The train journey from Mumbai to Kolkata is probably one of the longest trips you can take across India. And I would’ve believed that those 30-odd hours were the toughest of my life, if I hadn’t seen two gentlemen on RAC tickets make it through as well.
They had somehow decided against cuddling up on the side berth. Instead, they were going to sit through the night. But a few hours into the trip, I stopped feeling as bad for them.
Post dinner, when the lights began to go off, I overheard them doing what can best be described as “some setting” for the night. One of them whispered to the pantry boy, “Kuch arrangement hai?” Now this was the same pantry boy, who earlier in the day had proved his entrepreneurial skills by trading our bread sticks for some extra tomato soup, so I can imagine why he was picked for the job. He was evidently used to this question, so he replied matter-of-factly, “10 baje ke baad.”
He meant after the children had gone to sleep. “They are the ones who can get us fired,” he explained, sounding perfectly logical.
If this was a female-friendly situation, I would’ve done more than just eavesdrop on the conversation, but it wasn’t, so I waited. Some time later, the RAC travellers got up and headed to the door area. This time, there were more than two voices. “R100,” said the pantry boy to the small crowd. “Baaki uske upar (rest will be charged over and above this),” he confirmed.
Having only heard of these situations of ‘drinking on the train’, I had a fictional idea of what to expect. Saying something like beer or Blender’s Pride was apparently not recommended, if you wanted to fit in. Old Monk, McDowell’s and “Bagpiper’s ka ek” was the regular menu. The men placed their orders, told him their seat numbers and left.
Home delivery, you see, as the pantry boy can’t be caught in possession. How he sources the alcohol is a trade secret, best left like that. For that R100 tip, he provided the “customers” with hot water or ice cubes and a newspaper to keep the bottles wrapped in. While the mouth freshner and snacks depended on availability, the music was strictly on earphones only. And there it was — their headphone party was underway.
By the time I woke up next morning, one of the RAC travellers had left his seat. Out of curiosity, I casually enquired about him. An older passenger explained, “Those on RAC tickets usually locate empty top berths in the morning and fall asleep for the duration of the day.” Of course, they do. It made complete sense, especially for those who like their whisky on the tracks.