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Sleeper class and love for pigeon holes

July 16, 2011

It’s late in the evening. I am sitting in the train wondering what to write about after having just finished reading an essay by Arundhati Roy on Confronting Empire. The train is passing over a bridge and down there are a bunch of fishermen sitting around a fire. It reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a friend on how I like to travel more in Sleeper than in AC or more in train than in flight and how I dislike apartments. – No, it is not that I want to flaunt the coat of simplicity that I am wearing to gather attention.

Then why Sleeper? Why not AC compartment? – They are comfortable; they satisfy your desire for luxury, for getting served and more than that give you a sense of pride in yourself. And yet I hesitate to get into one. The reasons are innumerable ranging from the absurd amount of money (for me) that one needs to spend to ecological impact of each flight you take. Here however, I would like to touch a point closer to my heart – Freedom.

I come from a middle class family and we have mostly traveled in trains. I remember the first time I had flown. It was in 2004, when I was in college. I had to rush to Delhi for some visa interview. I was pretty excited. Like a king I went to the airport. Inside the plane I felt good but out of place. Something felt not right. Everyone inside the plane had this weird attitude, at least I thought so. I could not understand it then. Why would they not talk to each other (unlike in trains and buses). It was as if for everyone, everyone else was not worth talking to. And this observation turned stronger with each flight that I took. After completing IIT, I joined IFC and in Sept 2008 had to fly from Mumbai to Ahmedabad for some client meeting. They booked business class tickets for me and I was jumping with joy. Business Class – I would be treated, served like a king I thought. And so it happened, I went to the lounge, and then inside the plane, to sit on the grand seats. The seats were indeed comfortable and the lunch was served in plates and bowls. All this and I was again not feeling good rather miserable. In the next flight which followed after a few weeks, I felt suffocated. Here the condition was worse. Everyone sitting there would not even look at anyone else (let alone talk to). A little formal greeting followed by a smile and that was it. I felt as if I was sitting with plastic bags puffed up with pride and not human beings. All my excitement died down and I craved to get back, to be with the people again.

Well it’s been a year and a half since I have quit my job and have spent most of the time travelling. And it’s back to the old days, back to sleeper trains and buses, and at times general class compartments (as I do not have much in account to enjoy more lavish journeys). I do miss the comfort and attention at times. I do feel that a little more hygiene in sleeper compartments would do no harm. But something inside me makes me feel good.

Here I am free, at home – free not to bind myself to the high class etiquettes, free to hide myself from the hot Sun, free to feel the cold wind gushing through the windows, though my hair and let it flow all over my body, and the drizzle on my face when it is raining outside; free to talk to people, share food (everything ranging from fruits to puris and sweets) and the little joys and sorrows of life within a 15 hour long train journey; free to make as many friends as possible with every journey I undertake.

A little of me outside a little of everything inside

Could I say people in sleeper are more generous? May be not! I should not generalize it. But what I could definitely generalize is that people there are less plastic and more lively if not more friendly.

Before I post this, I have to reconfirm my views. And so I walk first to Sleeper class and then towards the second AC… and I see the gradual change – people sitting in all different interesting postures, talking to each other and then to those sitting perfectly, not much talking going on here and finally in second AC to those sitting well hidden behind their curtains, definitely not talking to each other. I do not know what they were doing as I could not see them and neither could they.

It reminds of the time when we had moved from a place near Lucknow to Noida. I was only 8 then. My mother looked at the buildings (apartments) and said, “How can people live in these pigeon holes?” – I guess we get used to it, don’t we – to an extent that we try to build our own pigeon holes wherever and whenever, sometimes behind the curtains. We get used to living in apartments without even knowing who our neighbor is. Reminds me of Shingnapur, a village somewhere in Maharashtra, where the local houses have no doors and no panes on the windows. One uses either wooden planks or curtains on the doors just to ward off stray animals. The practice of bolting or locking the houses is conspicuous by its absence. As per the villagers: “We don’t find this practice strange anyway. We have been doing it for thousands of years. We keep our money and valuables in a bag or a box; they are never stolen.” With every step we take to secure our well being and for everything we gain, we lose a little bit of freedom.

I write this sitting in 3rd AC compartment, going from Chennai to Delhi and it is raining outside. I know if in Sleeper I would have spent this time looking out of the window and feeling the rain on my palm…

12 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2011 00:57

    Nice uncle ..Some people are not made for that AC class .. like me …I get sick if travel in AC bus or train and once i spent few hours in train and felt dizzy and nauseated .. i am having headache since I joined office due to AC ..go to cafeteria every now n then to get fresh air just like I used to do in IIM 😛


    • July 16, 2011 02:27

      ha ha yeah I remember that in IIM… towards the end I had started sitting outside with my laptop.. hope ur cafeteria space is green enuf 🙂


      • July 18, 2011 10:06

        The cafeteria is not green but it’s open ..but soon they are going to pack it and AC will start 😦 ..then I will be going to terrace
        I used to sleep below that neem tree in IIM where they had that bench was awesome 😛


  2. Anteneh permalink
    July 16, 2011 01:03

    When I start reading you experience, I thought that you are writing the same thing that I felt.
    I am very surprised about how people live together like strangers, but what we can do this is the world. Specially the smiley face which is completely a lay! This is life here in USA people afraid each other to talk to someone they simply give you a covered smile and go away from you.
    That is life. How can life be so sweet without friends without family?????????
    Any ways Thank you very much for expressing your internal felling there are a lot of people like you that have the same feeling.


    • July 16, 2011 02:24

      Anteneh, thank you for sharing your feeling. Knowing you as a friend, I am not surprised that you share the same feelings. Yes, we need people, community, family and friends to make our lives sweet and interesting. Probably because you too come from a place where once life and simplicity was valued more than systems and institutions… Hope to see you soon


  3. Rihana permalink
    July 16, 2011 02:48

    thanks for sharing this Amit. I can say that what you write is so close to many of our hearts. Honestly speaking I have felt the same in flights, in office, in parties, in malls and when that happens I too crave to get back to “the people” again


    • July 16, 2011 12:09

      thank you for sharing this… what say shall we could start a movement – “getting back to people” 😉


  4. July 17, 2011 16:21

    Nice post .
    On a humid afternoon sitting in the sleeper class of a train when all of a sudden the train crosses a 3km long bridge over the Brahmaputra there is a sudden gush of cool air and respite.I have felt the way u have many times , every train journey has a story to tell.


    • July 18, 2011 00:30

      thanks baccha… yes after having read ur travelogues am sure u wld have njoyed many a cool gushes of wind and water 🙂


  5. July 28, 2011 22:42

    Hi Amit.. enjoyed reading your post. What you have penned is exactly what I always wished to write. I have travelled second class for over two decades and the kind of experience I have gained with my travel is unbelievable. I always used to look at planes while travelling in the Mumbai locals and wished I could fly atleast once and life definitely had more than what I had aspired. With hundreds of flight journeys in economy and business I never could feel the sense of oneness. What pleasure I derived out of my second class train journeys was never felt in these flights. I have made excellent friends in trains, ate the best of junk food and smell of diesel left at the end of the journey still makes me feel happy. Your blog helped me remember my old days.


    Shankar Ramanathan


    • July 28, 2011 22:57

      Thank you for sharing that Shankar… I am glad it did. Hopefully you will get to make a lot more friends, have a lot more junk and get to enjoy every tiny bit of freedom in future too 🙂 Take care



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