saadhe teen baj rahe hain.”
(Ji, Garib Rath. The one going to Jalandhar. The scheduled time is 2.05 but it already 3.30 now).

He gives me a look that combines indifference and contempt in perfectly equal measures.

“Aayegi, ji, aayegi”. (It will come).

“Aayegi, wo to mujhe maaloom hai, par kab aayegi…chaar baje tak aa jaayegi ?” (I know it will come but when will it come…will it arrive by 4.00 ?)

He does not bother to reply. I have already elicited his quota of customer service communication for the day.

I return to my sister, informing her that I was no more enlightened about our train’s likely arrival time after my visit to the Station Master’s office than I had been before such visit. Not strangely but somewhat disturbingly, she does not seem to be surprised. At least she has got me to stop singing.

An announcement on the PA system shakes us. “<…> train <….> jaane waali, aaj sham chaar baje jaane ke bajaaye kal subah saadhe chaar bajey niklegi. “. My sister and I look at each other again. Not quite believing what we have heard. The English version of the announcement follows. “<..> train going to <…> , scheduled to depart at 4.00 p.m will now depart at 4.30 a.m tomorrow”. As if to soften the blow, the English version has an added “The inconvenience is deeply regretted”. That’s all right, then.

We now begin to get genuinely concerned. There is absolutely no announcement about our train, there is nothing on the information board either. And the Station Master’s office has been as useful as an umbrella helping against the rains in July on Marine Drive in Mumbai.

In all this, we have lost the seats we had parked ourselves on earlier and have now no proper place to sit. Due to some water leakage, the platform is getting a little uncomfortably wet. I decide I might as well have some fun. I take out my camera and click a few pictures.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

There is finally an announcement - that we need to go from Platform no. 1 to Platform no. 10. No mention of timing though. We start moving but some others, waiting for our train, are not convinced. For them there is a repeat announcement “2203 Garib Rath ke liye agar koi yatri ab bhi platform no. 1 pe hon, to veh turant platform no. 10 ko jaayen”.(If there are still passengers for 2203 Garib Rath waiting on Platform no.1, they are requested to go to Platform no. 10 immediately).

By now it is past 5.00 p.m. We see the Rajdhani Express, starting from Delhi and going towards Jalandhar and Amritsar, scheduled to leave at 4.00 p.m , leave from Platform no. 1 at 4.30 p.m. I look at my sister, she says “I didn’t know – our train was the most suitable one according to the timing”.

Finally at 5.15 p.m, a miracle happens. A train appears on Platform no. 10. And it happens to be the 2203 Garib Rath. We are thrilled as if India has just won some World Cup. Everybody jumps in – there is a major scramble but soon everybody settles down and the train chugs away. We are on our way to Punjab ! There is no sign of a "Jab We Met"-style Kareena Kapoor look-alike but I am too excited to complain about it.

The co-passengers are pretty decent. One of them tells us “Ye to aaj sirf teen ghante late hai, kabhi kabhi to ye bees ghante late hoti hai. Iska record hai ki ye gaadi, jab se shuru hui, ek din bhi time pe nahin pahunchi hai”. (This is only 3 hours late today. Sometimes this is 20 hours late. This train holds a record – from the time it was started, not once has it reached on time). Hmm. It could have been worse.’

Though the train is air-conditioned, I am not too happy with confining myself to the seat. I prefer to go to the door and get some fresh air from the breeze. Put on my MP3 player and listen to some old songs. “Chhodo kal ki baatein, kal ki baat puraani”, “Gun guna rahe hain bhanwra…”and others. The stations pass by. Sonepat, Panipat. I see the beautiful sunset. Ambala. Ludhiana. And then finally, at about 11.00 p.m, Jalandhar.

What a day ! In hindsight – and actually even then – I quite enjoyed it. But New Delhi RS was such a shocker compared to what I had seen the previous two days in Delhi. The station surroundings, the station itself, the staff.

Which brings me to my very first point. About expectations.

All my expectations, built up during those two days over the weekend, that New Delhi had moved with the times were brought crashing to earth with my experience on that Monday. I must confess I was very disappointed at New Delhi RS. Perhaps I was comparing it with other stations that I know. Bangalore and Chennai in particular. Both these stations have improved tremendously in the last few years. A lot of money has gone into upgrading these stations. I saw nothing of the sort at New Delhi RS. It surprised me a lot – considering that New Delhi is the capital of the country and there must be a lot of passengers, even foreign tourists, travelling from and to New Delhi RS.

This is not to say that Delhi has not progressed. Of course it has – but I could not help feeling that there are two Delhis even today – the one that has moved with the times, and the one that has not.

And it is I who have to set my expectations right. Some things just take much longer to change. If they change at all.


memsaab said...

On my first trip to India, I took a train from Jodhpur to Jaipur which was supposed to depart at 8:00 am (I was with a group and a guide). We were there early and settled on the train, and it pulled out of the station (not full) at about 7:45 am. I asked the guide why it was leaving early and he shrugged and said: "Sometimes it does."

I just had to crack up laughing :)

squarecut.atul said...

Indeed, your expectations were jacked up by your pleasant stay at Delhi for two days.

New Delhi railway station gets the maximum input that is possible, but one cannot buy things like courtesy,caring for passengers etc by throwing money at a problem.In general, government officials of Delhi tend to be rude and uncaring as compared to government officials from elsewhere.

Your experiences are not different from that of many others.On this topic I can write a lot, but I suppose one cannot write a long article while posting comments as it would be as rude as the behaviour of the assistant station master of New Delhi RS !

Jewellery By Shalini said...

Its years since I travelled from New Delhi Railway Station but your description sounds accurate. Its awful! I always preferred Nizamuddin and even Old Delhi Station was better. I don't know if things have improved there at all or if they have got worse as well.

Vijay said...

New Delhi stations bring back memories! We were supposed to leave Delhi the day after IG was assassinated - it was scary! We came back home and took the flight :) Sarai Rohilla is another boot camp! We had to push and shove to get in the train WITH TICKETS, and the train used to smell like a dairy farm (can you guess why??)

Bharath Hemachandran said...

To be honest, I think the trains are better in the south - at least time wise. I used the trains a few times from Bangalore and Madras... and they were all surprisingly extremely prompt.

Ravi said...

Well its no different situation in say Durg station. 12 hours of delay is sort of shrugged off. But your description is hillarious.

Raja Swaminathan said...

@Greta, trains leaving before scheduled time ? Probably somebody had the wrong time. :-)

@Atul, it is all about expectations, no doubt. This is the Delhi I always knew. ;-)

@Shalini, somebody from Delhi needs to tell us about Nizamuddin and Old Delhi RS. I can vouch only for NDRS. :-)

@Vijay, train smelt like a dairy farm ? No idea why. Tell me.

@Bharath, that is why my sis and I were surprised. Trains in the South usually arrive on time or max 30 min late. Usually not hours late. To be fair, if it is long-distance and coming from north, then all bets are off.

@Ravi (SL), I guess it is common in North India. I was used to it when I was young but not for the last 20+ years. And since I have been living in Europe, I have begun to develop a little bit of respect for time and schedules. :-)

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Harry said...

I hope it's a another big Experience of your life.