Sunday, May 31, 2015

My first ever Rajdhani experiance

As a kid, the Mumbai-New Delhi Rajdhani Express used to be this legend that I dreamt often. Although train travel was an integral part of my childhood, Rajdhani remained a distant dream. A dream that only zipped past me at 120 km/hr overtime I saw it. A dream that announced it arrival from a great, great distance by the sounds of twin diesel locomotives and its generator cars at either sides of the rake. A sound that was as intimidating to rail enthusiasts like me as a Bullet motorcycle is to a biker. In those days, it used to be hauled by two diesel locomotives so that it wouldn't need to spend much time at Vadodra station changing its locomotives. One of the two diesel locos would detach itself from the train and the other one who simply haul it al the way to Delhi. When I used to go to Valsad during some of my summer holidays at my cousin's house, it was a ritual. Take a picnic basket, leave the house at sharp 6, go to the yard just before the station, position ourselves on the banks (the abandoned yard's platform), eat some sandwiches, make merry....till about 7:30 pm to welcome the king of Indian Railways zoom past Valsad at unimaginable speeds. Now, hauled by WAP7- India's most powerful electric locomotive- the Rajdhani still invokes the same sentiment in me as it did all those years ago. Last Friday- 22 May 2015- I took my first ever trip on this Rajdhani. One of my biggest childhood dreams come true.

(Photo courtesy: IRFCA; the Indian Railways Fan Club photo gallery. Picture was shot by Tushar Dhake)

Because I had never travelled by First AC, I decided to take the plunge and splurge (Rs.4,500). It's quite expensive and a few budget airlines could have got me a cheaper air ticket, but cost saving was not the purpose; experience was. The ride began very smoothly. I got allotted a cabin of four, so there was a lady with her 3-year child, her maid and another elderly gentleman who was a businessmen. The train now stops at Borivali and Surat. The ride soon began and the train started zipping part suburban stations. The amount of clearances this train gets throughout its journey is amazing, given how other trains can get delayed and piled up. 

Food is plenty. It starts off with a tray of snacks. Tea or coffee is served in glass cutlery, unlike paper cups served in 3-tier AC. Butter sandwiches, samosa, sweet and namkeen is part of the snacks tray. Newspapers are served and so is packaged water. You can have as many as you want throughout the journey.

Meanwhile, I keep checking the speed of the train on my new Speedometer App on my phone. The train hits a top speed of 135 kph, but easily averages at 120 kph. You can feel the speed if you sit next to a window and watch the train zip past stations. The LHB coaches are very smooth and you can feel the difference travelling in them as against the usual coaches we see in all other trains. But these coaches keep giving very ugly jerks when the train catches up speed. If you're in the toilet peeing, it gives you a nasty scare, all of a sudden. 

As soon as the train leaves Surat (about 8pm), dinner is served. By the way, unlike 3-Tier AC, food is served to you here in First AC. Each passenger gets an individual foldable table (they're kept hidden near every cabin's or coupe's entrance door), table mats are placed on top over them and then food is served. Just like in airlines. Tomato soup- with breadsticks and butter- to start with. Then, we get a choice of non vegetarian and vegetarian. The non vegetarian is either Indian or continental to choose from. I chose continental. Roast chicken, spaghetti with gravy and mixed vegetables was served. Food was okay, but not bad at all. Curd is served along with it. You can ask for sugar if you like it sweet. For desserts, there's ice-cream. 3-tier AC serves only vanilla, First AC serves a choice of vanilla and butter-scotch.

We reach Vadodara station at about 9 pm and the train has an approximately 15-minute halt here. As soon as the train leaves Vadodara, it's time to go to bed. Bedding is given to all of us. Besides, an attendant comes and does our beds; another only First AC thing. By the way, there is an attendant in the Rajdhani First AC coach. Every coupe or cabin has a bell, which you ring to call an attendant if you need him. 

Breakfast time in the morning and they serve you eggs, omelette, poha, etc and also Kelloggs cornflakes with either hot or cold mild. Tea / coffee is also served. My Rajdhani was delayed by more than 10 hours on account of the Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan. So all Mumbai - Delhi trains were diverted from Nagda towards Indore and Bhopal and then onwards on the North Central Railway to Bhopal, Jhansi, Agra and then to New Delhi. It was a tiring journey but we were very fortunate to be in an AC train. Imagine going through a furnace of a country side for second-class passengers. We reached Delhi next day at 16:30 hours to a 45 degrees C temperature, instead of 8:30 that morning! But to the credit of Railways, we got complimentary lunch that afternoon on our way to Delhi, because we were running late. Simple dal, rice and potato dish but very tasty.

All in all, my first ever Rajdhani experience was quite memorable. Coaches were just about clean though toilets could've been cleaner. Rajdhani trains have housekeeping staff that keep cleaning throughout. A recent trip to Surat on the August Kranti Rajdhani in 3-tier AC had left me very impressed; the housekeeping must have come twice or thrice- in a journey of three hours- to  clean up the coach thoroughly. 

A childhood dream came true. Though I feel I was robbed of the speed experience on account of the excruciating delay. I feel I'll take this trip again, someday. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Red Ink Awards

Yesterday I attended the Mumbai Press Club's Red Ink Awards for journalism. In its fifty year running, I attended it for the first time. Railways minister Suresh Prabhu was the chief guest and gave away the awards. NDTV's Prannoy Roy for the Lifetime Achievement award. Caravan magazine swept away the awards winning in multiple categories across many of its writers. Scroll.com won the start-up media awards. Menace Doshi of the CNBC-tv18 was the host of the evening.

For me, the highlight of the evening was Prannoy Roy's acceptance speech. He said what I have been worried about for a long time. The tabloidation of media. He especially pointed out TV channels that appear to be tilting away towards that path; an example of which he said that he once saw a crime show where the lady anchor said, tripling her hair, "break ke baad ek rape dikhayange". Dr. Roy was  candid to point out the ugly crime shows on some of these channels. This is exactly what had me worried for the past few years.

While most English news channels are guilty of sacrificing real news in favour of debates (that are nothing but shouting matches), Hindi news channels may be accused of sensationalising. Ugly late-night crime shows appear to titilate the audiences. They are graphic and production quality is very poor. In highlighting such crime shows and TV channels' taboidation, Dr. Roy hit the nail on the head.

The show was very well organised. The venue was Jamshed Bhabha theatre at the NCPA. 

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