Recalling a Train Journey

About three years ago, Dilip D’Souza concluded that liberalization had done little to improve India’s economy. I had pointed out that his conclusion was fantastic because it was based on just one train journey and a few anecdotal evidences.

He now rarely writes about the economy but that shouldn’t deter me from ruminating on the economy in a similar fashion. Based on a train journey. But little or no anecdotal evidence.

First about the train itself. Travelling to Chennai from Bangalore by a Shatabdi is an informative experience. Once launched with much fanfare, this has metamorphosed itself into an overpriced, stuffy, uncomfortable and shoddily-serviced beast. About 12 years ago, the Shatabdi’s speakers greeted you with a string of welcoming pleasantries. This was followed by a flight-like sketch of the route, the services available on-board, and rounded off with a have a pleasant journey pleasantry. The train err..stewards served snacks–with rather surprising variety –at regular intervals.

Under Lalu Yadav’s booming train economy, the speakers have been muted, the variety reduced, and the taste, tasteless. You need to force yourself to feel cool to pretend the AC works, and the array of seats reminds you of the cramped seats of yesteryear cinema halls. Not to mention the take-it-or-leave-it attitude of the stewards when you politely question them about a minor lapse in the quality of service. To be fair, you cannot fault Lalu for everything.

Closer investigation reveals certain interesting findings. They actually stare at your face.

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Back to Dilip D’Souza. I choose his name because he is akin to a gold standard in these matters. The government has been quick to capitalize on some of the largesse that has come its way thanks to liberalization. So we find on, and inside almost every train, advertisements that assault our senses. As I type this, I see that Syndicate Bank has plastered senseless ads on all the 108 seats in my compartment. More well-endowed companies have similarly bought ad space for entire bogies. You now need to strain your eyes to catch a display of Southern <insert your zone here> Railways, which was the only thing prominently visible a few years ago on them bogies. The answer to what Indian Railways does with the ad revenues is anybody’s guess. The almost five-fold price difference I paid for this train is hardly justifiable. Barely-working air-conditioning doesn’t count. Neither does a bottle of “mineral” water. I’m more comfortable sitting in the regular train because I can at least stretch and/or fold/cross my legs. I could’ve forgiven all these if this train ensured that I reached Chennai faster than the regular beasts. Unfortunately, I save a little over one hour.

Contrast this with the way airline operators are lobbying hard to get the government to urgently upgrade infrastructure at airports. Contrast how they vie with each other–the battle of airline ads (about a year or so ago) outside the Bombay airport is a positive example of how privatization ultimately benefits you and me. A very recent instance is what I saw at the new Bangalore airport. A private taxi operator had donned his drivers in red T-shirts that screamed anywhere in Bangalore, Rs.300 only. This was in open competition to other cab operators who charge between Rs.15-18 per kilometer to ferry you into the city. In the Indian context it is more appropriate to say non-socialist-governmental interference, than mere privatization.

It is interesting that Dilip D’Souza has rarely written any mainstream article on the state of Indian economy ? Whatever happened to his train-journey observations ever since the UPA took over and in an election year, posted a record inflationary achievement of 11% just last week? This is surprising since the UPA’s economic policies have been variously praised as communal-socialist pro-poor, socially just, and all-inclusive. From stifling subsidies to the failed rural job guarantee dole scheme, this regime has just about tried to appease every known vote bank.

I vaguely recall reading a nugget about the Indian Railways. This was written during the heydays of Indira Gandhi. It stated that the Indian Railways got the script completely wrong by projecting the Railways as “an instrument for national integration” instead of pitching it the way any large business corporation does. There lies your clue.

5 comments for “Recalling a Train Journey

  1. Ot
    June 28, 2008 at 10:14 PM

    > “Based on a train journey. But little or no anecdotal evidence.”

    Followed immdly by “speakers have been muted, the variety reduced, and the taste, tasteless. You need to force yourself to feel cool to
    pretend the AC works, and the array of seats reminds you of the
    cramped seats of yesteryear cinema halls”.

    And “take-it-or-leave-it attitude of the stewards when you politely
    question them about a minor lapse in the quality of service.”

    and “I see that Syndicate Bank has plastered senseless ads”.

    And “private taxi operator had donned his drivers in red T-shirts that
    screamed anywhere in Bangalore, Rs.300 only.

    you said, “little or no anecdotal evidence.” what you call all this?

    And, you said “Based on a train journey.”

    But, then you say “we find on, and inside almost every train, advertisements”.

    One train journey, and you exterpolate to “almost every train”? Can we
    repeat your sentence at beginning, “his conclusion was fantastic
    because it was based on just one train journey”, about you?

    And, closer investigation reveals certain interesting findings.

    > “the battle of airline ads (about a year or so ago) outside
    > the Bombay airport is a positive example of how
    > privatization ultimately benefits you and me.”

    can you kindly explain me how airline ads benefits you and me? I did
    not seeing any benefits.

    also,

    > “I could’ve forgiven all these if this train ensured that
    > I reached Chennai faster than the regular beasts.
    > Unfortunately, I save a little over one hour.”

    you saved more that one hour, and that is not faster? One hour out of
    6 hr or more journey, that is not faster?

  2. Niketan
    June 27, 2008 at 8:47 PM

    this juice vendor has gone out of business.
    LOL – One more achievement for the UPA.
    Remember if the NDA had been around, M/s Dilip would have pontificated on how the NDA policies were driving the unfortunate juice sellers out of business.
    Interesting – during a time of record inflation, runaway oil prices and global slowdown, how the chief concern seems to be the nuclear deal. No comments from Dilip.

    At one time I did have an ounce of respect for M/s Dsouza. But now his integrity has all but gone for good and he is resorting to peddling all sorts of lies.

  3. Ot
    June 26, 2008 at 6:28 PM

    In April-May this year, I had the misfortune of making FIVE round trip train journeys within the span of three weeks. Three of them involved the afore-mentioned Bangalore-Chennai Shatabdi. By the third, I got wise enough to carry my own packed dinner, and junk the stuff they served in the coach. My wife and son spent a sleepless night in a coach (two-tier AC) because the kid is afraid of (and allergic to) roaches: the car was awash with armies of cockroaches. The less said about toilets the better. It was a disgusting experience.

    Indian Railways maybe doing well in terms of revenue, but it truly sucks in the service department. The problem may partly be also due to rapidly growing scale. There are lots more Indians traveling these days: meaning lots more money to spend on travel. (The overcrowding on Indian trains actually debunks D’Souza’s poverty theories). The railways’ response to increased demand is to ramp up on the inventory front by adding more trains and cars — right thing to do — but to totally neglect the maintenance of coaches and stations.

  4. June 26, 2008 at 1:11 AM

    Dilip D’Souza, as I mentioned in my blog once, is the “cry baby” of the English Media.

    Rediff.com was the only site where I read his articles. But, he hasn’t been published there for almost two years now. (Sadly, so is Varsha Bhosle, who used to take great pleasure in tearing Dilip to shreds.)

    May be he got his Ph.D. and gone for good.

  5. Kumar
    June 26, 2008 at 12:31 AM

    Sandeep,

    When NDA was in power, Dilip D’Souza was having wet dreams of someone ‘taking out’ the leadership of NDA – he did hold the question of whether such a deed would be ‘patriotism’ or ‘assassination’?

    When NDA tested the nukes, Dilip D’Souza went to chat with his ‘ganne-ka-rasswala’ (sugarcane juice vendor) and had some lofty tales to tell us about this ganne-ka-rasswala’s opinion on nukes. Now, with this nuke 123 deal, we haven’t heard any late expert opinions from this juice vendor via Dilip, so am guessing that this juice vendor has gone out of business.

    This sweet little acorn (Dilip D’Souza) did not fall far from the oak (J B D’souza).

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