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A night in ‘RAC’, with half a berth

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He dropped like a stone from luxury to hell, and we exchanged smiles.

By evening I got a text message from the railways, and I was jumping with joy. My wait-listed ticket had been promoted to RAC, or reservation against cancellation. I was wishing thanks to all the 45 anonymous angels who had cancelled their tickets for me to get promoted thus. For, when I made the booking I was in wait list 45.

Then reality struck, and I realised this meant I may end up sharing a clumsy folded bed, roughly 5 feet by 2 feet, with another adult for several hours.

Boarded the train, fearing the reality of sleeping with a stranger.

As soon as I entered, both of us uttered in unison, ‘RAC?’, then ‘yes’, and started laughing at our own predicament. There was the simultaneous realisation that we were to be in it for the next nine hours, unless there was some ‘no-show’. That alone would let one of us move to a more luxurious full berth.

At this moment I realised that RAC passengers are treated like the scum of the Vrishabhavathi river. We are not provided any blankets, pillow, sheets... no, nothing! The attendant turned me away with a shrug, claiming he only had stuff for exactly 64 passengers, which was the berth capacity of the coach.

I walked back to my half berth, to pull out a rug from the baggage (Yes, I was prepared!).

My friend decided to occupy the upper side berth all to himself, until the passenger who was allocated that berth would board at a station three hours later — as he had found out.

And we both slept. Ahh, Hypnos take me away, Morpheus leave me with sweet dreams!

After what appeared to be just a few winks, my dry throat woke me for a sip from my bottle of water. Someone had switched off the ceiling fan and that was the cause of the misery.

I looked at my watch; the needles were aligned to 11-45 p.m. The train had ground to a halt. I crimped my eyes to read the name of the station, its platform lit by a lone fluorescent lamp. This was the station where my friend on the upper berth would be demoted to the agony of RAC again. I waited with a sarcastic grin, and the gods were not kind to him.

He dropped like a stone from luxury to hell, as anxious as I was, and we exchanged tired smiles. Then began the beautiful dance of sleep and jockeying for position.

For a few minutes we struggled to find the perfect alignment, an adaptation of ‘69’, in an opposite and linear alignment. He said: I’ll stretch my legs, you do the same. We carefully synchronised our movements, and within minutes both of us were in deep sleep.

But not so soon. The train now picked up speed (40 kmph to a steady 70 kmph), and the coach started to sway from one side to the other. I lost my balance and fell to the floor from my precarious perch. And miraculously the swaying stopped as if the gods realised they had injured an innocent creation.

By now my friend had turned into the proverbial camel in the tent. Seizing the opportunity he had stretched himself to occupy the entire berth.

I was distraught. What sin had I committed in my previous birth, to have this berth!

Mustering all my strength, I pushed and shoved my sleeping enemy (was a friend until a moment ago), and managed to get my spine onto the bed.

The time was 3 a.m., and I hoped to catch some sleep for the next four hours when the train was scheduled to reach my destination. Yes, finally I slept, and slept like a log!

Got down at the station ahead of mine, and took the bus home.

Ola, autorickshaw… no thanks!

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 11:31:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-night-in-rac-with-half-a-berth/article7626362.ece

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