Journey on Scum Express

Published: August 5, 2011
Email

A porter at the Lahore train station PHOTO: RIDA ARIF

Travelling by train always fascinates me. I always compare it with the journey of life, as there are a lot of things in common between these two journeys.

We wait for the right time for the train to arrive, look for the right place to board,meet new people, spend time with them and on reaching the destination, say good bye to them.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Lahore Railway Station waiting to board the train to Rawalpindi. I always travel at night so that I can reach Rawalpindi early in the morning and spend time roaming around the city or simply hang out with friends and family during the day.

I was scheduled to catch the night coach for this journey but on that day not even a single seat was available in any of the compartments. As luck would have it, Tezgam Express, which was almost six hours late, was also waiting at the same station. A young man at the ticket counter suggested that I travel by this train, as it may have several empty seats available.

I picked up my backpack and entered the air conditioned compartment of Tezgam. I asked the Station Master for a ticket, he asked me to simply take a seat and not to worry at all. So I did exactly that.

Eventually, the train moved slowly out of the station and so started my journey.

Soon I fell asleep at my seat.

But as the train reached Gujranwala, the Ticketing Officer woke me up and asked me to move to another compartment. He guided me to another Business Class section of the train and assured me that I could sleep there, peacefully.

I was travelling without a ticket till that point in time but he didn’t mention anything about it. I was clueless about what was going to happen next. But I was too tired to care. I locked the door and went back to sleep.

I slept like a log, till the train crossed Jhelum city. Then I was rudely awakened by a loud know on the door. It was the same ticketing officer, accompanied by an old man with long white beard, who was the ticket collector.

Both of them were very courteous and enquired if I had been comfortable so far.

Of course I was!

This was king’s treatment, so I nodded my head confirming it gladly.

They re-confirmed that I did not have a ticket and having heard my answer; the old ticket collector took out his ticket-book and started scribbling something on it. All this while, the ticketing officer kept on assuring me that I didn’t need to worry, it was a very luxurious compartment and its fare was PKR1,300 .

The old man finished his scribbling and handed over the ticket slip to me demanding I pay PKR500 upfront.

However, I continued to wonder about this strange exchange. The fare of the Lower AC seat in the Lahore to Rawalpindi train is more than PKR500. Why were they so kind to me? Why did they give me a berth in Business Class for just  PKR500?

Then, I remembered the slip they had given me. I took it out and studied it carefully. I was shocked to find that the amount mentioned was for traveling fare from Jhelum to Rawalpindi in Economy Class, and the figure was PKR130!

The unholy nexus between the officials and the scam racket became crystal clear to me.

I felt like a culprit to have been a party to it and was overcome with a nauseating feeling of remorse and guilt.

I reached Rawalpindi next day early in the morning while sipping tea at a hotel near station and browsing through the local newspaper an article immediately caught my attention.

The heading read “Railways left with two-day fuel”.

It also reported that the Railways Minister Bashir Balour had stated that The PR had been finding it difficult to pay salaries to its staff and pension to its retired employees, due to a severe financial crunch.

I almost choked on my tea!

Even to this day, I am still trying to figure out the connection between this piece of news and the incident that happened during that fateful journey.

shiraz.hassan

Shiraz Hassan

A Rawalpindi based journalist, blogger and photographer who tweets @ShirazHassan

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.