I don’t know how many union governments present a rail budget every fiscal year but I do know that in India we couldn’t do without one. Simply because in our country, the rail budget directly and indirectly affects the lives of millions of people, belonging to all classes of society. Yes, even those who never travel by trains because they’re too evolved to mingle with the general public. This year’s rail budget was not too different from the past few rail budgets the Congress has presented, full of promises and ideas that are way too difficult to practically implement, sometimes so brutally obvious that people don’t even expect them to be implemented.
Take for instance, the AC coaches on Mumbai’s local trains. I travel by harbor line everyday and the state of affairs is pitiful to say the least. Over the last five years, I’ve travelled several times on the central line and western line too and the situation while a little better is still not far from pitiful. Bear in mind that I’m not a cynical pessimist who bashes the government unnecessarily. But AC coaches is just fucking ridiculous. Anyone who has travelled in Mumbai’s railway trains will know that having an AC coach should be the least of our priorities right now. Our railway stations are home to thousands of homeless, drug addicted, diseased men and women who live like the world is their oyster and just because they can’t afford a shanty or a slum dwelling, it shouldn’t keep them from using the platform like a spacious living room. Not that I don’t sympathize with their plight, but I kinda don’t. Not if you collect used mineral water bottles to buy smack and call it a lifestyle. But that’s not the railways’ problem. It’s certainly not the police’s who’re stationed at every station, little or large, busy or desolate. For the constable stationed at a railway platform, life’s just an excuse to judge every passing passenger, waiting for meal times and awaiting a transfer. The railways’ problem is not theirs to attend to. They’re cops after all. Their job is to catch Dawood Ibrahim, the day he shows up on Kurla station without a platform ticket or doesn’t pay 5 bucks to take a leak. Nothing else is worthy enough of their services. I know this because I once asked a female constable to attend to a child who didn’t look like he was just asleep in the subway connecting Canon Pav Bhaji and CST. The least the constable could have done is taken a bottle of water to revive the poor thing. But she couldn’t leave the passenger helpdesk. Because that would mean disturbing the perfect butt imprint she had caused by the prolonged geological pressure of her bottom. She was in the middle of creating art. The passed out child could wait. Sadly though as uncharacteristic as it was for me to bother about another fellow human, I had a train to catch and lectures to attend. (Attend, being the operative word). I moved on with my life. God know what happened to the kid. God knows what happens to all such kids. It doesn’t keep me up at night and God knows, it doesn’t keep our butt artist up at night. It’s like the police and the railways are competing over who can be more incompetent. Once again, bear in mind that as far as concerned citizens go, I’m far from being one of them.
Everyday, people die while crossing the tracks. It’s easy to blame them. It’s fair too. They were stupid enough to risk their lives because they didn’t want to climb a flight of stairs. Some of them cant because their knees hurt. Well, life’s hard. But I can’t help but think of the stations that do not have functioning foot over bridges. Or as the railways call them “Ad spaces for English speaking courses”. People who die everyday because they have no choice but to cross railway tracks don’t die, they’re murdered. Because the railways are busy making AC coaches for those who can afford to drive to Vikhroli in a Honda city. I mean, why drive a merc to office when you can take an AC coach to work, right? Fuck those poor assholes who die because there’s no foot over bridge, they’re poor! Nobody cares! Certainly not the railways. The railways needs more rich people traveling by AC coaches. It makes for better train sequences in Bollywood movies. Never mind the people who die. It’s a small price to pay to watch Jackky Bhagnani travel by an AC coach with earphones on for a 10 second movie scene.
If I didn’t bother writing railways with a capital R, it’s because like I mentioned, I’m far from being a concerned citizen. Like the police, I’m just here to watch.