"Chai le lo"... A terse and shrill voice fell into my ears that raised me from my deep slumber. In half sleep I ignored it.. and perhaps so did other passengers in my bay. Few bays ahead, a commotion grabbed some of my attention, but in search of some more sleep I again chose to ignore it. Few minutes later, another round of "Chai le lo... time ho gaya" (Take tea, its time)... This made the other half of the sleep go away as well. Few seconds later I realised what was the shouting and commotion was all about. It was the shout from the waiter of the 2442 waking up passengers, well rather forcibly, at 0530 in the morning to have morning tea!! And when I finally came to senses, I realised how non sense the things had become onboard 2442!!
The next few paras are full of Rajdhani bashing so if you want some peaceful time ahead, avoid reading further.
It was summer of 2002 (if I recall correctly) when I had my first ride onboard the Rajdhani express. I still remember my excitement of booking the tickets on the newly introduced New Delhi Bilaspur The Rajdhani Express. I had gone to Sarojini Nagar booking counter pillion riding on the scooter with dad. And I had to generously contribute my pocket money of 25 Rs which I had preciously kept in my newly acquired wallet. Being in school wallet wasnt a thing that I had to take to school. But I was feeling a bit grown up to take it with me for booking a Rajdhani ticket. And the perseverance did pay, or atleast I did pay those 25 Rs, out of how much I wont know. The booking clerk's face who booked my first Rajdhani ticket suggested him to be of North East origin. My limited height meant there wasnt much I could peep in the counter. But a sum from dad and my 25 Rs yielded us back a Rajdhani ticket. And then the sleepless nights started. The day of journey was still away but the ticket started giving goosebumps. On the time table, to see a two stop run from New Delhi to NGP was excitement unlimited. And when we had finally boarded The train, I was awestruck by the chilled airconditioner, neatly dressed waiters, fragrance all around, a maroon carpet that welcomed us into the most prestigious class on IR.
We had a SL/SU and SL/SU on adjacent bays. The announcements started informing us about the travel and so did the rich servings. It was 2040 dep from NDLS on those days, and as soon as the train started we were handed a welcome sweet bun. Everything was plain impressive. The food, the ambience, the personal lights of 2A (it was an airline style white colored light rather than the steel one). The dinner was rich in items and cutlery. It used to take good fine minutes to get the tray in eat-ready condition. So many things to open.. the neatly packed spoon and forks, salad and the curd in the earthen pot. Morning had a chocolate pair, biscuit pair and a thermos-cup combo for the morning tea. Sipping it with the train rolling in the ghats between ET and NGP is an experience beyond my literary capability.
In those days, such was the aura and service of The Rajdhani Express that could make one take the name with respect.
Well, that was good 12 years back. Had a plenty of trips on 2442 and then came its change of schedule and in came the sampark Kranti. All this ensured that trips in 2442 reduced and almost stopped. Last Saturday, the stars aligned to bestow upon me another trip on the 2442. The excitement wasnt as in the 2002 but some of it was still there. Being a railfan always keeps one excited for the special journeys.
The 2442 still sports my favourite ICF livery and this time it had no Duronto mismatch. Pure Rajdhani livery through all (7Bs+5As+1H). EOGs as usual had Shatabdi band as a "jugaad". The livery standing proudly in Pf 15 looked so much more handsome than the dumb LHB livery of Poorva on Pf 16 and DBRT Raj on Pf 14. DBRT Raj had arrived and was empty. Looking at the livery, I was swarmed by the excitement yet again, and felt to be treated like 2002 yet again. But as soon as stepped inside, I was reminded that it wasnt 2002. And as the journey progressed, I was convinced that we haven't come 12 yrs ahead, we had gone 120 yrs back as far as 2442 is concerned.
We began from NDLS dot on time, but before NZM itself we had made more stops than what we were scheduled for all the way to NGP! We crawled through NZM a brief sprint near Okhla and again a crawl. When this start stop happened too many times, I surrendered myself to the fate and that crushed my hope of a superfast ride on the fastest section of IR. The run looked on time, but it was nowhere close to what a Rajdhani was supposed to run. We were to allow all greens till two three blocks ahead but the acceleration and deceleration pattern suggested all we were getting were double yellows at best. Bored by these interruptions in the run, I looked for that elusive Rajdhani treatment elsewhere. Soon enough came the first serving from the pantry.
The tray looked pathetic to say the least. The oiled kachori was a particular eyesore and the tray looked a far ask from photographs one will find on internet onboard other Rajdhanis. Had I taken a picture and posted, it would be censored as "A" from CBFC. The flasks were all gone and so were the chocolates. Tea was served from a big container (the way it is served in other trains) and you had to bring your cups to the container to have your boiled water. Now was that a Rajdhani or a Central Jail? The miserable evening snacks done and I feared the worst for dinner. Meanwhile a fellow Bengali passenger was quick to comment how excellent is Rajdhani food in Eastern twins. I could only nod in affirmation seeing my dear 2442 reduced to trash.
The non Rajdhani run would continue as we overtook Gondwana and others enroute to MTJ and further to AGC. We had taken a good 30 min more than what we should have taken as per my calculations. The soup meanwhile came even when it wasnt dark outside! And no points in guessing that it was not even warm. Thankfully the pantry guys let the sun go down before serving the dinner. And the dinner was a pure disaster. We were served a plastic spoon! The salad was gone and so was the pickle. The lesser said about prepared food the better. Seeing all this, I could only think that its high time food is made optional in 2442. CGSK food was much better served than this rubbish in 2442. Before JHS, Barista's vanilla cup came and thankfully vanilla never disappoints. Only, second thing that looked unchanged since 2002. JHS arrival was a good 20 min delayed. By then every penny of excitement had evaporated and I dint bother the quantum of delay since then.
Morning was supposed to be pleasant but for the episode in the opening paragraph. The pantry guy woke up everybody like a prisoner of Tihar Jail to serve the tea!! Needless to say, he was shouted away from every bay. This is not what you are supposed to do at 5:30 in the morning. Newspapers were missing and the pantry guy kept saying one thing or the other when people asked for the tea at 07:15 or so. I woke up finally at around 0730 and 10 min later we stopped into Gondia. An irritant of a stop for me. If I had my way, I would have let 2442 fly through the station at 10 kmph more than the MPS. The platform and the train looked alien to each other. Noone boarded neither anyone alighted. Looked like an unscheduled halt. And finally came the turn of the breakfast. If dinner was a spoiler, I have no adjectives left to describe breakfast. Again the tea in the jail manner and again the chocolate pair was missing.
After this ordeal, the classic part was yet to follow. Even after ensuring an inmate like treatment to everyone, the pantry guy came asking for a "tip"!! And some passengers were generous enough to give him some! A sardarji in side lower put a 100 Rs note and stretched his hand out to take back 50Rs note from the tray. At this the pantry guy protested. Sardarji finally took it when he threatened withdrawal of 100Rs! Dad was angry enough and the tip ritual further agitated him. We plainly refused and the PC guy persisted.. "Sahab itna khilaaya pilaaya aapko" (we served you so much).. At this in a controlled anger, Dad shot him back.. "this is your duty". He still persisted and it all looked like begging!! (I am sorry but this is what it all looked like). I only looked out of the window as the train entered Durg maintaining its 20 min delay.
After Raipur, entire B3 was empty save 6-7 passengers. The train though rumbled on and deposited us on BSP Pf 6 at 12:05. The most forgettable timely run I ever had. When I deboarded, the train looked like alien. It was faar from what my 2442 used to be.. the 2442 which I personally enjoyed.
On a side note, complaint book was thoroughly refused. With everything in shambles, I was left wondering what complaint will do. To complain about one or two things is another issue, but here, everything needed an overhaul. The existence of Rajdhani the class was under threat!