North and South

My wife and I prefer to travel sleeper class and not in the AC coaches on the many 12+ hour train journeys we do. We have a simple rule – when we travel anywhere in South India, we buy sleeper class tickets but on North Indian routes we travel by AC. This is because the trains, for example between Kolkata and any place in South India, seem to have twice the number of people the sleeper class compartments can accommodate. It was bad to start with, but in the recent past the Indian railways have been slowly reducing the number of non-AC sleeper coaches and increasing the AC 3-tier coaches. This must be the bright idea of someone high up in the railway hierarchy to reduce the losses made by our passenger trains. The people who suffer are the poor who are forced to travel like cattle and, of course, some people like me and my wife who prefer to travel by sleeper class but are forced to buy AC tickets to avoid the impossible rush.

My wife and I were on a train from Delhi to Visakhapatnam recently and we calculated that Visakhapatnam was not on the especially crowded route and decided to try out the sleeper option. Our train was starting from Delhi at 8 pm and we were to reach Visakhapatnam after a 32-hour journey. Fortunately, we had two upper berths and got into them as soon as the train started moving. The compartment looked all right and we went to sleep reassured that our decision of travelling by sleeper had paid off. At Agra, 3 hours from Delhi, a huge crowd got in and brought back our memories of a nightmare journey on a Kolkata train many years ago. There were five people sleeping on the two lowest berths below us and people sleeping in between them on the floor and all along the corridor as far as we could see. When I went to the toilet at night I had to navigate in between the sleeping limbs and heads. This story had a good ending because the crowd emptied at Nagpur in the late morning and the next 24 hours of our journey was like travelling on our nice South Indian trains.

I wanted to bring this story up to highlight not just the differences in what public transport feels like between North and South India but also to point to something else. It seems to me that there is a difference in the harshness of people’s behaviour between these two parts of our country. To me, the Northern part feels somewhat more threatening than the much gentler Southern part. For example, the rough looking five friends on the two berths below us – their language and the stories they were telling each other are not something I expect to hear anywhere on public transport in South India. Now, I may be overreacting or making generalisations from too little data but what has your experience been? When you travel around, does North India feel more aggressive than the South?

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