If you had never had the opportunity of travelling with the Indian Railways, you have indeed been deprived of an experience you could make use of when you end up in hell. Well, unlike probably what my opening line indicates, I am not here to curse or condemn one of the largest (probably fourth) railway networks in the world. Indeed, I will keep the discussion short and simple: there are some phobias that didn’t let me sleep in trains. Literally. Having travelled in trains in almost all parts of the country, I have had to travel in all the three, um, five possible berths in the three-tier system the Indian Railways offers. And I suffered from a different kind of phobia while sleeping in each of these berths.
The Lower Berth: Considered the safest and is usually recommended for the aged and the women, this one is not actually the safest (Yes, I don’t remember having read in a newspaper that someone died from falling off a higher berth in a train! Did I say- died? Well, didn’t hear about someone breaking his tibia or her phalanges either!). Particularly when the train is travelling through certain states (UP and
to name a prominent few), there are more passengers in the same coach as you
than permits the number of berths. This is because a “reserved” compartment is
not actually a reserved one. A lot of people, men and women of different ages,
travel alongside you, sitting on the same lower berth you are sleeping in,
occupying approximately one-twelfth the area to place their uncomfortable buttocks
in an even more uncomfortable journey. So, you have a smaller “leg space” and a
tenser night arising out of the thoughts that either your legs might touch that
person (if you are overly religious) or (if you are practical) that you might
find your bag unzipped in the morning and the person already heading home with
a big smile! Add to that the never-ceasing fear that the two berths above you
(with a fat man on one and a fatter woman on another) may fall and suffocate
you to a death of the most unimaginable kind! (Remember the movie series, Final Destination?) Other trivial uneasy
feelings might be contributed by the window (of a non-AC coach) that refuses to
be shuttered completely on a wintry night, thus letting in enough of the biting
wind and giving you a sore throat.
The Middle Berth: With no fellow passenger sitting “on” your feet to bother you all night, do you think you’re in a better situation? Hell, no! If you are sleeping with your head on the aisle side, you (or if you are an optimist, lets suppose, your fingers) could be crushed under the feet of that fat man trying to get down that three-step “ladder” from the upper berth in the middle of the night to visit the loo. There is again a similar phobia of getting sandwiched between the two berths in case of a mishap. And believe me, it’s not very comforting to be the patty in a burger when you know you’re going to be devoured by the cruellest glutton! Plus, the senile fan is barely able to deliver air to this somewhat “hidden” berth.
The Upper Berth: Although the height can be a turn-off for most women, kids and the aged, this is a safe choice for people like me. No sensation of claustrophobia; okay, lets change the “no” to “low”. There is the dirty fan making noise trying to make its presence felt. And then God said-“Let there be Light”. God could have done better; some people don’t want to switch it off. Either they never manage to finish their dinner on time (now who decides that? Perhaps we can take that up in another blog post) or they never manage to arrange “things” and get their makeshift bed ready. There are others who do it for fun, to irritate fellow passengers! (Trust me, such people exist: I tried it during my college days myself; come on, I had bad company). So, the bright light stares straight into your eyes, forcing you to contract and expand your pupils uneasily till more people join you and complain vehemently enough to finally get it to be turned off. Climbing the stairs or the “ladder” is tricky and in a train in India, you have to precisely know the time to use it in order not to end up kicking the woman carrying her baby to the bathroom or toppling the hot tea off the kettle of the poor chaai-vendor. Still, being located at a secluded spot, this remains my favourite berth location. (And even if the fan doesn’t work, it’s not very hot out there; probably air seeps in through the ceiling; now that would be a revolutionary discovery, won’t it be?)
The Side Upper Berth: All side berths, for those who don’t know, have been designed to fit a hobbit. Well, being slightly taller than that, I have difficulties adjusting my body into it. Unless it’s too cold for you to sleep without crouching like a new-born, you’ll never have enough space to extend your legs. So, forget about sleeping. Add to that the miseries of any side-berth- the continuous cacophony of vendors and passengers walking down the aisle. In this case, it doesn’t matter which side you place your head (and hence the ears), either ways are on the aisle side.
The Side Lower Berth: This is mostly not meant for sleeping. Usually all trains are so crowded that two people are allotted seats (popularly known as RAC) in this berth for them to travel without the “comforts” of a complete berth. Any non-Indian would be (pleasantly?) surprised to witness the fact that two complete strangers share a bed, um, the berth in a train in
usually in a position that would embarrass both of them when they wake up in
the morning! If you’re lucky (?) to travel in a train where side lower berths
are being used as berths (because it’s less
crowded) and you have been allotted the same, all the miseries of lower berth
and side berth appear in harmonious conjunction. India
So, good luck, my friend! You have to weigh all pros and cons to decide on which factors you consider less tormenting while choosing a berth (as if you get what you choose!). Indeed it surprises me how people in
manage to put up with these maladies without uttering a word of
I reiterate: Only in this great country can two strangers share the bed because they are part of the same journey.