Tuesday, August 16, 2016

It was a happy day three years ago when my parents and I set off on a journey to Hardwar. We started from New Jalpaiguri and were to change trains in New Delhi to reach Hardwar. The first half of the journey was to be covered by the NJP-New Delhi Express scheduled to arrive at the New Delhi railway station at 12-10 p.m. The connecting New Delhi-Dehradun Jan Shatabdi Express would depart at 3-20 p.m.

The early part of the journey was smooth and tension-free, until we were three or four stations short of New Delhi. Suddenly we realised that the train had slowed down, for some unknown reason. It was already 2-30 p.m. and we started to worry. The tickets had been booked assuming that the Delhi-bound train would reach on time (and it had a good reputation of doing that).

My parents and I were very anxious, not knowing what to do. At the departure time of the Shatabdi from New Delhi we were still two stations from our destination. All of us were visibly anxious and could not understand how to get information about the Shatabdi and the railway telephone helpline seemed busy. Also, it was doubtful whether any conversation with the railway authorities would have helped us. We had no Internet option available, and I was not fully aware of how it could be utilised to find help in that difficult situation.

Help at hand

Noticing our helplessness, a fellow-passenger who was carrying a laptop searched the train’s particulars online. It was already 3-25 p.m. But as a Bengali proverb says, “it is hope that keeps a farmer alive”. We had a faint hope that the Hardwar–bound train might be delayed. But the co-passenger’s comment that the Shatabdi had already left Delhi, shattered our hopes.

We were not sure whether to blame the Railways or our fate for the situation. We didn’t even know if we would be able to claim any compensation for the loss and get another set of confirmed tickets from Delhi or, in the worst case scenario, where to stay in Delhi. Such an incident in the first leg of the trip seemed to mar the spirit and purpose of our journey. The sudden piercing trumpeting of the train as it entered Ghaziabad station seemed to us to be a mockery.

But providence had planned something different. Our spirits were lifted when the fellow-passenger remarked: “But the Shatabdi is yet to arrive at Ghaziabad, the station after Delhi.” He suggested that we get down at Ghaziabad and wait there to catch the connecting train.

Overwhelmed, we remained speechless for an instant and then thanked him for his kind help. Following his advice we got off at the Ghaziabad as soon as the train stopped. We boarded the Shatabdi there and finished our journey without any further hassles.

Had we not received the crucial help from our fellow-passenger, unaware of the route of the train we simply would have gone to Delhi and the journey would have turned into an unwanted misery. It would have been like searching, blindfolded, for something that was within our reach. The availability of real-time data about the train’s position helped open the blindfold.

This experience taught us how the advent of online services have helped bridge the gap between information and ignorance.



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