Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Not a good day... perhaps!

Oh! Don't get mistaken - the title is not related to me... but someone else. At the end of a very interesting day at college, I was on my way back home. Instead of waiting at my normal bus stop, I was at a different stop today. I stood at the stop determined to get into the first bus towards my place - but that wasn't the realty. The first bus to arrive was TP415 of Guruvayur Garage - this was the bus I took yesterday. Yesterday, I got a seat as soon as I got in - but today, the bus was full, with passengers standing on the steps as well. I decided to skip this bus, and wait for the next.

The next to arrive was TP942 of Ernakulam. I jumped up in glee seeing this bus - since that was a Leyland! I am a die-hard fan of Leyland, and never miss opportunities to travel on KSRTC Leyland buses. I usually get into a bus if its a Leyland, irrespective of the crowd inside. Today was no different. The bus came close, and stopped right where I stood. I got into the bus, and was greeted with lots of empty seats. I chose one on the second row of the bus, diagonally behind the driver. This bus had a peculiar gear-transmission 'rod' - a very short one, which appeared to be hindering the driver's leg movement at times.

The bus seemed too tired - and overworked. There was a slight leak in the Exhaust, and this caused too much of noise to pilfer from the engine compartment. The bus was at its best, and handled in true Leyland style. I admired the comfort that the power-assisted steering gave to the driver, and he handled curves by turning the steering just slowly and slightly. I got the front seat just about 10 minutes into the journey. This seat was amazingly comfortable, and very airy. I was left admiring the driver's style, and he had good control on his bus despite the decent speed he was driving at.

Soon we reached Parur sub-depot. The bus that I had left, was just ahead of us, and hence the crew decided to wait at the depot till the other bus went sufficiently ahead. In the meantime, the conductor went to get the "crossing" time noted on the way-bill and the driver went for a leak. Just around this time, another bus (IIRC, this was RT97 of Parur depot) pulled up and parked parallel to my bus, on the right side. I couldn't read the destination board of this bus, but going by the crowd, I guess it was heading to Ernakulam. The driver came back from the restroom, and went to meet the conductor, who was now just coming out of the controllers' office.

In the spirit of talking, the driver of my bus walked straight to RT97, and almost got into the drivers' seat. He was perhaps surprised to see a TATA engine box instead, and jumped out of the bus in embarrassment - only to see an ear-to-ear smile on the conductor's face. The driver looked around, and then got into the bus as if nothing had happened. The driver sat at his seat, without turning around or looking at anyone - he was too embarrassed at that. We were back on track very soon, and this time the driver managed amazing speeds. About 15 minutes after the first embarrassment, we reached a place called Andippillykkavu. The driver was now desperate to drink some water.

He reached the water bottle with great difficulty - the bottle was on the dash, but was lying at the farthest corner. He just opened the bottle as the conductor signalled to move. Usually drivers finish drinking before they start - but our overenthusiastic driver decided to be multi-faceted. He pushed the gear rod forward (The first gear is forward) and released the clutch. But, Lo!, the bus jumped backward! The driver of a car that was just behind our bus shouted out. The driver once again looked embarrassed, looked around, and changed gears as if nothing had happened. The driver had erroneously engaged the reverse gear (which is parallel to first gear) instead of first gear. Had the car behind us been too close, the bus would've damaged it.

The driver was having a bad day, perhaps! He was completely embarrassed after this incident, and decided to not try heroics anymore. He threw the water-bottle back to the dash, pushed the gear rod forward once again, and started off. He drove with utmost caution after this, and that was perhaps once of the best I've experienced in life!

KSRTC Rocks!!! So do their drivers!!! Kerala boasts of, perhaps, the narrowest highways in India. Given the size of our highways - that also boasts of a surface that would put even moon to shame - these drivers to an amazing feat of getting these red-monsters on time to their destination. These very red-monsters are often praised as the "official population control mechanism for the state of Kerala" - for the sheer number of accidents that they were once famous for. KSRTC has undergone a sea of change, and is now more passenger oriented. Crew behave in a much more decent manner, and buses are more reliable. KSRTC has grown in a sea of terror for private bus operators, with passengers changing their loyalties to KSRTC from the scary private buses. KSRTC has just promised to unleash more terror at Private operators (Read as: KSRTC is introducing services on more Private stronghold routes). Waiting for the day when KSRTC gets back to the black, and grows into one of best transport houses in India. (Am I day dreaming???)

Friday, October 23, 2009

The green surprise

Warning: This post may not be palatable entirely for normal audience... reserved for the ferroequinologists ;)

The past week had been one that almost all students in my department (pursuing Post Graduation in Pharmacy, M.Pharm) in never like to forget in their life. The college was organising a two day workshop program on what could be the new buzz word in the Indian Healthcare arena - Pharmacoeconomics. While the subject in itself is interesting, and relatively simple to learn, its applications would stir up hornets' net among medical professionals. I wouldn't go into the details of the program, or the subject, in this post, since the intention of this post in entirely different.

The planning part of the workshop commenced in the last week of September, and the program was scheduled for October 19-20. Interestingly, my department worked almost continuously since then, without much breaks in between. Sundays turned to be working days, and the college timings seemed to extend to 6PM instead of 4.30PM. It so turned out that I remained in college till 1900 on most days. The workshop was no less than a heavy challenge for us - when it was just two weeks into the college. I am sure this two day program - and its planning - developed an amazing bond within the 10 of us (we are ten students specialising in Pharmacy Practice).

The first day of Workshop went without much glitches, and the day resembled a normal seminar - with not much to emphasise on. The first day of the workshop was held at the AIMS Building, while the second day was at our college building. The college building is about 750 metres away from the AIMS Building. (For the uninitiated, AIMS stands for Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre, a 1200-bed super-specialty tertiary referral hospital in Kerala). Our college building has three floors (plus the ground floor). The auditorium is situated on the third floor of the building. The auditorium is not air-conditioned, and is often poorly ventilated.

The second day was very tiring for each one of us in college, and most of us dropped dead tired by evening. To add to the misery, we had to make some presentations to the audience. This made us more tired. At the end of all these, I headed out of the college at 1750. There is one bus that heads to my hometown from AIMS at 1800. This bus is a habitual late-runner, and hence I had some feeble hopes of making it to AIMS in time to get the bus. I made a brisk walk from the college to AIMS, and made it there at 1758. The bus was no-where to be seen. I enquired with a couple of security staff, but their were unsure if the bus had left.

I headed to the security desk at the main entrance to check if the bus had arrived (the guys at this counter make note of each vehicle entering the compound). They appeared unsure about this bus. While talking to the guys, I noticed something special standing on the railway loop line right outside the campus. I was sure the loco was nothing normal - but something that I had been wanting to see for long. My focus now shifted out of the campus - I cut short my talk with the security guys and headed to the track.

There was one BCNA rake parked on the loop line, with the loco in the direction of Ernakulam. I headed towards the loco - the hot lady remained waiting for me there. The green loco - with an yellow belt - was making her status known with a constant hum. The LP was standing ahead of the loco, closer to the starter, while the ALP appeared to be resting inside the loco. The green lady was warm - the blowers were at full force. That was my first close encounter with the hottest freight loco on IR today - a specialist at wheel-slipping - so famous that she gets looped every time it rains!

The lady was WAG-9 #31122 from Lallaguda. The load appeared loaded. I made a walk around checking seeing the loco at close angles. Since we had the workshop, I was carrying my camera - the next 5 minutes was spent photographing the loco from all possible angles. However, light was already gone (the time was past 1815 by then, and with winter approaching fast, it gets dark by 1830). With low light, all I was getting were shaky shots. Then came the camera's burst magic. Finally I concluded my photography session and headed to the railway station.

While walking through the railway station, a twin Ernakulam WDM2 led tanker rake headed towards Aluva. The starter was red even as the locos (Working the tanker) crossed the SM's office. The starter often goes off late, since the signal depends on the gate right ahead. The starter went green just as the train started screeching to a halt. Bingo! The locos notched up heavily, while two volcanos erupting simultaneously, it was all about a smoke cloud appearing, and the "tak-tak" clatter gaining pace. The twins put up an amazing show pulling out the rake - the train cleared the station in no time since then. By now, I finished walked the entire length of Idappalli station platform, and almost exited the platform.

I heard a sweet - and melodious - horn as my foot touched the road. I stood there hearing the lady's sound and then heard the familiar thud of the LP checking the rake's coupling integrity. The train then started forward with a jerk, and I was almost near the level cross by now. From there, I deviated my way and headed straight to the bus stop. Got a bus after about 15 minutes of waiting, and had to stand for atleast 35 minutes before I got a seat. But then, the pleasure of meeting the hot green lady - with an yellow belt - made me relaxed. It was then eagerness to reach home, and check if the images came well...

Finally, I saw a WAG9 up close, in flesh and blood. My earlier dates with this lady were from speeding trains, seeing her as then streaks across the camera. The lady looks cool in person - hope she visits my territory more often, and ensures she is around when I have my camera. I know, I'm being too selfish.... but every railfan is selfish for something :)

PS: Oops! I completely missed this - the entire sequence narrated above happened on October 20, 2009.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Its here: A Hartal...

Its been over four months since I relocated to Kerala. However, Kerala's own Hartal has been eluding me till date (I did experience a Private bus strike in between). Finally, here it strikes. Kerala - more specifically, Thrissur District - is very famous for Hartals. People are ready to disrupt normal life for any trivial reason, often non-issues. Sadly, the common public - who appear lethargic - sympathise with these name-sake parties in organising such 'day offs'.

Today, Kodungallur Taluk - in Thrissur District - is celebrating a Hartal. The reason: The local president of BJP was "manhandled" by the Police. The police had reportedly arrested a goon masquerading as a political activist of the said party. The president was protesting the arrest. While this might be an issue of prestige for the political party in question, I fail to understand why this should affect public life? If the arrested person was indeed a goon, he deserves to be put behind the bars.

The state loses over 75 days per year in Hartals alone, not to mention more disruptions in the form of staff strikes, natural calamities, mournings, etc. No wonder private investors are scared to even consider Kerala as an avenue for investments. While protests for reasonable demands can be tolerated, strikes/hartals for non-issues is totally unacceptable. The fact that Hartals are never conducted on Sundays or normal Holidays is a proof that Hartals are just a way to not work on the said day.

I wonder when would Kerala escape from the clutches of these strike-happy politicians.... God save its own country...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Quick Trip to Alappuzha - two interesting KSRTC episodes...

Ever since I moved from Bangalore to Kodungallur, my hometown in Kerala, I have been traveling extensively on KSRTC. KSRTC - acronym for Kerala State Road Transport Corporation - was always considered a passenger unfriendly corporation, which focused more on reaching the destination on time, than carrying more passengers. The entire-outlook of KSRTC changed a bit after ministers decided to flog the horse, and get it back on its feet.

I travel daily by KSRTC, from my hometown to my college - about 36 kms away. Each day is a new experience on KSRTC - but none of them were bitter till date. Here is a narration from a recent journey to Alappuzha, my mom's hometown. Alappuzha is about 90kms from my home town (my mom's exact place is about 14 kms from Alappuzha). Last Friday (October 09, 2009), I had to travel to Alappuzha, to attend a function. I had college till afternoon, and started from there by around 1500 hours. My aim was to reach my mom's place before too late at night.

I called up mom, and she was just about reaching Ernakulam. I made a plan to head to the bus station, and join their bus from there. Unfortunately, things took a bad turn, when it dawned that there were no buses from near my college to Ernakulam till 1600 hours. I had to walk longer to get to the next bus stop, and by the time I got a bus, my mom was already close to Ernakulam. I still decided to make an attempt, by getting down at Kaloor and taking a rickshaw to the bus station. By the time my rickshaw neared the bus station, I saw my mom's bus pulling out. I did not attempt to get on board that bus, since it was already crowded.

There was one Super Express bus heading to Thiruvananthapuram at the bus station - but this bus too was crowded. I did check if there was a chance to get a seat, but returned dejected. I then got into a Super Fast (RAC569 of Mananthavady depot) heading to Thiruvananthapuram. I got a decent seat at the rear of the bus. Just as I settled, I saw a Mavelikkara bound Super Fast backing up. I got out of RAC569, and rushed to the Mavelikkara bus. This bus had just about two seats vacant, and I quickly grabbed one - this was at the last row, and a middle seat. The bus (RRE998 of Mavelikkara Depot) started at about 1620 (thats about three minutes after I got into the bus). The ticket cost was Rs. 39.

The driver appeared to be at hurry to reach back at home, and was speeding through the city. Call it luck, we got greens at almost all the signals en-route. More passengers got in before we could get out of Ernakulam City. Somewhere near Cochin Port, our driver broke the rear-view mirror of a city bus. A brawl ensued, with the crew of the private bus shouting at the crew of my bus, and vice-versa. The entire episode ended up wasting 10 minutes, and a huge traffic pile up. Later, the crew decided that there was no use fighting among themselves.

Once on the highway, the driver decided to stick to his guns. He maintained an amazing pace on the highway, and was on the overtaking lane for most of the time. We reached Chertala at around 1745. My bus was not very crowded, and there were no people to alight at way-side points. After Cherthala, we made a halt at Kalavur. Finally, the bus reached Alappuzha at around 1820, exactly two hours after it started from Ernakulam. A point worth noting is that my bus was just 10 minutes behind my mom's bus (which had left from Ernakulam a full 20 minutes before my bus). From Alappuzha, we took a bus straight to my mom's place. This bus came at 1850 and we reached home by around 1930.

A KSRTC bus come rolling down a narrow road, in a small hamlet in Kerala.

The return journey commenced after lunch on Saturday (October 10, 2009). There was one bus from my mom's place to Alappuzha at 1500, which connects perfectly to our onward bus that leaves at 1600. The bus arrived exactly at 1500. The bus (TS268 of Alappuzha) was partly full, and got crowded as it reached the main road. The driver picked up speed as we approached the destination. There were too frequent stops, but that did not restrict the driver from speeding. We reached Alappuzha exactly in 30 minutes. We alighted from this bus and walked slowly towards the place from where our connecting bus would depart.

My bus back to Kodungallur - RT765 of Kodungallur

The bus reached soon after we reached the platform. There were a lot of people waiting to board this bus, almost leaving me awestruck. My bus was RT765 of Kodungallur, in Fast Passenger livery. The bus got crowded in just 5 minutes. The bus started at 1555, a whole 5 minutes before time. All seats were taken, and there were some standees as well. The conductor gave a surprised look when we heard of our destination - this bus sees too little end-to-end passengers. Most passengers travel only to certain points. The ticket fare was Rs. 53.50, for end-to-end travel. The driver was aggressive, and picked up speed quickly.

We reached Cherthala at around 1620. Many passengers got down here, and were replaced with more passengers. We were back on the highway by 1630. The driver picked more speed. The bus appeared to be just back from maintenance - the rear axle assembly made more noise than the engine itself. To add to the misery, the seats were at a bad angle and my back was aching just an hour into the journey. The next major unloading point was Vyttila - this bus does not enter Ernakulam City, and hence saves a lot of running time. Many passengers use this bus to reach the outskirts of the city. The bus remained less crowded from Vyttila onwards.

The next major halt was Aluva - we reached Aluva bus station at 1755, exactly 2 hours after we started from Alappuzha. The bus almost emptied at Aluva, but was replaced with twice the amount of passengers who alighted. The bus took a 10 minute break at Aluva. I changed my seat at Aluva, and took a more comfortable one, near the front exit. The conductor asked me to keep the front door locked, since the crowd was too heavy inside. This instruction led to a brawl inside the bus, with a drunkard arguing with the conductor on his decision. What followed was an exchange of swear words, and slight manhandling. The conductor asked the driver to pull aside, and he was adamant about unloading the drunkard. However, the conductor changed his mind, and let the bus continue.

However, things took an ugly turn a while later, the drunkard had to be forcibly evicted from the bus. The entire turn of events cost the bus about 10 minutes. However, this bus had a non-stop run for a majority of the distance from Aluva to Paravur, which helped us regain some lost time. The bus reached Paravur bus station at 1850. The bus was refueled, and we started our onward journey at 1857. The bus wasn't very crowded, and the driver decided to take advantage of the situation. The driver covered the 13 km distance from Paravur to Kodungallur in under 25 minutes. We reached Kodungallur at 1925.

The drunken brawl incident showed the kind of attitude the conductors have. The conductor remained composed for most of the time, and did not respond to provocations from the drunkard for a pretty long time. He responded in a polite manner initially. The scene turned ugly only after things went really bad - I appreciate the conductor's attitude.