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Train Addiction

 | Book Awards 2022 | English Non-fiction

Train Addiction

Train Addiction takes the reader on a delightful journey through the plains and hills of India beginning from the era of the steam engine. Combining encyclopaedic information on trains, their interiors, the terrains they traverse and so on with deeply personal anecdotes of his numerous journeys, R. Raj Rao offers an aficionado’s experience of train journeys in India. The ways in which he uses the train as a transgressive space to break every taboo is the hallmark of this absorbing tale.

Full Title: Train Addiction - Travels Through India by Train

Author: R. Raj Rao
Publisher: Vishwakarma Publications

Award Category: English Non-fiction
About the Book: 

Train Addiction takes the reader on a delightful journey through the plains and hills of India beginning from the era of the steam engine. Combining encyclopaedic information on trains, their interiors, the terrains they traverse and so on with deeply personal anecdotes of his numerous journeys, R. Raj Rao offers an aficionado’s experience of train journeys in India. The ways in which he uses the train as a transgressive space to break every taboo is the hallmark of this absorbing tale.
• An encyclopaedic information on trains presented in the first person.
• Each journey is narrated with witty and informative technique to make the reader fall in love with Indian trains.
• The information on the trains and railway history equates the author to Sheldon Cooper and his love for trains.
• A travelogue book describing the train travel, rail routes, the beautiful journeys and the fun behind it all.


About the Author: 

R. Raj Rao is an Indian poet and teacher of literature who has been described as “one of India’s leading gay-rights activists”. His 2003 novel The Boyfriend is one of the first gay novels to come from India. Rao has been a recipient of the Nehru Centenary Fellowship, UK, International Writing Program Fellowship, USA, Quebec-India Fellowship, Canada and ICCR Rotating India Chair Fellowship, Germany.


Excerpt: 

CHAPTER TWO
COLONIAL HANGOVER
The term ‘First Class’ used among train travellers all over the world is a misnomer in India. No First Class exists in long-distance trains today. Bombay’s suburban commuter trains do have First Class carriages, but then they are merely to transport passengers from their homes to their offices and back.
In terms of its interior, the First Class carriage, when it existed, was no different from AC First Class. The only difference was that it wasn’t air-conditioned. But it had the same number of self-contained cabins as AC First Class, first seven and then eight, through which a common corridor ran. The cabins were as spacious, the berths as wide, as in AC First Class. Of the seven or eight cabins in the coach, at least two or three were coupes. The overall carrying capacity of the First Class coaches was thus no more than 24 to 26. Incidentally, coaches that had seven cabins had three square windows per four-berth cabin. When the cabins increased to eight, each cabin began to have two rectangular windows per four-berth cabin.
The First Class fare, however, was not commensurate with the amount of space and the amount of privacy that passengers got. It was, at the most, two-and-a-half or three times the highly subsidized Sleeper fare. Now this was alright when India was ruled by the British, the main users of First Class. But in independent India, it became a matter of growing concern to the railways. What sense did it make to put less than thirty passengers in a full-length coach and charge them a pittance for the luxury?
Even so, the railways held on to First Class for nearly half a century after independence. But then they said enough was enough. They put on their thinking caps and decided to phase out First Class as a category. It would be replaced with something else, where more passengers could be accommodated in a coach, thereby bringing the railways more returns.
That something would be AC Sleeper Class (see Chapter 3). There would be two types of AC Sleeper Class; AC Two-Tier with a carrying capacity that was one-and-a-half times that of the erstwhile First Class; and AC Three-Tier that accommodated twice as many passengers as First Class. The AC Two-Tier fare would be slightly higher than the First Class fare, while the AC Three-Tier fare would be slightly lower than it. First Class would thus serve as the base for AC Two-Tier and AC Three-Tier. The extra capacity was achieved by narrowing the width of the berths to bring them on par with berths in Sleeper Class. Unlike First Class, AC Two and Three-Tier had side berths too.
The railways believed that the move would make everyone happy. Passengers, for whom long-distance, air-conditioned travel (in AC First Class), was beyond their means, would now have the benefit of air-conditioned travel. It would enable them to keep out the heat and dust of the Indian plains. There would be other perks. Bedrolls (bed sheets, pillows, blankets, hand towels) that weren’t provided for free in First Class would be given free of cost in AC Two-Tier and AC Three-Tier. The hand-towels, in fact, could easily be pilfered and taken home.
But not everyone was happy with the discontinuation of First Class. Passengers in the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, in particular, wrote letters to the editors of newspapers, pointing out that air-conditioning was really required only during the summer months. For the rest of the year, privacy was preferable to travelling in cool comfort. Hence, they wanted the First Class restored.
Nor would it be easy for the railways to dismantle the hundreds of First Class coaches that existed, and replace them with AC Two-Tier and AC Three-Tier coaches overnight. As a result, First Class coaches continued to be attached to trains (particularly to trains in South India) till as recently as a few years ago.


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