Thus I boarded the train, pissed off after paying the exorbitant fare, into the stinking sleeper class coach. It was the end of the summer vacation and hordes of families had occupied many berths- most of them travelling till the final destination. It was evident that they had all reserved their tickets and were assigned with berth numbers. A few of us short distance travelers- if you can call 200 plus kilometers as short distance-, ones without any berth numbers but possessing perfectly valid albeit overpriced sleeper coach tickets, were looking to get ourselves accommodated in any vacant seats, leftover by the multitudes of ladies, kids and gentlemen.
It was strange. If anyone looks from outside, from the platform, they may feel that the train is almost empty. But I had a tough time finding a seat. One reason was the peculiar, unaccommodating behavior displayed by families. Once they occupy some space, they never allow an intruder. If you are familiar with sleeper coaches, you may know that six berths- two lower, two middle and two upper berths- forms kind of a territory, with two berths on the opposite acting like a door or a lid. The intended practice is that, in the day time all the six passengers are to use the lower berth for sitting. If anybody feels like having a nice siesta, they can use the upper berth. The middle berth, the hanging one that can be used as a cushion for the lower berth when it is used for sitting, is usually erected only at night, after all the passengers come to a silent mutual agreement to call it a day.
But once a family finds its assigned berths, they put all their luggage- a tremendous load by default, on the upper berth. Then they take up the lower berth. Kids start playing their games taking up the most of the available space, periodically disturbing the elders only when any vendor passes by. At least one woman, in many cases all of them, stretches legs, and slowly assumes any of the postures of a deep slumber, occupying any left over space. Menfolk take off their shoes, unbutton partially or sometimes fully their shirts, lift their legs onto the seats and attain an impromptu yoga pose. The middle berth in many cases is just left hanging, but sometimes it can be observed that even they are occupied, virtually negating any possibility for a passenger possessing day-time ticket to sit on a vacant spot. Ultimately, in seats that can accommodate 6 grown up passengers (8 if you consider the upper berths too), it happens that only three or four people take up the entire area.
Now if you want to get a place to sit down, you have to ask any of them to adjust. You ask them politely to move a bit and the family head jerks his head suddenly towards you, staring with disbelief. It seems as if you have asked for a plot on his family land for free. Women try slowly to move their legs, as if to make some space with much difficulty, but stops midway and continue their slumber. The kids don’t even acknowledge your presence as if you are the Hollow Man. You are left standing there for some moments, stupidly looking at each of them and eventually making a slow retreat.
In my case, I tried to get on an upper berth finally. When the family-head, who seemed to be in a Samadhi state, jumped up and yelled that the berth was theirs, I asked him to come and sit there if it was his. That settled the matter, somehow.