Mahatma Gandhi, in his autobiography “My experiments with truth” dedicated one chapter to the ‘Woes of third-class passengers’.
He recalls how railway employees looked down upon these passengers besides having rules which were not passenger-friendly.
“The woes of third-class passengers are undoubtedly due to the high- handedness of railway authorities. But the rudeness, dirty habits, selfishness and ignorance of the passengers themselves are no less to blame. The pity is that they often do not realize that they are behaving ill, dirtily or selfishly. They believe that everything they do is in a natural way. All this may be traced to the indifference towards them of us ‘educated’ people” Gandhiji wrote.
“If I wrote them all down (his experience travelling third class), would easily fill a volume,” he observed.
Gandhiji came face to face with a third-class passenger’s hardships at Burdwan while travelling to Poona.
He was told that third-class tickets were not booked in advance. The Station Master too said the same. When the window opened there was a huge rush to buy tickets.
“Might was right, and passengers, who were forward and indifferent to others, coming one after another, continued to push me out. I was therefore about the last of the first crowd to get a ticket,” Gandhiji penned.
Getting into the train was another ordeal. Passengers pushed each other and abused freely while trying to get into the third-class compartment. The guard said, “You must try to get in where you can or take the next train.”
With no room in third class compartments, Gandhiji, his wife Kasturba and follower Maganlal boarded the inter-class carriage which the guard saw.
He promptly came to charge excess fare from Gandhiji at Asansol. When Gandhiji told him about his duty to find the room in third class, he said “You may not argue with me. I cannot accommodate you. You must pay the excess fare, or get out.”
The Mahatma paid up as he had to reach Poona somehow.
The next morning at Mogalsarai, Maganlal managed to get a seat in the third class and Gandhiji shifted. The guard, however, declined to a certificate to Gandhiji that he had shifted to a third-class compartment at Mogalsarai.
When he applied to the railway authorities for redressal, they replied “It is not our practice to refund excess fares without the production of a certificate, but we make an exception in your case. It is not possible, however, to refund the excess fare from Burdwan to Mogalsarai.”
Gandhiji and Maganlal were dead tired when they reached Kalyan and took a bath from the water pipe at the station.
As he was proceeding to arrange for his wife’s bath, Sjt Kaul of the Servants of India Society offered to take his wife to the second class bathroom. Though hesitant at first, Gandhiji accepted the offer.
“A husband’s partiality for his wife got the better of his partiality for truth,” Gandhiji admitted.
The face of truth is hidden behind the golden veil of maya (illusion), says the Upanishad, he summed up.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons