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Leave home at 6.30 in the morning and you’re in office by 10.45 am.There are lakhs of ‘Mumbaikars’ who do that each morning, travelling from Kalyan, for example. They trudge from home to the station, get into a train that’s packed to the rafters, If they’re lucky, they get a seat and can travel the journey to CST in relative comfort. Most aren’t lucky, though. It’s the same story in the evening, as they board a packed train, standing almost all the way back, and then make their way from the station to their residence.There are a few thousand who have it better. For them, it’s a 15 minute trek to the station, they sit comfortably, have a couple of cups of tea or coffee, a hot and tasty breakfast, a visit to a the loo (which is clean) just before the train pulls in at CST, disembark on a... Read more...
clean and uncrowded platform and make their way to work.On the Deccan Queen, there is a clear pecking order, one that brooks no debate or argument Abhijit Tembhekar via Flickr. Except that they’re not Mumbaikars; they’re travelling 198 km by train, from Pune. That’s their commute – almost 400 km per day, not counting the distance from home to station, station to office, office to station and station to home.They’re members of the army that is the season ticket travellers on the Deccan Queen. They can choose from AC Chair car or second class chair car and make themselves comfortable in bogies reserved for season ticket holders only.It’s a very different morning for these commuters than it is for someone who lives in, say, Dombivili or Mira Road. Reach Pune station in the morning and you queue up, in an orderly manner, separately for AC and second classes. The train enters the platform and you queue in, again in an orderly manner. If you’re lucky, you enter when there are still free seats. If you’re late, you stand, but it’s not an uncomfortably packed coach.You’re late, so you’re standing, and another passenger ambles in at 7.08 am, two minutes before the train begins the journey to Mumbai. He makes his way up the aisle and walks up to an occupied seat. He stands, silently, as a few passengers explain, gently, albeit firmly, to the occupier of that particular seat, that he has to get up and allow the Regular his Regular seat.That’s your first realisation that the Season Ticket compartments form a club in themselves. They are the members of this club; they make the rules. The older you’ve been doing the trip, the greater your say, that’s how it works.There’s no entry fee; it’s a democratic institution. There is, however, a clear pecking order, one that brooks no debate or argument. So you get up, unhappily (though you were one of the first in the queue), and stand as the train pulls out of the station. Within minutes, the catering staff arrive, serving tea and coffee to the privileged class, those who have been Regular. You try and catch the attention of a waiter; he shushes you, and tells you he’ll be back.As the Regulars finish their beverages and get down to reading the newspapers, working on their laptops and making their phone calls, you wait. Finally, your coffee arrives.As you wonder whether you get breakfast on the train, some waiters are back, plonking food on table after table. You see a Regular get served an omelettte with buttered toast, another Regular has idlis and vadas. The waiter passes you, pretending you don’t exist, as he goes about his business. As he heads back to the pantry car he asks you what you want. There’s hardly any conversation.As the Regulars catch a power nap, as the train approaches Lonavala. It’s the only time the train will stop before Dadar. It’s not a ‘stop’ for passengers; it’s a technical halt to allow a second engine to be added, to increase power as the train makes its way through the western ghats.It’s getting eerily quiet now and you’re still standing, watching through the windows as the world goes by at a steady 60 kmph. Waiters walk around desultorily, because they have to, and push coffee and tea. You buy a cup of coffee to stay awake.As the train crosses Kalyan, the Regulars start waking up all over again. They check their phones for messages, power up their laptops, get ready for the day. They glance at their watches; the train’s on time, as it is, unusually, almost always. There’s a flurry of action as the train reaches Dadar, and the bogie more than half empties. You sit down, gratefully, as the disgorged train trundles on to CST.It’s 5.00 pm, and you’re on the platform at CST waiting in the queue. You’re one of the first, but, by now, you know better than you did in the morning. You stand, as the Regulars take their places. Even before the trains begins the journey back, waiters come around with fresh, cold lime juice. You grab a glass and glug it down.You’re a little puzzled, as you see people seated differently. The atmosphere is different from the morning; the Regulars are actually talking to each other, laughing with each other. The day is done, and they’re on their way home. A group is playing bridge, another is playing rummy, a third is discussing the stock market and yet another is worried about corruption.One of the Regulars is walking down the aisle, handing out invitation cards to his daughter’s wedding, talking to each Regular for a moment. Another is distributing sweets; his daughter gained admission to a reputed engineering college. A group has decided to go to Main Street for a drink, since tomorrow’s Saturday. Another plans to meet at the Races on Sunday. One of the Regulars pulls out a wad of cash, it must be at least Rs.25,000, and hands it to another, saying thank you, I’m sorry I was late in returning the money. A Regular is talking to a doctor, another Regular, about what can be done to his mother and her cholesterol levels.It’s 8.15 pm. The train approaches Pune, and there are quick goodbyes, a few hugs, promises to call and meet over the weekend. You watch and listen, and you feel like an outsider, an Intruder.Fret not, though. In a few months, you’ll be a Regular, a respected member of the club. And the Deccan Queen will be your home, too.