15 February 2007

The Sewagram Experience

Lest I forget (to keep an account of the titbits other than the ordinary everyday lifestyle in my life), let me write down and also share again a bit of my experience in and en route to my visit at Sewagram in Maharashtra.

Between 8 and 11 February 2006, I was at Gandhiji Ashram in Sewagram, around 30 minutes to 1-hour drive by train from Nagpur, one of the two capitals of the state of Maharashtra. I was there for the meeting of ACTION 2007.

The meeting for ACTION 2007 (09-11 Feb 2007) was held under the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) which is a collective of diverse people’s movements and organizations and like minded people that struggle across India against injustice, exploitation and communal, ethnic, caste and gender-based discrimination.

That apart, I took a train (J.T. Express) from New Delhi railway station. The train departed accordingly to the departure schedule, which was 7:06 PM in the evening (the exact departure time may be around 7:15-7:30 PM). The travelling was smooth. I almost finished my carried 501 pages novel - The Innocent Man by John Grisham.

The novel is a non-fiction based on a true story of a fallen raising baseball player with a troubled mind who was convicted with a death penalty for a gruesome murder he did not commit, and his battle against a questionable injustice legal system. It was a good read than expected. I really wish I could write a novel of whatever genre, profitable or non-profitable. It’s one of those dream I have since learning to enjoy reading.

I safely reached Sewagram at around 2:30 in the afternoon. I got down from the train and asked the railways stall vendor - the direction to the exit and also the auto-stand. At the exit/entrance gate, ‘unusually’ passengers were asked for their train tickets. I showed my ticket to the railway official.

To my shock, I was told that my ticket was for only up to Nagpur. He asked me to give him the ticket from Nagpur to Sewagram, which I ‘fortunately’ did not have. I was on board the train from Nagpur to Sewagram without proper ticket. That makes me - an illegal train passenger! The truth of the matter was that I actually did not know that I would need another separate ticket. If I would have known, I would have equipped myself with one in Nagpur for which there was quite a time to book myself one.

I argued with the official that my ticket was valid up to Sewagram. But it did not actually help. I was marched to the railway office. And the argument ensued. Even after realizing that I was at fault (though the ticket was not booked my myself), maybe just for the fun of it, I continued to argue with the officials. After all, these people were good at it and like it so themselves too. But later, I had to obediently give a Rs. 292 fine for being a defaulter. But whether I was at fault or not, I was damned pissed.

After the exit from the station, I next went to the parked auto-walla. I asked the fare for my actual destination, which is Gandhi Ashram in Sewagram. The auto-walla replied that it would be Rs. 60. What good expectation can I have with these sorts of people? They are the same everywhere - blackmailers and robbers.

Afore mentioned, I was already pissed by my not so long ago experience when I was coming out from the station. I sarcastically laughed at the face of the auto-walla. The auto-walla asked me the reason why I was laughing (He was also laughing away himself). I bluntly answered, “What do you find it so funny to make you laugh too?” With that I left him. A minute or two later, the auto-walla with his auto-rikshaw came rushing after me. Oh, I am bull-headed sometimes (especially when pissed) and I already resolved that I am not going to be bulldozed around by such people as this auto-walla. He had to go back to his stand. I said to myself, serve him right.

The funny thought that came to me then was, “if Gandhi can do a Dandi March, why cannot I?” I am not Gandhi though. I continued on taking the road, along with my luggage. After a walk for sometime, I again came across an auto-riskshaw stand. I went through the same with them.

There was a diversion of the road - one that goes straight, and one on the right. I asked the auto-wallas which way is the road to Sewagram. They beckoned me the road that lead straight ahead.

I had some gut feeling that I was not played with honestly. Even then, I followed the direction given to me. After walking for 5-10 minutes, a curious schoolboy walking up front waited for me. To double-check my route, I asked him the way to Gandhi Ashram in Sewagram. He told me that I had been fooled. He told me, “you should have taken the other route at the diversion.” (He saw me asking for directions to the auto-wallas).

The boy was helpful and honest enough to tell me the fares also. I empathize myself that, at least there are some good “mainland Indians”. These cheats really can change your perception of the “mainland Indians”. They do not know the ugly impressions they are doing to the whole country by their lowly attitude in trying to rob people of their money. They should even be jailed for these kind of discriminating acts. At the same time, one cannot blame them all for their ‘uncivilized’ manners.

Stupid it might seem, the government can do something useful here. It can come out with a paid educational and awareness classes for these auto-wallas in every part of the country so that the important services they rendered to the citizen plays a great role in giving a good look to the country’s image.

Well folks, that’s all that I want to share with you today.