Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The other side of the counter!

Hands on experience of almost a decade in Enquiry counter of a railway reservation office and I wonder how I am still sane and 'sound'. Everyday at the counter is an ordeal. Every shift a nightmare! The perfectly designed counters ensnare you with the tiny opening called the 'window' smaller than a mustard. Placing your mouth and ear at a vantage point so you can hear the passenger needs the precision of Abhinav Bhindra with his target.

A morning shift can always land you in trouble, mind you. The 'opening date' booking enthusiast would have forgotten to brush his teeth for the last two days and floss for a few years. You can secretly wish you could wear Armstrong's space suit to save you from the spray- a finely scented spray, far more effective than the pepper spray can idling in your hand bag. 

The evening shifts are no better either.  Hundreds of night trains plying across the nation run on diesel? Nah! They run on alcohol! is duty bound to drink booze and dance with the train if you have a night travel. If the dude's ticket is not confirmed, he is definitely going to gun for you- poor enquiry clerk with his 'booze scented' queries. You need an aspirin to clear your head and come to senses in the night after an evening shift.

The way questions are shot at and the speed- a rapid fire round of Siddharth Basu will take a beating. Always expect the most asked 'intelligent' question of all times- "Madam, will this ticket get confirmed?" Hope so, Sir, probably Waiting List 400 in second sleeper will get confirmed if they run two more trains the same day, same time. Tarot reading skills might be of help here...or rather you can look at the imaginary crystal ball and shake your head, say, " I think it will get confirmed, Sir". Or better call Paul, the Octopus to predict if Mr Sivasubramanian travelling on April 14th from Chennai to Delhi by Tamilnadu Express with waiting list number 200 will get a confirmed berth...

You need special skills to make the passenger understand train numbers. You say 16188 for the 21st time when he asks you one more it 16128? Some stalwarts write down the train numbers on applications themselves to avoid counting all the numbers like a KG kid! I am number - obsessed! I love to blurt out all the 5000 odd train numbers to the glass counter with a window 5 miles above my head!

Then there is our Doubt Dhanabal. Mr Dhanabal always has a doubt that the counter clerk is cheating him his hard earned money. He gets ticket in window 3, checks the fare in two more counters and finally comes to the enquiry with questions like 'what is the single fare? what is the senior citizen fare? what is the child fare'. He is so methodical that he sits back in a chair, counts 1 to 10 with all his fingers, at times uses his toes and fingers on his legs too to count. All this you can watch without a smile, mind you. One smile at him, he comes charging at you!

There is "i know everything, you know nothing" Mr Kalyanasundaram. He knows all train numbers, all status and fare, all quotas. Only thing he doesn't know is where the hell he is headed to. He asks availability in all classes, all dates, all trains and finally books a pooled quota waiting list 50 when you can smile sweetly and wish he gets his berth confirmed;) 

Ahhh...can you forget the 'enquiry families'? The whole family is on an enquiry spree. They prepare in advance a questionnaire to be asked, the order never changes, the tone remains the same and the family members attack you at regular intervals with the same questionnaire. Be glad if the family is small- 5 or 6 members. Imagine what would be left in your mouth if the number shoots to 15 or 16;) Someone has to carry you back home in a stretcher!

Be prepared to never laugh or even smile when you are asked " which platform does the Gorilla express arrive?" ( ahem...It is the Kurla Express!) or " Can i book a ticket for sambak gandhi express?" ( That would be Sampark Kranti Express!) "Is there a separate queue for Taatkal" ( That is tatkal;)) And there are few who refuse to acknowledge Karagpur and Gorakpur are different, Kashi, Varanasi, Benares are the same. 

Thank your lucky stars if you don't encounter  a senior citizen who forgot his hearing machine at home. Imagine how you would feel when your stomach churns for food at 1 pm and this gentleman approaches you sans his hearing machine with a hundred enquiries. You are doomed! 

The next time you encounter someone in the enquiry without a smile in her face, please know that she is over worked. Know that she has shouted out her lungs to someone. Know that the chair in which she sits has seen atleast 10 summers. Know that she has children back home wailing for food. Know that she is simply a 'human' too!

p.s.: This is what a shift in enquiry counter can do to you;) Extremely bitchy post!
p.p.s.: Seriously trying to overcome the writer's block. Probably it is now the size of a boulder!
p.p.p.s.: Summer in my place is a bliss, provided you sit at home 24*7 under the AC and transform into a frog. Even then, I would be searching for the Frog Prince :P