No one had yet come to claim the lower berth. The TTE said that the occupant was to get aboard the train at Gaya. Until he came, I decided to occupy the window seat and do some sightseeing. As the train stopped at Dhanbad I got nostalgic. For years this was where we caught trains from, before Papa got retired and shifted from here. At Parasnath, a group of Jains from Maharashtra got on board.
The train reached Gaya sometime after 2 o’clock, a good 45 minutes late. Also came the occupant of the window seat. Unlike his name, R.K. Verma (I had read the names of people in my compartment), that made me concoct an image of a middle aged man, he appeared not more than a college going boy.
“41 number seat mera hai”, he said to me, hinting that I make way for him.
“Haan baitho na. Mera seat upar tha toh ham soche ki baith lete hain thodi der”
(Please sit. I am on the upper berth. So I sat here for some time)
Understanding that I wasn’t without a reservation, he asked me to remain seated. He made himself comfortable besides me. I had some more time to take in the natural sights of Bihar- greenery, small ponds, children bathing in them, large open fields, larger rivers; quite unlike the river Yamuna in Delhi that is not very different from the nullahs that abound the city.
Some half an hour later the TTE arrived looking for the passenger who had boarded from Gaya. He instantly took out his ticket.
“Koi ID hai”, the TTE asked. He produced his Election card.
“Kiska ticket chori kiya hai be”
(Who have you stolen this ticket from)
The tone of the TTE took me for a surprise. I had been watching him from the last four hours and he had been very polite in his dealings. When I asked him if he would require an ID with my electronic ticket receipt, he had said it was okay.
The passenger was both surprised and afraid. Surprised because he didn’t expect this kind of a thing to happen even when he had a valid ticket. Afraid because of the TTE had accused him of stealing.
Frightened he asked what was the problem with his ticket.
Problem was that he was Sarfaraz Alam, and the ticket was booked for one R.K. Verma.
For the booking clerks at the ticket counter, typos are common place. But the two names were too diverse to have been jumbled.
In the words of the TTE – Ye kaise katua (a derogatory term used for Muslims) se Hindu ban gaya.
This definitely seemed the handiwork of a tout selling some other persons ticket. It turned otherwise. He had himself got the ticket done at the ticket counter.
So what does he do now, he asked the TTE. A full ticket would be issued again with a penalty but no seat, that made up more than double the cost of normal ticket.
“Dekhiye na bhaiya, ham tatkal me rat bhar line me khade hokar ticket katayen, aur ab yeh sila mila.
(Although there is a Tatkal facility available in Indian Railways, mostly it is the agents that are able to use it for a premium from passengers. If ordinary passengers want it, they need to be present at the Tatkal counter before 8 in the morning. Within minutes the counter closes. You can get the ticket only if you are fortunate. Some people stand whole night in this queue)
This passenger was fortunate at the ticket counter. But fate caught him here in the train.
What will he do now, I asked.
“I don’t have that much money. I don’t know what to do. I had to urgently reach Delhi. It will be very difficult if I don’t reach on time.”.
It’s no use crying here. Cry before the TTE instead. Ask him to take some money and allow him to travel somehow.
He came back some twenty minutes later looking for his bag.
“He won’t allow me to travel otherwise. He has asked me to get down at the next station or he will report me to railway police”.
There was little anyone of us there could have helped him with. He hadn’t asked for money. Also none of us would have helped him with money even if he had asked for it. We didn’t know him.
After he went we shared a few stories of how corrupt these TTEs are and got back to our earlier routine.
Around 5 in the evening, a middle aged man came checking for his seat.
Bhaisahab 41 number seat mera hai. Aap bura nahi mane toh please mujhe baith Jane dijiye.
(41 number seat is mine. If its okay can I sit down)
Yes sure, I said and made way for him.
As he made himself comfortable, he threw the conversation at other passengers, “janey kiska chehra dekh kar uthe the aaj. Bada ganda jatra raha”.
(Today’s journey has been very bad. God knows whose face I saw the first in the morning)
What happened, someone asked.
“God knows how my seat got exchanged with a mian (Muslim). Ever since I have been running from here to there”.
As if he had bought news of a dear one. Almost everyone asked in unison – Where is that boy? Did he get his seat?
No! He got down at Dehri. Somehow I got his phone number. I have asked him to someway reach Mughalsarai. The train stops there for some half hour. He too needs to reach Delhi urgently as he has a job to join.
So Sarfaraz was true about the urgency.
After that he would either tell us about the progress of Sarfaraz. Or one of us would ask him.
Sarfaraz missed the train by some minutes at Mughalsarai. But he made up at Allahabad.
Sarfaraz came visiting at night. He told us how the TTE was not ready to take anything less than Rs.1000. This would obviously have gone into the TTEs pocket instead of going into railways. Since he didn’t have that much money he decided to get down. He was on his way home when he received the call from Vermaji. Since that time he had been running from train to train.
Finally a happy ending.