January 16, 2010

Count your blessings

There were fourteen persons standing in the queue at the railway booking counter and I was the fifteenth. The booking clerk seemed to be having trouble of some kind. There was a growing discontent—customers in the queue found the delay unbearable and were getting restless. Some even openly grumbled about the ‘inefficiency’ of the system, much to the chagrin of the booking clerk who was within earshot.
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This is a common feature I have observed at the reservation counter. People begin to lose patience at the slightest sign of delay. Since there is no way to hurry the process, some give vent to their feelings by criticizing the ‘system’. Others blame it on hard luck. Ultimately you find that the fuming and fretting hasn’t helped you a bit other than giving rise to a copious flow of perspiration.
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Miss Claire who taught us in school often said that it is a good idea to ‘count your blessings’ when you happen to find yourself in a prolonged state of agony. It’s very important to see things in their true perspective, she would say, and counting your blessings is the first step towards achieving that goal. It can act as a great equalizer, she would say, often turning hell into heaven.
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I believe there is sound logic in Miss Claire’s words. Rail travel in our country may be lagging behind in terms of speed, facilities and passenger comforts when compared to what you have in some the more developed nations. But things are not really as bad as we make them out to be.
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Perhaps we could gain a better appreciation of the true nature of things if we take a peek into the past when great grandpa boarded a train. There are not many who will be knowing that at the turn of the nineteenth century, third class railway carriages didn’t carry lights or fans, not even a loo. Toilets were provided at most wayside stations for the use of passengers. Even so, very few had the guts to disembark and stand in a queue at the station loo. The fear of being left behind overrode all other considerations, it seems, and most passengers simply preferred to sweat it out in their compartments during a halt.
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In July 1909, the District Railway Traffic Superintendent, Sahebgunj, received a complaint from one Okhil Chandra Sen. Sen’s letter, written to the best of his linguistic ability, has survived to this day and can be seen on display at the National Rail Museum in New Delhi. It reads:
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“Beloved Sir—I am arrive by passenger train at Ahmedpore station and my belly is too much swelling with jackfruit. I am therefore went to privy. Just as I doing the nuisance that Guard making whistle blow for train to go off, and I am running with lotah in one hand and dhoti in the next when I am fall over and expose all my shocking to man and female woman on plate-form. I am got leaved at Ahmedpore station. This too much bad. If passenger go to make dung that damn Guard not wait train five minutes for him. I am therefore pray your honour to make big fine on that Guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big report to papers. . .”
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Poor Okhil Babu! We do not know if his report made it to the papers or if the ‘damn guard’ was made to pay a fine. But we can be pretty sure of one thing : had Okhil been around today he wouldn’t have fussed or whined at the railway booking counter. He would sing hymns of praise instead. He would have laughed, joked, looked around with unrestrained joy. And while others in the line were fuming over the delay, he would count his blessings and smile. . .
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The long wait in a reservation queue may prove to be sheer agony, but it brings along a string of blessings with it. Let us begin to count them!
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Ravindra Bhalerao