The railways were commemorating the ‘vigilance week’. Posters had festooned the walls of the railway station. This is the week wherein your ticket gets to be seen more than once by different Travelling Ticket Examiners (TTE).
And so it was; I made myself comfortable, pulled out the latest edition of Reader’s Digest from my bag and immersed myself in one of those feel good articles. There were a good 10 minutes for the train to depart, when we were subjected to the first of many checks. A uniformed TTE, came in asked for our tickets, had a look at them, made some surreptitious tick marks on the ticket and moved on. A little while later another TTE walked in and the routine was repeated. I was cool about it, as I had experienced this farce, many a times. But I did notice my traveling companion getting a little flustered. He grumbled, of course in Malayalam. I could not comprehend a word of what he said.
The train pulled out at 12.15 sharp. As it crossed the points and made its way to the main track, a plain clothes TTE appeared. He was a short gentleman and looked mean. His demeanor was boorish. He demanded to see the ticket. I routinely reached into my pocket and gave it to him. He too did the tick marks as his predecessors had done before him & returned the ticket. It was the turn of my traveling companion next. He was hot under the collar as he stood up. He towered over the TTE and with a booming voice said something in Malayalam; which to me sounded like he was asking for some identification. The short tempered TTE shouted even louder and pulled out his identification card. Thoroughly chastened, my traveling companion, handed over the ticket.
After the TTE left, the malyalee gentleman adjusted his mundu; by tucking in further the edges into the waistband. Just as he was sitting down I caught his eye. He smiled sheepishly and said, with that tangy malayalee accent, ‘ I don’t show mine to strangers’. I smiled and mumbled, ‘same here’.
The train had picked up speed.