The queue was longer than the extended, mystical tail of the legendary Veer Hanuman. Fortunately, I stood in the middle of the queue that pitched in before a railway booking counter issuing open tickets. It was ages since I had travelled in an unreserved compartment.
The queue was only inching its way to the counter. I stood in between two fatties who virtually squeezed me into pulp. People who stood behind me too were uncharitable as they tried to edge me out of the line. But still, I was hopeful of getting my ticket in no time. I was always like that … a hopeless optimistic bloke who would attempt to dismantle a mountain with a chisel.
My CEO, a cranky old truck, could never identify problems/issues whenever they flicker in the office, but run amok when all are in flames. So, I was here in the queue to catch an early morning train, go over to Coimbatore and sort out some burning issues there.
The queue picked up speed for a moment only to stop its momentum abruptly. I spotted a middle-aged man came and parked him opposite the queue. He was clad in white dhoti and sleeveless shirt. His gleaming pate was smeared with vibhuti [sacred ash]. He took out a sachet of Pan Parag from his pocket, cut open it with his teeth and emptied it in the mouth, all simultaneously in reflex. Beside him stood a police constable. His presence soared my spirits, as I was now hopeful of getting the ticket without any hurdle. Again, the optimist!
Gosh! I was wrong [the optimist went down the drain]. For, I now saw a posse of goons appeared from nowhere and tried to break the queue. There started a pandemonium when people standing in the back came to the front and confronted the goons. The police man swung into action, but strangely he dislodged those, including me, who were already standing in the queue and enabled the intruders to take our places.
Jostled out of the queue, I suddenly found myself standing shoulder to shoulder with the dhoti-clad, pan-chewing man. He was holding a bunch of tickets in his hand and started selling them to those who were displaced by the goons. People had no qualms about shelling out as much as Rs. 300 per ticker [the original fare was only Rs 75] and buying tickets from the man. ‘He must be a tout … a blood sucker in disguise,’ I thought plaintively.
When the tout had an unsold ticket with him, he offered it to me demanding only Rs. 250, out of sympathy. I got wild and yelled at him blue and black. ‘You tout. You’re hand in glove with the police, dislodge people from the queue and sell them your bloody tickets for a fortune. I’m a responsible citizen, going to write to ‘The Hindu’ about this sordid incident.’ By now, a large crowd gathered around me, but the tout and the police man disappeared from the scene.
So, I missed the 6.15 am super fast train. Every time I stood in the queue for getting tickets for subsequent trains, the queue was broken by new group of goons with the help of a constable. It was now 10.30 am. I have missed the series of trains. My boss got me over my mobile and gave me a fine dressing down for being unduly late in catching a train.
Driven to the wall, I ran hither and thither; met the SM and the Railway Police. They simply shrugged off their shoulders, gesturing their inability to do anything on my complaint. Exhausted, I sat on a bench in the waiting hall.’ Why a bunch of touts is allowed to hijack a well-evolved system and convert it to their own convenience … convert it for spinning money’, I thought naively.
The tout, after some time, came over to me, of course in another avatar. For, I now saw him in the pants with his shirt tucked in. No vibhuti on his forehead, it was gleaming brighter. I could guess that his new avatar was only to hoodwink people about his identity. Brandishing a ticket, he demanded Rs. 400. All in gestures. I was reluctant for a moment invaded by my cardinal principles of anti-corruption. But then, my exigencies became more important than my principles and they made me submit myself meekly to the tout. I gave him the amount and got the ticket.
Spitting out the last bit of the pan parag into a garbage bin, the tout smiled at me sheepishly and said: ‘That’s it. Illiterate persons are smarter than the educated lot like you. For, the unlettered know how to go about in life. They don’t cling to useless principles. But, you, the pants-clad people are mere wastrels not knowing the intricacies of life, but living in your own make-believe world. Come on, sir, go over to the 3rd platform and board the 11.15 train. My people in the general compartment will help you get a window seat.’
I nodded grimly, started leaving the waiting-hall for the 3rd platform. When I walked over the foot over bridge, I felt like walking over the corpse of my anti-graft feelings and principles. Let them RIP.
Image courtesy: Google