Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bangalore to Kerala: The tale of railways' neglect

Bangalore perhaps has the highest population of Malayalees outside the state of Kerala - very often, the Garden city is nicknamed as a mini-Kerala. A good number of Malayalees work in the IT industry, and like every IT professional, these Malayalees head home every weekend. The most used mode of transportation is by road - either by bus or drive down a car. If you've noticed my earlier statement, the train does not feature as a preferred mode of transport. A small analysis of the trains running to Kerala would perhaps underpin my statement.

Following are the trains that operate to various parts of Kerala (the days in parenthesis indicate the days of run from Bangalore):
To South Kerala:
1. 16526 Kanniyakumari Island express (the only daily overnight train to South Kerala at the moment)
2. 16315 Kochuveli Express (currently on Wed, Fri and Sun)
3. 12257 Kochuveli Garib Rath express (Tue, Thu and Sun)
4. 16321 Trivandrum weekly express (Thu)
5. 12684 Ernakulam Super Fast (Tue, Thu)
6. 22608 Ernakulam Super Fast (Mon)
7. 12677 Ernakulam Intercity express (Daily)
8. 12777 Hubli-Kochuveli express (Wed)

There are two trains running to North Kerala - 16517 and 16527. Both run daily, but through different routes.

A quick analysis of trains to South Kerala shows that there are 8 pairs of trains - which is a good figure when looked at superficially. However, on close look, one realises that they run in clusters. There are 3 non-daily trains and 2 daily trains on Thursday - total of 5 trains on a single day! Monday sees 3 trains, Tuesday has 4, Wednesday has 2, Friday has 1, Saturday has none, while Sunday has two.

Friday sees the maximum crowd from Bangalore to Kerala - and there is just one extra train on Friday!

As if all this was not enough, the railways have now hatched a plan to deprive the passengers of the only solace on fridays. The 16315/6 Bangalore-Kochuveli tri-weekly express would be converted to a daily train very soon. However, this conversion comes with a very serious adverse effect: a change in timings. The train would now leave Bangalore at 1415hrs and arrive Kochuveli at 0605hrs. The train would depart from Kochuveli at 2120hrs and arrive Bangalore at 1245hrs. Anybody with common sense would have guessed by now that the timings are made to ensure that the train is not of use for any working person.

All this while the railways have a free slot at 1850hrs from Bangalore City Junction on all days but Thursday. Despite having such a favourable slot, the railways have decided to shift the train to a completely unacceptable departure time of 1415hrs.

As if all this was not enough, the railways are planning to run the new weekly AC Express on Thursdays from Bangalore! So, there would be 6 trains on Thursday - when all the crowd is on Friday!

It does not take a nobel laureate to understand that the days of run and awful timings are selected solely with the reason of helping certain vested interests. The railways would pull out every reason that they could think of to support the completely insane timings/days of run. If that is not enough, almost every train from Bangalore is terminated at Kochuveli - a completely isolated station on the outskirts of Trivandrum, which is deserted even during the day. At the same, every new train from Chennai would run to Trivandrum Central - for the simple reason that the umpteen officers who travel from the Zonal HQ to the Divisional HQ would not want to get out in the middle of a jungle and then travel long distance to their accommodation. The railways claim that Trivandrum Central has platform constraints for introducing new trains from Bangalore, while the same constraints do not apply to trains from Chennai - may be trains from Bangalore are heavier, while the ones from Chennai stop in the air.

This complete neglect of the railways to the needs of its passengers - and the step-motherly treatment by the zonal HQ to the state is only shooing away passengers to other modes of transportation. While I never support unwarranted red-tape expenditure, the attitude of the zonal HQ towards the state only strengthens the belief of an average Malayalee that a separate zone is only the solution to the problems. It is imperative that the railway zone is partitioned. Its better that railway zones are divided on state basis - that would atleast help in the development of the railways in the state concerned.

While the railways continue to neglect a very deserving route, bus operators make more and more money on the route - a 500km bus journey now costs upward of Rs. 1000! Atleast one new bus is added to the Bangalore-Kerala route every month. The railways continue to think that the public are fools enough not to understand the vested interests in such stupid decisions.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Shama BigBus to Thrissur..

After almost four months of sitting at home, I finally joined a job. However, I landed up at the job purely by chance. I was completely unprepared for the job, and this meant that I had to head home to pick up some stuff. Since I had just joined my job, I wasn’t sure of getting leave, hence I could not book tickets in advance. For some reason, my leave got approved quickly. I was now busy looking tickets – just the day before my journey. A point to note here – I was looking for a ticket for a Saturday during summer vacation! Most buses were full – the ones have tickets had them only in the last row. I checked, and was surprised to see two tickets available for Shama Transports. The ticket was sold under the name “Sree Krishna Travels”, but the timings and pick-up point was a clear give-away that the bus was indeed run by Shama. The ticket price was Rs. 1100 (compared to Rs. 1000 when purchased directly from Shama).

May 26, 2012: I decided to head directly to the Shama office. I took the college bus from my workplace (left college at 1730hrs). I was dropped near Majestic at around 1905 hrs. After some light snacks, I got into a Volvo on route #356N. I got off at St. Johns Hospital and walked to the Shama office in Madiwala. I was issued my boarding pass immediately as I showed by ticket. The time now was 2010hrs, and the bus was only at 2130hrs. I reconfirmed again that the bus would drop me inside Thrissur town. I headed out for Dinner, while some passengers were waiting for the Pathanamthitta bus outside the Shama office. I did not find much decent options (to my taste) around and hence headed into one of the many Kerala restaurants in the area.

I was back in the Shama office by around 2045hrs. The passengers for Pathanamthitta bus were still waiting there – with some of them making some anxious enquiries at the office. I was sure that something was wrong – and I was right. The scheduled Pathanamthitta bus had a breakdown! The replacement was on the way according to the office – this confused me a bit, since Shama has only 6 B9Rs. Four of them were surely not in Bangalore – so where did the spare come in from? The guy at the office solved my doubts – KA-01-AA-17 was the spare bus, exactly the number mentioned in my boarding pass. They were sending the Ernakulam bus to Pathanamthitta, and the Ernakulam route would get the other bus which broke down! Mechanics were working on the other B9R (KA-01-AA-13) – the problem was identified to a loose fan belt.

The Pathanamthitta bus came in at 2100hrs, and left at around 2115hrs. In the mean time, few passengers reached the office, asking for the Ernakulam bus. They came from Kalasipalya by auto – since they were told by the office there that the Ernakulam bus had already left! There was no sign of the Ernakulam bus departing even as the clock ticked past 2130hrs. I just walked out of the office for a stroll, and found a Shama B9R parked in the Friends petrol pump – there were some mechanics working on the bus. Boarding was opened at 2150hrs – the driver just opened the door, and passengers started walking in. The engine was on and the AC was running – the interior was not very fresh. Lights were very dim. I managed to find my seat without much difficulty – the seat numbering pattern of Shama is very confusing – the first 2 rows have alphabets instead of seat number (A to H).
The bus: KA-01-AA-13. The bus had about 4.5lakh kms on the odo. It was poorly maintained.
The bus started off at 2200hrs from Madiwala. Just as the bus started moving, another passenger came in a claimed that the seat that I was seated on was allotted to him – the travels’ agent who was still in the bus accommodated him in another seat. The bus took the St. Johns Hospital – Koramangala Tank – Madiwala market instead of the usual practice of taking a ‘U’ turn at St. Johns signal and heading through the Ayyappa temple underpass. Traffic slowed our progress around Silk board flyover. Later, the bus took the elevated highway, and picked up speed. There was one seat one empty in the bus – which was filled up at Hebbagodi. Hebbagodi is now becoming a pick-up point for almost all Kerala bound buses, with some operators even starting their own office there.

I slept soon after we left Hebbagodi. I vaguely remember seeing the bus cross Hosur. I slept for most of the journey. The bus made a hell lot of noise – the engine was audible clearly and the suspension kept making a lot of noise everytime the bus went over a bad patch. I slept throughout the run and woke up just as the bus was starting off from some place – I’ve seen Shama buses stopping at a tea stall near Salem – may be this was  the place. I woke up again as the bus was at Kumarapalayam toll gate. I slept soon after there – did not wake up even when the bus passed over the worst patch of road around Kuthiran.

I woke up just when the cleaner shouted out “Thrissur.. Thrissur”. I strained my eye to find where we exactly were, and understood that the bus was just about to stop at Mannuthy (0505hrs). Now Mannuthy was not “Thrissur” – I smelt a rat here, and was sure that the crew were upto something wrong. After waking up the gentleman sleeping on the aisle seat, I rushed to the driver to confirm that the bus would drop me at Thrissur (as promised by the Shama office in Bangalore) – the driver replied that they would not go to the town. I protested, and he repeated that they do not enter the town. I said that their Bangalore office had confirmed that the bus would drop me in the town – to which he feigned ignorance. This confirmed that he was trying to unload passengers on the highway, and save his time. Hearing my argument with the driver, another passenger (who also was bound to the town) joined in.

The driver now called the cleaner and asked him to send us to the town in some other bus. The cleaner now rudely said that Shama never enters the town – to which we replied equally rudely that their office in Bangalore guaranteed that the bus would drop us in the town. The cleaner now replied in Kannada that he is not responsible for what their office says. The argument continued, with the cleaner remaining adamant that we should alight on the bypass, while the driver was in a dilemma – since the bus usually drops passengers in the town. I now asked the driver to either drop me in the town, or give me money to take an auto to the town. Reluctantly, the driver started off from Mannuthy (0520hrs). He dropped us near General Hospital (near Thrissur Round) at 0530hrs. I took an auto from there to the KSRTC bus station, and then a KSRTC bus from there to my home. Finally reached home by 0630hrs.

The run time was good – it took 7 hours and 4 minutes for Madiwala to Mannuthy. Had the crew avoided the show at Mannuthy, the bus would’ve been in Thrissur town in 7hrs and 14 minutes. They wasted 15 minutes at Mannuthy. The bus condition was not great – it was all patched up, and made a lot of noise. The bus had some 4.5lakh kms on the odo. This particular bus is among the first two multi-axle buses purchased by Shama – back then, they were operated on the Bangalore-Trivandrum route. The attitude of the staff in the bus was awful – taking the passengers for a ride early in the morning is certainly not a great idea. The guys in the Madiwala office were treating passengers properly – they surely had quite a lot of regular passengers.

Cleanliness: 3/5
Punctuality: 5/5
Staff Behaviour: 2.5/5
Overall: 3/5

Will I take this service again: Definitely NOT! I am not interested in fighting with the crew early in the morning and spoil my entire day. Shama is going back to their days of bad crew and bad buses.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Back to Office... er! College!

Another chapter opens in my book. After completing Masters in Pharmacy, I had applied to a wide variety of jobs. I was not able to concentrate on one particular role, and the unharnessed horse that mind was kept wandering from place to place. I traveled quite a lot during the summer months, attending interviews, and finally almost landed up at one job. That job was totally unrelated to my qualification, but I landed there out of passion. The monetary compensation was on the lower side, but I somehow decided to give it a try.

Perhaps, my destiny was not to leave my field this time (both my previous jobs were totally unrelated to my area of specialisation). Hours before I was to join my new job, my profession called me back. I quickly shifted location from Chennai to Bangalore, and took a job that not much in my age bracket to prefer to take up - Teaching! After about three years of being unemployed (I took a break from work to pursue post-graduation), I was back to a job, and back to college!

I took up my new job as an Assistant Professor in a reputed Pharmacy College in Bangalore on May 18, 2012. I was standing in front of my teacher in January this year, and today, I stand in front of my students. It feels awkward when students wish you Good Morning 'sir' when you pass by them - maybe it takes time to get used to it. The job comes with its set of responsibilities - to create a competent generation of pharmacists. The days ahead would be busy with chalks and blackboards - learning many things that I had resisted during my college days. Like someone say, teachers are students for life.. how true!