After a lengthy tight schedule at work, I thought of taking a small break and visit my hometown. I started from Palampur, Himachal Pradesh in the evening on a bus and came across a sight from my window seat where all the workers from factories, shops, government offices, drivers and many other people of different professions were rallying all along the roads shouting out slogans for their day. It was May Day!
After getting stuck in a lot of traffic jams, I reached Delhi at 5:45am the next day and in less than an hour, had a train from Delhi to Visakhapatnam, AP Express. I ran for it and managed to boarded the train on time. As you know, people with a confirm ticket maintain an attitude if someone’s sitting on their berth. In a similar fashion, I said, “Bhaiya mera booking hai, will you please go and sit somewhere else”. It only happened once as it was side-upper. I got comfortable and the train started moving, By now, I’ve initiated conversations with my co-passengers about what’s their destination, what they do and where they live as I was bored.
We had one Punjabi group and one from Mumbai in our coach. I overheard their conversations as the slangs of both the groups were totally different. A small example – while the Punjabi says “Oye meri gal suno oye” the Mumbai wala says “Baat sun le re bhai”. I was in the middle of two cultural settings. As time passed, we had our lunch accompanied with some lame jokes and political sarcasm. I plugged in my headphones after that with Rafi Saab and Manna Dey on the playlist in moderate volume. Next I read a book called Raga’n Josh by Sheila Dhar and got so engrossed in it that it was dinner time already. At Bhopal junction, I had an Anda (Egg) Biryani which was not so great but it was the only decent option. I came back to my berth to sleep.
When I was in deep slumber, I suddenly felt that someone’s rapidly tapping me. It was one of the co-passengers. He asked, “Would you like to have some cool drink?”, “Not now, I am sleepy. Let me sleep.”, I said but he was continuously asking me to step down. Annoyed, I got up and went down to have Thumbsup or Coke, whatever it was. He took me towards the lavatories and whispered to the attendant to get the drink. Meanwhile, I was thinking why did he send him secretly to bring it. Something was wrong. The attendant brought one bottle of Pepsi and another of McDowell’s No.1 within five minutes. I was stunned. On asking him about how he got it or did he bring it from outside, he replied that it’s his side business, to sell the alcohol for double the price and make money. The passengers get to drink and he earns some extra money. I was surprised and thought if this is happening only in my coach or in the other coaches also.
Curious, I went to the next coach and asked the attendant, “Daaru milega kya?”. He asked for Rs. 350 to bring me a 250ml bottle. Similarly, I went and asked in 4 other coaches, only to get the same response from all of them. The next morning, I asked one of the attendants who was not selling alcohol in his coach that whether it happens in all the trains. He told that this is a massive chain of business. 60% of them in all trains sell alcohol. So much of it is being sold illegally in Indian railways even though it’s a criminal offence and is officially prohibited. The attendants store them either in the pantry car or in hidden places like their lockers for keeping luggage.
After listening to him, I started researching on the internet about illegal alcohol sale in trains but couldn’t find any article or news about it. This means that it’s being done silently either with the support of the administration or so silently that they aren’t coming into limelight. Even the Samosa wala on the platform knows about it but no one wants to risk their lives by complaining. It might not be a serious problem today because no illicit incidents have happened but it has to be stopped before it expands. This is not just about illegal sale of alcohol but also shows how poor our security systems are. Today, it may be a bottle of rum but tomorrow it could be anything else.