The gaily colored Mumbai-Kolkata Duronto Express sped on silently, while the rain-drenched windows allowed only a smudgy view of the vast paddy fields outside. I picked up my new copy of Atlas Shrugged after repeated failed attempts at falling asleep. This was my second journey on this train and more are inevitable, since it is basically the only affordable means of travelling comfortably between the two cities that presently make up my life.
However, I had to put my reading plans on hold since a commotion started in the next cubicle. It quickly gathered all the passengers of the compartment into a dense crowd since no one had anything better to do. I joined in, and after being able to grasp the situation I returned to my seat realizing that there was nothing I could do.
I’ll brief you. A passenger, who was on board till few hours ago, had vanished. The staff had apparently looked for him in all the compartments. People were worked up; not because he was missing, but because his luggage was not. You can’t blame them. The Duronto Expresses have no intermediate stoppages, meaning the trains stop only for maintenance and signals, and no passenger is allowed to disembark in the middle of the journey. Plus, leaving one’s luggage behind is really suspicious indeed.
Trains such as these always carry armed RPF officers, and they were called immediately and asked to search the contents of the bag. We quickly learnt that they do not have any equipment for such purposes and all they could do was take out the contents and declare that the bag was safe. They had found only clothes. After they left, some of the restless passengers blamed the RPF for being too casual and decided to check the bag again. This time it revealed few suspicious items: 3 semi-broken cell phones and an expired passport. That really did it and panic broke lose. Everyone was shouting; some were blaming the RPF for being useless in all practical situations, some were ordering others to throw out the bag from the train, and some shrieked out instructions like “Do not press any button on the phones!” and “Everyone vacate the compartment!”. It is funny how these incidents play out; no one used the word ‘bomb’, even though it was on everyone’s mind. Few of the passengers tried to pull the chains, only to figure out that they were too stiff to be pulled.
Ultimately, the bag was taken away and dumped in the pantry car (poor staff!). About four hours afterwards, the missing passenger showed up suddenly. He explained that he had gone to another compartment to meet his friends and had fallen asleep there. Needless to say, he wasn’t met with happy greetings.
Although it turned out to be rather entertaining, it has some serious undertones. The incident totally stripped naked the flaws of the railway security system. For one, the RPF officers did not even have instructions on how to deal with unidentified objects, which is so ridiculous, since such happenings may occur anytime. I am not even expecting metal detectors and all, which they SHOULD be having at any rate. There is no pre-boarding checking of luggage, and absolutely anyone can get in explosives without a single problem.
Secondly, what I witnessed about the chains was very disturbing. Actually, the chains (which are designed like pull-down switches) had been painted red recently, and that paint had dried solid and glued separate parts together, making them immovable. How can things get so silly?
When a bomb really goes off in a train, and when many innocent people actually die, you’ll find the media saying the above things, and the government giving out promises of countermeasures. Such countermeasures will be followed for few months afterwards, and then forgotten once more. You can only blame human nature for that.
Meanwhile, here’s to being alive and well.