A journey by train always fascinates me. I always compare it with the journey of life, as there are a lot of things common between these two journeys.
We have to wait for the right time for the train to arrive, looking for the right place to board it, giving space to our co-travelers, meeting new people, spending time with them and on reaching the destination, saying good bye to them.
During a train journey, one also experiences passing through light and darkness alternatively as we pass through the tunnels and emerge from them. Sometimes a train has to halt in its track and give way to another train coming from opposite direction.
A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Lahore Railway Station waiting to board the train to Rawalpindi. I always travel at night so that I reach Rawalpindi during the early hours and spend more time roaming around the city or simply hang around friends and family during the day.
I was scheduled to catch the Night Coach for this journey but on that day not even a single seat was available in any of the compartments. Luckily or unluckily “Tezgam” Express, which was almost 6 hours late, was also waiting at the same station, A young boy at the ticket counter suggested that I travel by “Tezgam”, as it may have several empty seats available.
I picked up my backpack and entered the Lower AC compartment of “Tezgam”. I asked the Station Master for a ticket, he asked me to simply take a seat and not to worry at all. So I did exactly that.
Eventually, the Train moved slowly out of the station… and so started my journey. Soon I fell asleep at my seat. But as the train reached Gujranwala, the Ticketing Officer woke me up and asked me to move to another compartment. He just guided me to another Business Class section of the train and assured me that I could sleep there, peacefully.
I was travelling without a ticket till that point in time but he didn’t mention anything about it. I was clueless about what’s going to happen next. But I was too tired to care. I locked the door and went back to sleep.
I slept like a log, till the train crossed Jhelum city. Then I was rudely awakened by a loud know on the door. It was the same Ticketing Officer, accompanied by an old man with long white beard, who was the T.T.
Both of them were very courteous and enquired if I had been comfortable so far. Of course I was! This was King’s treatment, so I nodded my head confirming it gladly.
They re-confirmed that I did not have a ticket and having heard my answer; the old T.T took out his ticket-book and started scribbling something on it. And all this while, the Ticketing Officer kept on assuring me that I didn’t need to worry, it was a very luxurious compartment and its fair was 1300 PKR.
The old man finished his scribbling and handed over the ticket slip to me demanding I pay 500 PKR upfront.
I didn’t even bother to look at the slip and quietly handed over the amount. Both wished me a safe journey and left.
However, I continued to wonder about this strange exchange. The fair of Lahore to Rawalpindi in Lower Ac is more than 500 PKR. Why were they so kind to me? Why did they give me a berth in Business Class for just 500 PKR?
Suddenly, I remembered the slip they had given me. I took it out and studied it carefully now. I was shocked to find that amount mentioned was towards traveling fair from Jhelum to Rawalpindi in Economy Class, and the figure was 130 PKR!
The unholy nexus between the officials and the scam racket became crystal clear to me.
I felt like a culprit to have been a party to it and was overcome with a nauseating feeling of remorse and guilt.
I reached Rawalpindi next day early in the morning, and rested for a while, re-running the whole set of events of last night, in my head. While sipping tea at a hotel near the station and browsing through the local newspaper an article immediately caught my attention. The heading read “Railways left with two-day fuel”. It also reported that the Railways Minister Bashir Balour had stated that The PR had been finding it difficult to pay salaries to its staff and pension to its retired employees, due to a severe financial crunch.
I almost choked on my tea!
Even to this day, I am still trying to figure out the connection between this piece of news and the incident that happened during that fateful journey.