Counter Number 5

It was a long journey to New Delhi. After spending 18 hours in a sleeper class of Indian Railways I reached New Delhi. I rushed to cloak room on platform no 1. I opened up my bag and took out the pullover, black with large multi-colour checks, green, gray and white. It’s cold in Delhi. I am wearing a black polo T-shirt on a light gray trouser. I put on my shades, black wayfarer.

Counter No. 5, the counter to book waiting room on the station. I walk towards the counter. On my right side I see a long queue of people standing to get current reservation in a train. On my left there are Railway Police and CISF personnel. I see people sitting on the floor; some sleeping with their luggage as a cushion. I reach counter no. 5. I see a man sitting on the counter. He is bald, wearing a specs and has a soft voice. “I want to book a dormitory on this station”, I said. “Come after 8 PM”, he said. “Can’t I get it now?” I asked. “Reservations for waiting room and dormitory start at 8 AM for day and 8 PM for night” he said. I took out my phone and saw, fuck! It was 13:00 hours. I reach the counter in the evening. Its 19:30 hours and the counter have at least 10 people in a queue for waiting room. Now the queue counts eleven. A person standing behind me asks: “What all we need to book a room?” “I don’t know” I said. The person in front of me replied: “भाई पैन कार्ड कि ज़ेरॉक्स ले आना! (Bring a photocopy of Pan Card)” I rushed to get a photocopy of my Pan Card. Crossing the road, I entered Paharganj and found a “Xerox centre”. I rushed to counter no. 5 only to find that I am not allowed to stand at my place in the queue. Damn it! I don’t have a return ticket. I am happy to know that a room would be allotted on the arrival ticket.

Room no 212, first floor, 24 hours, 4/December/2013 8 PM to 5/December/2013 8 PM.

Next day I reach the same counter. Today someone else is sitting at the counter. He is young, may be Punjabi, he has good face muscles, and toned body. Today’s procedure for booking the room is somewhat different from yesterdays. The new guy is busy filling passengers details on a computer application for reservation of waiting rooms. Internet database maintains the real time status of waiting rooms at any station. He is encountering the same problem at every step and restarting everything again and again. It took nothing for me to conclude that he sucks with computers. He has no knowledge of what he is using. Who employed him? He opens his drawer, takes out a receipt book, writes my name and PNR number and allots me the same room for another 24 hours. Room no 212.

Two days have passed and I am much more experienced with bookings sessions. The counter is in the hand of a middle aged man. He wears specs and looks over his specs while he talks. He’s too vain. He directly asks me for a return ticket. I don’t have a return ticket. I am on an unplanned tour. I have no idea of when to return. “Go to the ticket collector at platform no. 1 and ask him for a ticket. Please, don’t tell him that I have sent you” he said. I was surprised. Now a ticket collector would sell me the ticket he has collected from other passenger. I had no option but to avail the suggestion. I went to the ticket collector. I asked him for a favour. He being experienced thrashed me away. I was annoyed. But still I played out my diplomatic side. All he wanted was to see how much my pocket can give him. I didn’t give him a penny. Now I am at ticket counter. There are eleven counters. Of them, I see a single counter which is vacant. I rushed to counter. It is written: Ladies Only. I join the queue of men. Stereotypes do exist. For an hour or so, no single lady visits the counter. But the person at the counter doesn’t allow any of the men to book a ticket at his counter. Fuck you all, it’s reserved for ladies only. I just laugh out loud. Never to lose my modesty I stop laughing. You visit any counter and there is much of fight for two things: time and loose change. Both are valuable when you are at a railway station. I get a ticket from New Delhi to Nagpur, dated December 9, 2013. I rush to counter no. 5. This man is amazing. He says, “Rooms cannot be allotted to passengers without confirm reservation on a return date.” I wanted to punch his face hard and thrash him off the counter. People who are standing behind me start yelling for their turn. I step aside. An old man who has deboarded at Hazrat Nizamuddin station came to book room at New Delhi station. The train which brought him to Delhi terminates at H. Nizamuddin. The man at counter says his ticket won’t be accepted since its destination is not New Delhi. Fuck, Nizamuddin station is a part of Delhi itself. Moreover, what can the old man do if his train terminates at H. Nizamuddin? In these past few days I have made a friend, rather I would call him a queue friend, because we meet daily at the same queue for waiting room. Three of us, I, old man, and my friend, we rush to Station Manager and complain about happenings at counter no. 5. Station Manager makes a call to counter no. 5 allowing us to have a room at New Delhi. I enter room no 212.

I am too drunk today. I reach counter no. 5. Wow! The ticket collector from platform no. 1 is at the counter today. I know he is corrupt. I boldly ask him for an extension of 24 hours for room no. 212. He gives it in no time. Today I had to pay Rs. 25 extra for the extension. Gosh! I am too drunk to think about anything now. I wait for my queue friend to get an extension. Meanwhile, a person comes to counter and asks: “साहब भागलपुर जाना है”. The person at counter replies: “It’s not enquiry counter.” “But there’s written: May I help you!” the passenger said. Ticket collector said: “Read what’s written below it. For waiting room, wheel chair, battery-operated vehicle only” he added “May I help you doesn’t mean you would come and ask for suggesting a bride.” None of us broke into laughter of course there was no humour in it. I somehow reached room no. 212.

On last day at New Delhi station I enjoyed the company of my queue friend. We discussed the happenings at New Delhi station. Elections results were out and people were hoping for Aam Aadmi Party to win. Here I was experiencing a part of corruption. Waiting room status is not updated and it creates a chaos when two people get the same room. Ticket collector at platform resells the tickets to other people. Broker charge you extra to get reservation in a train. Ticket vendor sits idle if no lady visits the counter reserved for ladies. He won’t allow men to book tickets. Finally I said bye to counter no. 5 and room no 212 and New Delhi. I loved the time and experience. I wasn’t going empty handed that day…

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