"Does it leave exactly at the scheduled time?” he enquired. "Has the service improved?” He looked at the e-ticket - "You mean you just printed it out from the website?" he asked. He posed all these questions on the flight from Bangalore to Delhi. “I am looking forward to the trip tomorrow!” he exclaimed. He was referring to the business trip to Chandigarh the next morning by Shatabdi Express. No, these were not questions from a foreigner on a first trip to India or even a Non Resident Indian trying to understand how much his mother-land had progressed since the last trip. This was the CEO of a large business house - used to flying first and business class. No CEO is unaware of the changes brought about the Railway Minister, Lalu Yadav. From a nearly bankrupt organization, the Railways are a highly profitable and a competitive one. He was indeed looking forward to this trip on the Shatabdi Express.
Having slept just a few hours the previous night, he said “it will be great if they serve some tea during the journey”, only half expecting any tea to be served during the journey. The Shatabdi Express pulled out of the New Delhi railway station - he glanced at his Rolex - quite impressed with the ontime departure. No doubt, he was used to departure delays, by airlines, on account of the "late arrival of incoming flights". Without the baggage of demonstration-for-the-use- of-the-Oxygen-Mask, Emergency Exit instructions and announcements for the name of the Pilot, Co-Pilot and Cabin in-charge,service began, quickly, with a choice of newspapers. He was disappointed that the Economic Times was not available. As the landscape whizzed past , breakfast was served. He updated himself with Hindustan Times before while we crossed Panipat. A friendly passenger lent his copy of the Economic Times which updated him on the sub-prime loan crisis in the United States. He then checked how much the seat reclined and whether the window blinds worked well. These being German made coaches – the quality of fittings and their smooth functioning met the approval of his discerning eye and taste.
Later, a power-nap recharged his batteries while his B&O phone got recharged through the handy power-outlet provided so thoughtfully in the train.
Refreshed, his mind whirred, faster than the top speed of the Shatabdi Express. He posed questions. Questions ranging from the plastic waste strewn along the country-side to the challenges posed by his business. As the Shatabdi hurtled past Kurukshetra his questions mirrored his war-like thoughts on business. It was not many questions later that we crossed Ambala – the penultimate station before Chandigarh.
It still looked like we were in the middle of nowhere when passengers started unloading their luggage from the overhead racks. This surely indicated that we were approaching Chandigarh. Exactly at five minutes past eleven am – the scheduled time - the train pulled into Chandigarh station. The CEO was impressed. The day's Economic Times had a story on how the high speed train, the Eurostar, was taking away market share from airlines on the London-Paris and London-Brussels routes. Maybe, the next circular from his HR department would help the railways get a greater share of the traffic between Delhi and Chandigarh ! For an even better share of the market, the Railway Minister could consider organizing “Know The Railways’ trip for other CEOs!