Mysore-Chennai ‘Kaveri’ Express, #6221, departing from Bangalore City Junction at 11:45 PM is the last train at night to go to Chennai. On that Friday night, a few weeks ago, it had arrived quite late from Mysore, and, I had this interesting and thought-provoking experience.
I checked my name against berth number 9 (lower berth) on the chart stuck near the entrance of the coach and then I boarded the S7 coach of the Kaveri Express at Bangalore City railway station. I was heading to Chennai on my short trip for the week-end. It was already 11:55 PM when I boarded the train and I was quite tired after the long day’s work, waiting to lie down as soon as possible. The coupe was almost occupied fully. People around were trying to settle down too. Couple of kids was trying to finish their last minute purchase of tetra pack juices through their father from the shop on the station platform.
Suddenly a man, a north Indian, may be, appeared in the coupe and was checking for S7 berth 9. Yes, it was mine. I told him it belonged to me. He also said it belonged to him. He showed me his ticket, a regular ticket issued normally at the booking counters. I took it from him, checked, and the date and train number matched. Coach and berth number also matched. I was puzzled. Mine was an e-ticket and it had same parameters. I did not know whether there could be such a duplicate reservation possible on IRCTC’s website. I went down to the chart pasted outside the coach to re-check once again. I found my name there without any doubt and my ticket number also matched.
I came back to the berth where this guy was already frantically making calls and SMSs from his mobile phone about the ticket status. I told him that it is only my name figuring in the chart and not his, so he has to allow me to use the berth. But he argued that he is holding a valid ticket for that berth and so he will stay too.
The discussions between him and I made the people around us also interested. There were also a couple of cynical comments from some of them saying that such mix-ups are common these days in Railways, they do all sorts of jugglery, etc. etc.
I patiently waited without raising too much argument with the duplicate passenger of my berth. He showed me his mobile on which he just received a confirmation SMS response that showed the PNR number, train number, date, coach number and berth number, against his name. He was a bit happy, at the same time he was looking at me to see how to get rid of me. We just exchanged smiles. But then he kept restarting his complaining tone about the issue in his English that had a big Hindi accent.
The train moved at about 10 minutes past midnight. The train ticket examiner appeared and started his routine checks. The duplicate passenger kept trying to attract TTE’s attention by starting to talk about the subject before even he was near us. TTE uttered no word but just showed his palm as a STOP sign, to imply that he needs to wait till his turn comes. When my turn came, the TTE checked the chart with my e-ticket and found everything okay. And that’s what I expected.
At the next instant, the duplicate passenger almost pounced on the TTE and in one breath narrated the whole problem story. The TTE looked at his ticket and looked at the chart on his hand, but could not find any way to accept him. He told him that he may have to leave the compartment. He did not accept. He started raising his voice of argument. The TTE told him to wait by the side while he finishes checking all passenger tickets first.
A few more minutes ticked away. By that time, all middle berths were up and everyone had lied down; some had started sleeping already. Mostly only the metal shutters for the windows were down, to allow some breeze. I also settled down in my berth, closed my eyes and tried to start sleeping. This guy sat beside my leg in my berth. I felt bad for him and allowed him without disturbance. He kept moving in and out of our coupe trying to go see the TTE here and there.
Inside my eyes, I kept thinking how this kind of a mix-up could happen. I was wondering what I would have done if I was in his situation. And what if I was traveling with family and such a situation had happened. The Indian Railways ticketing system has such a serious bug that made me quite nervous and sweat. I was not catching sleep.
After about 15 minutes, the train stopped at Bangalore Cantonment station. The coupe was very quiet, I seemed to have slept for at least a minute, but woke up due to the sound produced from the window shutters. Someone was banging my window shutter from outside. I pushed it up. It was the TTE outside the window. He asked me where this Bihari guy has gone. I said I do not know. TTE was in a hurry moving on the station’s platform towards the next coach. As he moved away, he told me in a loud voice that the duplicate guy is holding a ticket for the previous day with boarding at Bangalore Cantonment. He told me to inform him that he has to get down from the coach, and went off.
It gave me quite a jerk. I for a moment thought about it, and then scanned through the compartment looking for this gentleman. Finally I found him near the entrance of the vestibule in the adjacent compartment. He was still holding the ticket and trying to talk to someone on his phone hurriedly. When I conveyed what the TTE told, he shut his phone, frantically looked into the details of his ticket, and… hit himself heavily with his palm on his own forehead.
He realized that the ticket belongs to the previous day’s travel! Oh what a mix-up he has had! I felt very sorry for him. His ticket had the Friday’s date alright, but since the boarding was at Cantonment station the Friday’s time of 12:05 AM that is mentioned means something else. That means, it is for the same train’s trip that started on Thursday (the previous) night at 11:45 PM from Bangalore City station and reaches Cantonment station at 12:05 AM on Friday early morning! But this gentleman’s intention was to travel on Friday night, so he should have actually booked his ticket for Saturday early morning 12:05 AM departure at Cantonment station!!
He became completely silent, and, ran towards the next compartment looking for someone, probably the TTE.
I came back to my berth and settled down with a peaceful feeling of having solved a mysterious puzzle, but still feeling uneasy for what that person was going through due to his error. I was thinking that the Railways should probably have some way to ‘highlight’ in some bold letters or color or someway that the boarding is at such an early hour, and what day or date it implies, etc. But from another point of view, it appeared as though the passengers actually are responsible to check the exact day or night of boarding time and travel dates more carefully to avoid such errors.
At about 12:40 AM, I started sleeping a little deeper, slowly entering into some dream, with the train’s oscillation giving me a nice rocking rhythm.
But, the train stopped soon. Krishnarajapuram railway station. My eyes still closed, in a disturbed sleep. I could hear a big group of 5-6 people boarding into our compartment and passing our coupe to somewhere in the central segment. After a 2 minute gap, there were loud voices of chat. This new group of people started a fight with the people already sleeping on the berths there.
The loud arguments could be heard. Both groups were making the same complaint against each other: These are our berths - we have tickets for these very berths - for this exact train number - on this exact date - see my ticket - you see my ticket!!
The argument continues.