General compartments suck (surprise, surprise) but what doesn’t kill you … and while I didn’t really build on in the bicep, tricep, forcep (is that a muscle?) department. I did gather some salient attributes of a general compartment journey:
1. Everyone’s a millionaire and ‘knows people’ if their boasts are to be believed.
2. Everyone seems to know what is precisely wrong with the system and how to fix it. The compartment is filled to the brim with Anna Hazares.
3. Anthropomorphising trains is second nature; trains don’t slow down, they get tired (thak thak ke chal rahi hai yeh toh). They don’t slow down, they get tired. They don’t stop at a station, they relax there.
4. Within the first half hour of the journey, the compartment turns into a parliament. With ‘netas‘ squatting in the aisle, sitting on top of peanut shells surrounded by the shoes of other netas who have managed to acquire cabinet positions (by which I mean the much coveted berths) The compartment reeks of piss, sweat and tobacco. The first bill is tabled:
“Demonetisation? More like ‘Demon’ etisation, Modi is the devil!”
The unwashed masses are informed, updated and suave even, in their own way. They carry phones, smartphones, with the latest. The latest Android (Kitkat ? Lollipop? Nougat? Pakoda? You name it!) The latest Bhojpuri hit (mass culture at its best) not to mention trending Whatsapp jokes.
5. Fights are inevitable, squabbles unavoidable as everyone jostles and ‘adjusts’ like only Indians can. But at every major station, the general compartment unites and as one uses every trick in its arsenal to block the incoming torrent of passengers. chai, coffee (sometimes) and vada pav vendors align themselves along the length of the compartment selling their garma-garam preparations through wide spaced grills. In all this commotion, slurs and threats are exchanged like sweets on Diwali:
“Tum mulle sudhar Jaao! behenc**do!” Exclaims a frustrated Bhai-loving (ironic?) islamophobe.
“Emergency kohl kamine!” Cries a man, visibly distressed, probably due to the fact that this was the last train to Lucknow for the next six hours.
After an hour or two, the compartment feels like a concentration camp. Every atom of your body, mind and soul is tired.
There is, however, some respite in the form of entertainment; entertainment in the form of Dant Manjan powder vendors with ridiculous sales pitches invoking promises of cancer prevention aimed at a worried Gutka eating demographic and samosas with tomato ketchup (always the wrong shade of red). The food supplied by the train’s pantry compartment is not exactly gastronomic bliss but it certainly is light on the pocket, with a small tradeoff: Acute Diarrhea.