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Monday, March 27, 2023

A station scene

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There is no other soul left on the desolate platform.
| Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It is a small-town station with only two platforms, but it is on the main railway route, and most trains stop for two minutes, grudgingly. The computer-programmed station announcement sounds disjointed, as though it is a collaborative effort of several people randomly contributing a word each to form a single sentence. The announcement that the trains will arrive “shortly” is a triumph of hope over experience.

The trains, besides arriving late, also stop just a kilometre short of the station, waiting for signal clearance. My train’s scheduled arrival time is 9.30 p.m., but I realise that the crowd on the platform is for two other earlier trains that are several hours late. My train will arrive much later.

I watch people restlessly scanning the horizon looking out for their trains. Tired, the defeated crowd settles down on the benches, but remains alert for the sound of a train, if not its sight. The occasional tremors on the platform give hope of a train arriving, but turn out to be the all-metal luggage-trolley trundling on iron wheels, scaring people standing in the way.

Finally, around 10.30 p.m., two trains appear at short intervals, thundering into the platform. All the passengers rush about and board the trains. However, these are not the trains I am waiting for. The trains leave, and an eerie calmness descends on the platforms. I look around and am surprised to find there has been nothing short of a mass evacuation, and there is no other soul left on the desolate platform.

I am the only passenger at the AC coach arrival point. In the distance, I see a muffler-swathed elderly policeman watching me thoughtfully. Then, tapping and dragging his lathi just for the sound effect, he comes over to where I am standing in the poorly lit area and kindly advises me to move towards a better-lit area a little away, for safety. I look about: yes, it’s a bit lonely here at quarter to midnight. He says my train is always late by two hours, and it is a bit risky at this time of the night because only a couple of days ago, there was an incident of snatching of mobile phones on this very platform. And the culprits have not been caught yet, but he knows their history and where they are from, he says, spicing up his story. Then just to pass time, he launches into yet another lengthy crime story, but seeing me yawn, he reluctantly winds up, wraps his muffler tighter around his face, and shuffles away, leaving me unarmed to deal with mobile snatchers. Luckily, the night is incident-free.

At quarter past midnight, with no announcement, my train sneaks in. Announcing to a single person in the station is apparently not cost-effective. The scheduled stop of the train is only for two minutes, and I imagine the clock ticking as I try to open the door of the AC coach and find it has been locked from inside and there is no TTE around to help open the door. Passengers inside seem to be in deep slumber, having secured their coach against illegal entry — and against my legal entry too, it appears. A minute-and-a-half of panicked banging on the door by me results in a bleary-eyed passenger opening the door from inside just when the train begins to move. I stagger in, thrashing my luggage about, relieved but fuming at the sheer irresponsibility of whoever locked the door. The TTE ought to have ensured access till all passengers from all stations have checked in and are accounted for.

The TTE appears much later, and when I narrate my ordeal, nods sagely like an uninvolved bystander. Keeping the door unlocked seems to be a new concept. He clucks in sympathy when I tell him that two things could have happened: I could have failed to board the train and my phone could have been snatched.

Had both happened, the policeman at the station would have had one more story to tell.


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