Thursday, January 7, 2016

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches..

Scottish poet Robert Louis Stevenson may have romanticised his journey in a railway carriage, but travelling on trains in India is anything but as dreamy.

Retired SAIL chief engineer P.C. Sinha for one will vouch that a night in the chugging coach is nothing short of a nightmare. The 71-year-old resident of Purani Ranchi and one of his co-passengers were bitten by rats in the AC first class coach of the Hatia-Howrah Kriya Yoga Express on December 30 last year, prompting Sinha to demand Rs 10 lakh as compensation from the Indian Railways.

On January 1, at least two families on board the New Jalpaiguri-Ranchi Weekly Express had been rattled by rats and roaches in AC coaches, their ordeal mocking the Prime Minister's Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and the Indian Railways' much-touted cleanliness drives.

After returning from his trip on Tuesday, Sinha shared with The Telegraph his "first class" experience that left him with a rat bite on the right hand

Winter always ignites the holiday spirit in us, and my wife Alka and I decided on a short trip to Digha, Bengal. Our two sons are settled in the US and Switzerland, and there was no stopping us. We reserved two AC first class berths on the Hatia-Howrah Express and boarded from Ranchi station on December 30, hoping to reach the beach getaway, 180km from Calcutta on New Year's eve.

We had two co-passengers in the cabin - one introduced himself as Lieutenant Dhadha and the other was Mr U. Roy. Everything seemed perfect until midnight. Given our age, we go to bed early and were in deep slumber when the train crossed Muri station around 12 o' clock.

A sharp pain in the hand woke me up. I knew I was bitten by something. I could see the mark on the little finger of my right hand. First, I thought it was a snake and woke Alka up. In terrible panic, we hunted for the reptile under pillows, in the blanket and beneath the berth. It was too dark and we didn't wish to disturb our co-passengers, so gave up after a while. We decided to hold on until daybreak.

Around 4am, Mr Roy woke up screaming. He too had been bitten by something. Together we called the TTE and coach attendant. That is when we all spotted big, very big rats under the berth. The TTE was at a loss of words. I decided to lodge a complaint with Indian Railways and did so at Santragachhi station around 6am. Thankfully, Mr Roy and Lt Dhadha too signed to my complaint as witnesses.

At a time when Narendra Modi is tom-tomming his swachhta campaigns countrywide, my experience calls for his attention and that of others. I have sought Rs 10 lakh as compensation from the Indian Railways. I expect the authorities to act soon. If they do not respond, I will move court.

My woes haven't ended yet. After reaching Howrah, I went to SSKM Hospital and was given a tetanus shot. The doctor told me that a rat bite could be as bad as a dog bite. He advised me an anti-rabies course. The first injection was given in Calcutta. I will take the remaining shots here in Ranchi.

The incident ruined our trip though we didn't cancel it because we had already paid for hotel stay. We returned from Digha today and now a retired man like me is saddled with fat medical bills. Someone must pay for our sufferings, isn't it?


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