Citizens endure 55-hour ordeal on train to lit fest

Apr 04, 2015, 07:40 IST | Chaitraly Deshmukh

A 15-hour delay, lack of electricity and water and rotten meals left passengers with a bad taste in the mouth after they boarded a special train to Amritsar to attend the 88th Marathi Literature Fest which is being held in a village in Punjab

Amritsar: It was with great anticipation that as many as 3,500 people boarded the Sant Guru Nanak train (Mumbai to Amritsar via Pune) that was to take them to the 88th Marathi Literature Fest, which is being held in a village in Punjab this year.

As the journey kept getting longer, poetry enthusiasts kept each other engaged by reading verses out loud
As the journey kept getting longer, poetry enthusiasts kept each other engaged by reading verses out loud

But their enthusiasm was tested from the very beginning, and a 15-hour delay, lack of electricity and water and rotten meals left them with a bad taste in the mouth. The train was to leave from Mumbai at midnight on March 31 and at 6 am from Pune.

They even took it in stride when the train got delayed for two hours at Mumbai. Meanwhile, in Pune people began assembling at the railway station as early as 5 am. There weren’t enough seats on the platforms for all the passengers, and this became a real problem as the train arrived at Pune station four hours late, at 10 am.

When the train finally began the journey from Pune station to Amritsar at 10.30 am, passengers hoped that they could then relax for the rest of the trip. To their dismay, however, the train kept halting at various junctions, only adding to the delay.

Things started going really downhill on April 2, the second day of the journey, when five of the non-AC coaches experienced a power outage around 6 pm. With neither lights nor fans working, the passengers began complaining of suffocation.

They could not charge their mobile phones and were forced to endure the swarm of mosquitoes that bit them through the night. To keep themselves distracted, the poetry buffs read each other verses. Shashikala Kolte (59), who has been attending the lit fest for ten years, said, “Around 6 pm on Thursday the electricity in our compartment had gone.

Most of the passengers were senior citizens who were feeling suffocated. Finally, my husband requested a junction officer to fix the problem.” The route was originally supposed to be a 40-hour journey, and if things had gone according to plan, the passengers would have arrived at their destination by 11.30 pm that night.

However, with all the halts and delays, the train only made it to Amritsar at 10.30 am yesterday, 15 hours after schedule.

Food crisis
An unforeseen result of this would be a food shortage, as the caterer had only prepared enough meals for two days and one night. On the second night, the railway staff managed to serve meals to everyone by 8.30 pm, but the passengers complained that the food smelled rotten.

By the time a second meal could be prepared and served at 11.30 pm, most people had gone to sleep on empty stomachs. There was no option to get down and buy some food, as the train did not stop at any station, instead halting at track junctions.

One of the travellers, Prathamesh Narvilkar said, “On Thursday night the dinner that was served to us smelled rotten. We protested and finally the orgainsers promised to serve us another meal. But the food came so late, we had to sleep on empty stomachs. We were not even served breakfast the next day as the caterer claimed there was no food left.”

Meanwhile, the power outage continued till 2.30 am, when the train pulled into the Patiala junction. Passengers alighted and requested the local railways maintenance team to fix the problem. Only then did the electricity return. On the third morning, passengers woke up, no doubt relieved at the thought that they would finally be able to get off the train.

However, they soon discovered that the water in the restrooms had run out. Soon enough, the coaches began to reek with the foul odour from the toilets. The travellers cold not even wash their hands, let alone attend to nature’s call. At 6 am, when the train halted yet again at the Ludhiana junction, hundreds got down and demanded that the train wait until they could relieve themselves at the junction premises itself.

After two hours, when the train began moving again, passengers demanded they be served breakfast, only to be told that the pantry had run out of ingredients. Only after elderly passengers complained of blood sugar issues did the staff serve tea to everyone.

Suffice it to say, that when the train finally pulled into the Beas junction in Amritsar at 10.30 am yesterday, the literature enthusiasts had little enthusiasm left. In fact, one of the passengers suffered a stroke and had to be admitted to a hospital in Ghuman.

Official speak
Bharat Desadala, from the All India Marathi Sahitya Mandal, which organised the fest and the journey, said, “At present I would not like to talk on this issue. I know that the train got delayed because it did not get the green signal to pass from the railway.”

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