During my recent trips to the South of India, I had a couple of misadventures with the Indian Railways.
To start with, I was unable to reserve my seat on a train from Bengaluru to Chennai either directly online or through an online travel agent because, the Indian Railways reservation system has blacklisted my name for some strange reason. I am told that it is most likely because my account with them has been dormant for many years now. Others including my sister Padmini, too confirm that this happens when one does not use the system for a long period of time.
I therefore requested a friend in Bengaluru to physically go to the station and book the ticket which he kindly did. Unfortunately however, he failed to check the hard copy of the ticket before couriering it to me to reach me before I left Pune. On receipt I found that my gender had been entered as Female!
You have to know somethings about the Indian Railways to understand the horror I felt on finding myself classified as a Female. The IR is a government department under the charge of a full time Minister in the Central Government of India. It is therefore highly bureaucratic and as with other bureaucracies, open to misuse of authority. If a ticket examiner had decided to make my life miserable, this was a perfect opportunity, which he would have considered as a blessing from his favourite God.
On arrival at Bengaluru I rushed to the main railway station to see if the ticket could be altered to avoid my being offloaded and was directed to the Assistant Station Superintendent. In that office there were two worthies sitting at empty desks doing nothing. The first one, a male, I went to was seated immediately to my left as I entered the room. He was very polite and asked me what the problem was and on learning what it was, promptly yelled to the other person, a lady sitting across the room to solve the problem. I took myself over to the lady and handed over the ticket and she scrutinised it and the following discussion took place;
Lady: “Are you Ramana Rajgopaul?”
Me: “Yes Madam, I am indeed Ramana Rajgopaul.
Lady: “But you are not a female!”.
Me: “Yes Madam, I indeed am not, as you can see.”
Lady: “So what is the problem?”
Me: “I would like to ensure that I am not offloaded from the train due to this misrepresentation and would appreciate your amending the ticket to make me a Male.”
Lady: “That is not possible sir. This is an e-ticket and we cannot access the computer to edit such mistakes.”
Me: “So, what do I do?”
Lady: “Have you got some identification proof with you?”
Me: “Yes, my Income Tax Permanent Account Number Card, my driving license and if need be, I can carry my passport too.”
Lady: “Please show me what you have now with you.”
Me: Produced the PAN Card and the Driving License.
Lady: :Good! It is clear that you are not a female. All that you have to do is to show this to the ticket examiner on board the train.”
Me: “Supposing he refuses to accept and offloads me?”
Lady: “Don’t worry Sir. This happens all the time and all TEs are quite used to seeing these mistakes. He won’t offload you.”
Me: “Just suppose he does, what do I do?”
Lady: “Come back here and submit a written complaint about the whole matter.”
Me: “Thank you very much Madam. It is a great relief to know that there is a complaint mechanism that I can use by returning to Bengaluru from wherever I am offloaded which will give me some relief.”
Lady: “No mention. It is my duty.”
I duly boarded the train on the due date and after about an hour into the journey, the TE did come and asked for the ticket and this is what transpired between the two of us.
TE: Sir, you are not a female.”
Me: No, I am most certainly not!”
TE: Have you got some ID with you?”
I produced my PAN card.
He took a pen from his pocket and circled the ‘female’ entry, wrote ‘Male’ inside the circle, affixed his signature in the form of a squiggle and said “Terrible things, computers. Here you are a male and it has called you a female.” I agreed with him and took my ID card and the ticket back from him and that was the end of the story.”