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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Happy 2009 to Me: A tale of travel told in tickets

I guess you know by now that I have a bizarre fascination for tickets and things of this nature. I can't explain why because I don't really know about this myself. All I do know is, that I'm very interested in showing the world the quirky life that I lead. Having said that, it's time to get on to the show-and-tell session.

I was travelling on New Year's Eve, an unfortunately common event in the last couple of years, and I happened to have not known about what was waiting for me when I got to my destination. Oh, my destination, that's right, the beautiful town of Thalassery.He's got a ticket to...Kannur? Christened "Tellicherry" by the British, it has gone back to it's former name, both officially and unofficially. But that's another story for another time. Pointing to exhibit A, this is what an Indian Railways ticket looks like. The details on the first line are the PNR No., Train No., Date, K.M. (which is indicative of distance I would imagine), Adult, Child, and blank. "Blank" denotes that there's something in Hindi on the top, but I can't read Hindi so I don't know what it is. I could have someone read it for me, but it's 7am and there's no one else about at this insane hour. So, as details for the next line go, we see that the date of journey is the 31st of December, 2008, and the distance the journey covers is 488 kilometres in length. Not too bad, and a quick glance at the bottom of this ticket stub, if I can call it that will reveal that "SCH DEP" on "31-12" is "19:25", while "ARR" on "01-01" is "05:45". That's about ten hours and ten minutes, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The "Adult, Child" thing is a grand total of the number of people there are traveling on this journey. When you book a ticket, they put a maximum of six people on one ticket, and it could be any combination of adults and children. Wish I had an example of that, but I was traveling all by my lonesome now, wasn't I. Come to think of it, it sounds a bit like the score for some parent vs. children game. Adults 2, Children 2. "It's a tie!"

The next line says "JOURNEY CUM RESERVATION TICKET" and "PRS-MAS". I can only imagine that the first part of the line refers to the fact that you can travel on Indian Railways without reservations, and I'm not referring to the fear or anxiety that one may have towards travel by train. The next part seems to refer to the sector in which this train operates. Or maybe, it's where the main hub of the ticket booking system is located; PRS being the abbreviation for Passenger Reservation System, and MAS being the code for Chennai, formerly Madras.

Moving on, because I don't care to explore the details of line 3 further, we come to more Hindi text below which we see "SL" in an obscenely large font that seems to indicate it's by far the most important detail here, followed by "TRIVANDRUM CNTL", "KANNUR" and "RESV.UP TO...774". No idea what that last one means, but "SL" refers to the "Class" of travel as denoted just above it, "TRIVANDRUM CNTL" is the starting point of my journey, Trivandrum Central Railway Station, and "KANNUR" is where I was asked to book my ticket until so that I could be assured a reservation. Not having a reservation is painful. Please take my word for it. The horror...THE HORROR!

This next ticket is one for the local train from Thalassery Station to Jagannath Temple Gate. That's a distance of 3 kilometres, but my uncle suggested that I do that in case it was difficult trying to find transport early in the morning, on a3 kms? No I don't want a taxi. I'll take the train "hartal" day. I usually walk it from town because it's a nice walk and you avoid the harsh South Indian noonday sun, and I find that I like walking in general. But my uncle thought it amusing to mention to me that they might arrest someone like me, dressed in my long kurta and with my unshaven visage. Pretty astute, because it would have been a year since I last saw him, and I still go home looking the same, eh? But, coming back to this ticket, it cost me two rupees -- close to four cents when you convert it to USD -- and it was issued at "05:19" on "01/01/2009". Happy New Year to ME!!!

Oh a note of interest, the Jagannath Temple Gate stop is so named because it is near the Sree Jagannath Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva and consecrated over a hundred years ago by Sree Narayana Guru. Also of interest perhaps, is the fact that the word "juggernaut"in English is derived from the name Jagannath.

Moving on, again, this last ticket is the one I have from my return journey. Similar to the first one, the main similarities are the obscure signature, or scrawl indicating that this ticket has been checked. Oh, not to mention the fact that my name isn't on either of them. He's got a ticket back to workThis has always been kind of scary for me, but the fact of the matter is that there seems to be a method to this madness. What do I mean? Well, a person's name is on the list that the TT -- the person who checks your ticket -- carries around. When he shows up, you bust out your ticket and he just checks to see that you are who you said you were when you first made the reservation. In this case, he just looked up to check if I was "M", "28" and that I was occupying "Seat 9 - Berth SU" in "Coach N4" which happens to be a "SU" seat (Side Upper). The other variations of "Berth" are "U" for "Upper", "M" for "Middle", "L" for "Lower", "SU" as I've just mentioned above, and "SL" for "Side Lower". There's also "SM" for "Side Middle" which makes the previously much sought after SU berth that much more cramped. And that much less sought after, I guess. Coming back to the name thing though, you can also find your name on the reservation chart at the station of origin of your journey, and on the side of the compartment -- or "bogey" as we call it -- so that you can confirm that the details of your seating/sleeping arrangements match what's on your ticket stub, and has your name against it. Wait, did you think I was being vain? Did you think I wanted to see "Rohin Kallat" in flashing lights, with fireworks displays going off the moment I entered the railway station? Sheesh, I'm not that bad you know. Not yet, anyway... ;-)

Last, but certainly not least, and honestly I hate starting a paragraph like that. But what to do, eh? Like I was saying though, here's Stop...woah oh wait a minute Mr. Auto...Rickshaw...Driver...Person...whateverthe last ticket for this year. It's the Pre-Paid Autorickshaw Service ticket for my ride from Trivandrum Central station to the workplace. It's interesting that it says "A Joint Venture of City Traffic Police & City Corporation, Thiruvananthapuram" because it indicates the fact that the police have had to be dragged into the fray to keep the autorickshaw drivers honest. Can't say that it's completely successful, from personal experience mind you, but, at least it's a step in the right direction. Only one rupee for the ticket, and 36 rupees to get to work. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was how this year started. A tale told in tickets.

One last point of interest is the printer who provides the blank tickets would probably have made a killing! Come on, we know how things go when it comes down to government contracts and how they're won, right? I'm not in any way, shape or form implying that Rational Business Corporation has engaged in this kind of nefarious activity. All I'm pointing to is the fact that corruption is rampant in this country, whether or not we were ranked 90th on the Global Corruption Index, by Transparency International, as well as the fact that getting a government contract is usually a big deal, financially speaking of course. Is there such a thing as an "Irrational Business Corporation"? Just kidding...

Looks like 2009 started off with a bit of the same old rambling after all, eh? And about the travel? Well, I was asleep when the ball dropped in this great land, and it wasn't like people were staying up to celebrate either. Not on the train, anyway. Oh well, the simple pleasures of life...

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