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I was in the railway station waiting for the train to arrive. There were others in the platform, waiting anxiously. To remain calm when there is just three minutes to the scheduled arrival time of the train, requires one of the following to be true - 1. You are into Zen 2. You are so used to Southern railways 3. You are plain lazy. In my case, it was a mix of the three in the reverse order - in descending percentages. I was looking at one of the railway employees as he went through his daily chores on the tracks. I lost sight of him after few minutes. There was no train yet. A strange feeling crept into my mind, that the train might have arrived in another platform while I was following the man in blue and that I might have missed the train. It was then that I became conscious of the stinking conditions. The smell gave me the assurance that I was in real life waiting in the right platform. If you have watched 'Inception', you would understand if I call it my "Totem".
The auto-voice in railway PA system kept requesting passengers' attention with the trademark 'diding diding' sound. In a fraction of seconds, the train made its grand entry. I looked for the name board and confirmed that it was the train I was to take. People were running hitherto tither to to occupy the seats already reserved for them. I nonchalantly waited for coach D6. When the train stopped, D6 was right in front of me. I looked for my name in the name chart. It was there. Still, I knew I would feel comfortable only after the TTE had checked my ticket. I stepped in.
I knew where to find seat 97. I found it, but a lady was already seated there. That did not surprise me anyways. People board reserved compartments with highly optimistic hopes that someone somewhere would miss the train and destiny in collusion with the TTE would gift them such seats. But my aggressor had to find luck elsewhere because, 'Catching the train on time' runs in my blood, except on occasions when I miss a train. I had to tell her that 97 was my seat. She must have understood, but still she asked me if I had a reservation. After I gave the 'Indian affirmative' - that is - shaking the head up and down, she rose and let me perch. All the seats in my vicinity were occupied. The lady must have shifted to another coach...I thought.
In a few moments the train had started moving. People were sill trying to figure their seats mostly because those with unreserved tickets were still continuing their 'Occupy Empty Seats' movement. After some negotiations and sub-reservations, the population settled down, leaving some of the 'unreserved' travelers "seat-less in Seat-tle". I wanted to avoid assessing the demography of the standing travelers and decided to quickly immerse into a book I had brought.
Even as I was totally into the book, going through the chapters, I was aware of the commotions of a usual train journey. The sharing of biscuits, ground nuts, magazines, political ideologies, tourism guidelines, mutual care-taking of the seat for the toilet-goers. I reluctantly looked up after sometime and instinctively started assessing the travelers. I could see about 12 people standing near the doors, the vestibules and the pathways - women in late forties and sixties, school going kids and physically weak men. There were others whom I could not see from where I was seated.
The gentleman sitting opposite to me - must have been around 60 years of age - got up and went in the direction of the toilet. All of a sudden, the aggressor lady was back and she took the seat. In a moment she fell asleep...or acted so. I wondered what the gentleman was going to do when he returned. Would he wake her up and claim his seat back? After waiting for about five minutes, I went back into the book. But, my brain started working on the ideology dilemma - yet again.
People know very well that, on a Saturday, a train between Coimbatore and Chennai was going to be full. They are well aware that they are likely to travel the entire journey standing. Still, they opt to take the train even without a reservation. They may or may not know that boarding a reserved coach is a punishable offence. Those who board in spite of knowing it, do so hoping that the TTE would be benevolent. I wonder if they ever consider that the TTE, in letting them travel, fails in the duty he is paid for.
Do the old men, women and the children choose the option out of choice or out of compulsion? Do they have jobs and functions to be attended that are more important than the pain of a standing journey. I wonder whether I should get up and offer them my seat. Should I impose the burden of their irrational action, upon me in spite of having spent many minutes planning the journey and paying the extra cost for reservation?
Then I think about their possible compelling situations. It may have been a last minute plan change, it may have been an emergency. Theirs, may be a choice between having to travel standing in the bus or travel standing in the train. The choice may be between the price of bus ticket and train ticket. Or, it could be a case of having missed the previous train.
While I was into the above thoughts, I noticed that the gentleman had returned and he was standing near the door. The lady woke up for a moment, saw that the gentleman was standing at the door. He was not looking at her. She took him for granted and went back to sleep. The sixty year old man, seemed to have decided to sacrifice a few minutes of his travel time for the seemingly tired 40 year old woman. This man, was much elder to me. He had a reserved ticket with him. So, I thought I would be right in offering him my seat. I made up my mind, got up and went to him and asked him to take my seat. He took it readily, which meant, he badly wanted to be seated, but still was being noble in not waking up the lady. May be he was reminded of his daughter.
Many times it is difficult to choose if one should act like an individualist or communist or realist or communitarian or idealist. It is simpler to go by instinct - sans principles.