With a scheduled runtime of 28:30 hours, the Rajendra Nagar Express from Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Patna Junction gives the impression of a very fast train. Those who take it frequently, though, say it routinely takes more than 34 hours.
Indeed, the train rolls into the CST platform well past the departure time of 11.25 pm. By then the platform is a sea of people, mostly with a wait-listed ticket, all they require to board a sleeper or general-class compartment. “Baaki train mein adjust kar lenge,” says Atul Kumar Singh, 28, going home to Ara in Bihar for a wedding. He works for a security agency in Mumbai.
The state of the sleeper coach proves true to his experience. A couple of hours into the journey, passengers have parked themselves at every visible space: between seats, the passage, the vestibule and even other people’s confirmed berths and luggage. “The train is taken by migrants from Bihar mostly. They always have compelling reasons to travel back home, so they manage somehow,” says a travelling ticket examiner being hounded by people for a vacant berth, which he doesn’t have.
“Can the new government change this, at least?” Atul Kumar Singh says, pointing at the crowd. “I don’t think so.”
Most of them have voted in Mumbai and adjoining places. They say they voted on issues such as price rise, corruption, a better economy linked with better salaries, and jobs. A freewheeling discussion makes it clear that the one promise they would have loved to vote on was one that was not on any party’s list.
“What I really want from the new government, whoever makes it, is to help me go back home to a life I am used to in Mumbai,” says Intezaar Singh, 35, from a village near Mughalsarai, who drives a radio taxi in Mumbai. He’s in a confirmed berth but forced to share it with another.
“I left home when I was 21 and had never sat inside a car. In the past 15 years, I have graduated to driving an expensive AC cab, and I am able to send around Rs 10,000 home every month,” he says. “Can I ever go back home to these comforts?”
Badal Das, 35, a Bengali born and raised in Patna, sells toys to distributors in Mumbai. He says the choice to migrate was forced on him. “Laluji and Nitish say the migrants who work in Delhi, Mumbai and other big cities are Bihar’s pride. As if anyone enjoys being the state’s pride at the cost of leaving one’s old parents, home, family and friends,” he says, perched on a side-lower berth in AC-III tier. He shares it with a friend, only one of their tickets having been confirmed. “Does anyone think we enjoy travelling like this?”
People emerge from an AC-III coach to complain it continued…