With due credit to Paul Theroux, and dedicated to my girl Chota Don!!
Nothing beats the Indian Railways if you want to meet the real India or Bharat as some may say.
It starts from the time you try to book your tickets through irtc. If you know other ways of complicating a simple booking process, please be sure to write to them. I’m sure they haven’t conceived or employed all of it and your suggestions will be more than welcome.
Or perhaps they wish to keep the online booking process nerve wracking just so you walk into the rail reservation counter or any of the 3rd party agents and provide them gainful employment and revenue.
If you plan to take pets along, pray to the Gods, steel your nerves, take a deep breath and proceed.
Now here is the rule book according to the Indian Railways. But rest assured nobody including the kind souls at the luggage counter will know of it.
Always, always plan this part of the journey well in advance.
As with everything else I do, this was a last minute decision. But the zillion+ Indian Gods smiled on me and there was an angel at the luggage booking counter as well.
Since I was traveling on the South western railways and my boarding point was yeshwantapur station I had to approach the luggage booking counter here. Finding the luggage booking counter is nothing short of a treasure hunt.
It is after Platform 6 at the farthest end. A lonely godown cum warehouse where bikes, turkeys and furniture reside.
Have a smile on your face at all times, and do not let murderous instincts and aggression take over.
The guard at the outpost is a friendly soul and always willing to be a part of your sorrow when you are trying to make the railway personnel understand that “Yes, sir I wish to take my dog along.” “Yes, he is my own dog.” “Yes, I will be there at all times to take care of him.” “No sir, he doesn’t bite unless provoked.” “Yes sir, of course I will be there at the destination to collect him,” and so on and so forth.
This interrogation done, a form is given for you to fill up. Do not worry by the complexity. I’m sure most of you will find a trignometric problem easier to solve. For the duds like us, the railways have pasted a completed form on one of the walls, which is obscured largely by a pillar. If your sharp eyes catch this form and you have filled it up that is half the battle won.
Walk over to the gentleman/lady at the counter and wait patiently for them to finish their important phone call or chat with their buddies at the next counter before shoving the form up their nose.
Remember, these are important people working for the Indian Railways, so don’t ever rush them.
After an hour and forty minutes, if you are lucky that is, they will look at the form and inquire about the date of journey, which stupid you have already filled up! They will then ask you about the train number, really how stupid are you , you filled that up as well!!
Such repeat performances later, the lady/gentleman will shove the form back under your nose and say “Why did you bring this now? You should have told us your journey is after a week. You come back one day before the date of journey and give us the completed form.”
“Huh, but didn’t I inform you in the first instance the journey was a week later.”
Huff and a puff, and I will blow your house away. Unfortunately you can’t my friend. So patience and come back a week later.
This time you are the wiser one. You know where the luggage counter is. You have the form filled up, and you are ready to fork out the fees that will see your darling pet travel with you.
They have you again. Fool you.
“Sure, give us the form.”
“Oh, good. You completed it.”
“Ok, I will paste it here. Come tomorrow morning an hour before the journey, pay the fee and you can take the dog to the luggage van.”
Sweat glistens on your forehead and you are ready to black out. Courage, dear heart, courage.
The day of the journey draws bright and early. You circumvent the maddening crowd, you yell at your folks to head to the coach and haul all the luggage so the coolie can take it onwards. You pray that the luggage doesn’t get lost, let alone them.
And you run with your hyperactive dog to the luggage booking office.
And he has to be really hyperactive you see, after all he is excited as you are on being able to travel on the GREAT INDIAN RAILWAY BAZAAR!!
At the luggage counter:
Where is the dog?
Here he is sir.
Yes sir, mine. See, he knows me too (of course, the mutt decides to snarl and growl and refuses to obey you)
Ok, pay (consulting a book) (and all he had to do was lift his head and look at a huge poster on the wall opposite that says Dogs, cats, horses – RS 60) … yes pay 60 rupees.
You happily pay the money. (this is the nicest part since your dog travels cheaper than you or even your senior citizenry folks)
Now listen young lady, if the brake van doesn’t have a kennel than I cannot allow you to take your dog with you. You will have to wait for a van that has a kennel.
See, they know how to keep you on your toes.
But, but sir my parents are on that train.
I’m sorry young lady but those are the rules.
But sir, I came here last week and they never told me anything about this.
Sir, please please do something.
Let me see. (A benign smile)
Ok, do one thing, take this along with you and show it to the guard. Mostly, the brake van will have a kennel. So don’t worry.
Off you go in search of the guard, who is invisible. You send a silent prayer, locate the brake van (usually the last coach on the train after the disabled coach) and open it gingerly.
Ah thank you God. I will break coconuts and I will pray and I will worship and I will give you my pay, etc etc…..There is a kennel after all. Hallelujah.
You quickly shove your mutt inside. This is when he realises he is a dog, a descendant of the majestic wolf, a member of the pack. He will not let you shove him easy.
You need to have a jujitsu hold handy and be ready to block, tackle, push, pull and get bruised and battered in the process before your mutt goes in the danky kennel and you are able to slide the door down.
After the wrestling match is all but done you hear a voice.
“Here, young lady, what do you think you are doing?”
“Just a minute sir.” And with one last reserve of energy before you give up the fight you push your mutt’s butt inside and down goes the door and you turn around sweating.
“Yes sir. What am I dping? Well, I have booked my dog’s passage on this train. Here is the receipt. I spoke to the station master and the booking counter person who have asked me to contact you since you are the most important.”
And your try to give what you think is your most winsome smile.
The guard looks at your sweaty, pasty face all bruised and battered.
He looks at the receipt.
“Ok, but be sure to get here when the train makes longer stops at junctions X,Y and Z.”
You are ready to do a jiggy and kiss him as well, but remember you are sweaty and your folks have probably given up on you by now.
So, run baby, run.
Have a good trip. Bon Voyage!!!!
P.S: Before you break out into a grin, remember you will do an encore at the return point as well, and God forbid if there is a dog already booked before yours or if there isn’t a kennel in the brake van. Good luck, baby!! Just remember, the guard is your best friend. For now, forget the dog.