Economic Divide. A train ride
October 11, 2005
Pune Railway Station. 18:00 hrs. Destination : A Pune suburb. Mode of Transportation : Local Train.
At the ticket counter, I request for a first-class ticket. The ticket collector looks at me for a few seconds, states the price and on second thoughts says (in English), “I think you should be with the ladies in the ladies compartment. Take a regular ticket.” I follow his advice and duly march towards the a bench on the platform where a few ladies are sitting.
18:10 hrs. The silent platform suddenly is buzzing with activity. College students discussing the day’s highs and lows, white collar workers whining about their bosses, blue collar workers resigning quietly after the day’s work, low wage workers squatting on the ground and above all this noise hawkers shouting loudly selling chat (read: junk food), biscuits luring prospective customers.
18:15 hrs. The loud speaker announces that the local train is on time and is expected in a few minutes. People get up and move towards the edge of the platform. Boyfriends bid goodbye to girlfriends.
18:20 hrs. As the train pulls in, it sends a shiver down my spine. As a kid, I fell from a moving local train close to the platform and was lucky to come out alive. Since then, I have a train phobia and avoided traveling by one for many years. When a express train zips past at 80 Km ph or one pulls into the station, I shudder looking at the moving monster. Thankfully, this local train pulled into the station very slowly.
If you are seeing one such train for the first time, you could get a heart attack and die in shock. The train was overflowing with people, some were hanging out of the door with a iron handle standing in the way of their life and death. Before the train stopped, people disembarked (well, jumped) out so adeptly that they have done all their lives. It was a shock but then this is INDIA. Anything and everything can happen if you can’t find your way through a country with over 1 Billion people.
Once the train stopped fully, everyone was pushing one another to get into the bogies. The trains stop for 30 seconds at every station. No fancy doors. If your feet slips, you could be on the tracks counting the last minutes of your life. I was behind not pushing anyone. Apparently, the people behind pushed me and with the natural force I got in. Once in, I found a few inches to keep my feet and myself in balance.
Despite warnings from acquaintances refraining me from taking the train during the peak hour which it was, I took the train. Thanks to my driver who called in sick. You might ask what was I thinking? Honestly, I don’t know and wasn’t sure quite what to expect. But I’m glad I did it because —
The scene inside was a representation of the real India. Ladies of multicultural, multilingual background from the middle and the lower segments of the society chatting away with no strings attached. Discussing their festival plans, discussing work, college students talking about guys.
It was a slap in the face. The India IT has made us forget. Bangalore and Hyderabad is not India. That is the India the world knows about. As we gloat in our status having lived for the past few years in the comforts of plush offices/residences and commuting in a chauffeur driven car and shopping in malls and vacationing in foreign destinations and huge disposable incomes, the IT generation is leaving their past behind. But the past hasn’t vanished. It is still a reality for some.
This is the true face of India. According to a recent McKinsey report, an estimated 695,000 people are employed by the Indian IT and business-process -outsourcing industry. Sure, it is a large number. Interestingly, it is a meager 0.0695% of India’s population. These 695,00 odd people are the envy of the rest of the Indians. Our older generation toiled hard but couldn’t make it big. There is a huge economic divide and you can sense it in the railway stations. Be adventurous and go on one yourself!