The Grumpy Traveller On Mean-spirited Train Passengers

In a column from 2014, Amit Dixit writes about how easily tempers can flare inside an Indian Railways train
A train station in Chennai
A train station in ChennaiFlickr: Bernardo Ricci Armani

Travel brings out the worst in us. As a monthly Indian Railways train commuter stuck between the belligerence of Dilli and the rancour of Kolkata, I know this only too well. Usually, as the train trundles across the Yamuna river passengers shed their aggression, just as they assume it on cue on the journey back. Some cretins however are unable to make the transition.

The attendant, clearly new to the job, had botched up a dinner order. He agreed to bring a Continental meal but turned up with Indian instead. He promptly offered to rectify the mistake but, as a fresh order would have to be placed with the pantry car, this would entail some delay. The self-righteous customer lost his cool.

The Indian lunch menu on a train
The Indian lunch menu on a trainWikimedia Commons: Shah Naisargi

Nothing unusual so far. But all of it made the attendant extremely nervous. There had been two people allotted to the compartment but one had to be dispatched at the customer's command to fetch the superintendent from the other end of the train. This slowed down the dinner service dramatically.

The outraged passenger was part of a troop and blocked the attendant's path, saying he would not let him serve anyone else until the superintendent turned up with their complaint book. Phrases like 'contacts', 'minister' and 'sabka naukri jaayega' ('everyone's job will go') were flung in the air. The attendant shook like a leaf in the wind and blubbered inarticulately. Then the passenger stepped aside and burst into a hearty laugh. All of them laughed. There was a young woman with a glint in her eye who joined in to laugh cruelly with the men.

Train travel can be peaceful but it can also bring out the worst in people
Train travel can be peaceful but it can also bring out the worst in peopleFlickr: Richard Murrin

They kept at it after that: disrupting the service periodically, distracting the attendant, alternately teasing and threatening him, or sending him skittering with some unreasonable demand or another. Naturally, the terrified fellow mixed up some orders and forgot to serve others.

Didn't I say that travel brings out the worst in us? The effect was osmotic. The other passengers turned openly unpleasant as well, complaining about the temperature of the food, its quality, and even ranting about rats on a completely different train.

The tea tray on a train
The tea tray on a trainWikimedia Commons: SwingingUvula

In a relationship so unequal, I wonder why they were unable to tap into their compassionate side. Why couldn't they adjust? Were they unaware of their privileged status or were they just entitled boors?

Come morning and these blots on our species were at it again. The water for the tea wasn't hot enough. Where was their ready-made tea? Where was the complaint book? I flipped open my trusty MacBook and belted out this piece. It felt good with the cold tea.

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