Indian Summer at the LTT

by Pravin

May 2004

Spent some time yesterday at Bombay's swankiest rail terminal - LTT (formerly Kurla Terminus) since I had some time between two appointments in the Chembur side of town.

The terminus virtually resembled a town in eastern UP complete with talk in the Ganga kinaare lingo etc. Large swathes of Bombay's population hailing from the districts of Azamgarh, Shahganj, Gorakhpur, Jaunpur, Ald, BSB, Gonda, Basti etc. had decided to sing together - `Aa ab laut chale'.

All the platforms and the main concourse were teeming with folk looking forward to their annual summer sojourn in the muluk. The dirt, dust, grime and sweat (Bombay is going thru' an unbelievably terrible summer phase) all did not seem to matter as the images of one's basti and village with its unique chaupal, video parlours, chai addas etc. beckoned.

The first of the trains scheduled was the 5219 Darbhanga Pawan (which was however put back to leave at 16.35 instead of 11.25 because of presumably the late arrival of incoming pairing rake - hence I had to miss the fun on this train).

Then there was the GKP special (via Jhs/CNB/LKO) scheduled at 12.00 noon - it had a WL of 500+ with cnf upto 150 and then a few RACs upto 250 or so - rest all had to return disappointed or take the train and `adjust' along the way. The train had 6 SL and 6 GS - no 2A as well as 3A. The train left at 05 mins past 12.00 noon from P/F 4.

Alongside the 1071 Kamayani (to BSB) had started filling up on P/F 2 ready to depart at 12.25 - WL scene somewhat similar - this train however had 9SL with one each of 2A as well as 3A - no PC however.

In the meanwhile the 1014 CBE-LTT exp. arrived silently on P/F 1 and the passengers disembarked and quietly went their way. The emptied P/F 4 was occupied by the incoming `Shaan - e - EC railway' - 3201 Rajendranagar - LTT exp which arrived approx. 45 mins. late - this surprisingly had a PC with 2 coaches of 3A and 10 SL with 6 GS.

I then moved towards the northern end of P/F 3 for the next GKP special (this runs on the Godaan route as special on the non - Godaan days) via Ald, JNU,Mau, Shahganj, Azamgarh. Quite a sight there awaited me. There was a special sheltered area with wooden barricades constructed with winding rows zig-zagging for a single file of people to queue up for the GS coaches. It was impossible to find out exactly but knowing the adjusting nature of Indians approx. 3000 to 4000 people could easily have been accommodated - quite a squeeze it would be but what is it between a few of our `own muluk folk'.

This was to let people board the GS coaches with a modicum of discipline and respect rather than have a jungle raaj as soon as the train comes in on the P/F. As the GKP spl. no. 2 arrived, the orderly filling in of the coaches started. The first one and a half coaches were to open at Thane and hence were actually locked with a proper brand new brass lock. The other GS coaches (5 in all opening at LTT) were also opened one after the other - there was a rope which cordoned off onlookers and those who had come to see their people off. All along the snaking queue there were in all at least 10 RPF jawans ensuring no one broke the queue and surprisingly an equal no. of TTEs suitable sporting IR ties and sweating profusely (thankfully those stifling black coats were not there).

As if this wasn't enough there were 2 TTEs inside each coach as it opened to guide people to the lower seats and as soon as one got filled up they would signal and the next compartment would be opened up. The snaking queue just about fit into the 5 coaches and the others who came late were then allowed to board as and where they wished.

All along the way, I was keenly observing to see traces of corruption but that was at least openly not in evidence - the TTEs I started chatting up with after they finished their task and they seemed genuinely interested and even enjoying the job of helping the poor folk travel with some comfort(??). All in all a scene that somewhere warmed my cockles that the ordinary man looking forward to a well deserved break could seek and actually get some justice. The shelter on the barricades was certainly a heart-warmer.

Incidentally a very logical sequence of GS coaches were lined up in all trains - all the trains I saw - the two specials as well as Kamayani had all the LTT and TNA GS coaches ahead towards the north where the other traveling public is very thin - hence this entire activity of queuing up and filling up GS coaches can be done peacefully. KYN however has a lot of activity towards the north as also the EMU crowd on the P/F 4/5/6/7 and hence the KYN GS coach was the southernmost so that the procedure could be carried out well in the southern end of the KYN p/fs without troubling others.

Of course once the train left these stations what would happen beyond NK/JL/BSL/ET, both in terms of crowding and availability of water, food etc. is anybody's guess. Possibly for a few old folk this may turn out to be their last journey of life itself done in by the heat and dehydration etc. - a macabre thought but certainly true in that this has been documented before.

By this time the Kamayani departed and I made my way to P/F 1/2 where the Matsyagandha 2619 to MAQ was scheduled - the WL here seemed to be slightly better and under control - also without wanting to sound politically incorrect, clearly the crowd profile was vastly different. The crowd also wasn't as vocal and raucous. It was interesting to see the luggage composition also - the eastern UP trains had people traveling with all sorts of colourful bag and baggage of varying sizes, shapes and made of all types of material varying from jute, cloth, tin (yes tin bags are a hit here) etc. etc. For the southern destinations there were smarter strolleys, carrybags and backpacks.

Some groups on the 2619 were probably for MAO and the `chilling out' had started on the P/F itself with their colourful hats and rather short clothes (not that I had a problem with the latter).

Also a very unique thing with the eastern UP trains is the collective whoopie that goes up with the first movement of the train as it departs. The travelling folk get a sendoff befitting someone going to the frontier to defend his nation but then looking at arduous 30 hour lying ahead in wait this is not tot much off the mark. Also in many case the folks of the platform would arts running alongside the train till the end of the P/F for last minute instructions, some fun, some hand-holding and possibly for some vicarious pleasure of having traveled part of the journey with the actual traveler - this scene was excellently enacted by Dilip Kumar in Ganga Jamuna where he goes to see off his brother who is head for the city - it happens only in India.

On my way out near the exit of the platform my attention was drawn to a bawling kid about 2-2.5 years old. Looking around seeing no one was interested in him, I was a little alarmed and started cajoling and asking him for his name etc. - his inability to stop and answer convinced me that he was separated from this parents. Asking a RPF jawan nearby to sit with the kid, I proceeded to the announcer's cabin to make the announcement who promptly did the needful and asked me to send the RPF jawan with the kid to the announcer's cabin.

As I finished my chai on my final exit, I checked up and was glad to see that the parents had been united with the now pacified child - the police on duty at the chowky of course took their swipe at the father rebuking him for his irresponsibility with the latter meekly accepting his fault and promising to be careful in the future.

Behind me the crowd for the late Pawan as also for the 2107 LKO S/F would start building up and then also for the evening and night PNBE S/F and 3202 etc. etc. apart from the daily BSB spl. from Dr(T) and the evergreen HWH mail via ALD and the Mahanagari from CSTM - the exodus continues relentlessly.

All in all - all is well that ends well.

P.S. If I thought that with the city emptied, the suburban local journey would be better and the crowd lighter, that was certainly not to be as I boarded the local at Tilaknagar - `yeh hai Bombay meri jaan'.

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