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  • As a democracy, we have this annual exercise (as other countries do, I am sure) when the government tightens the noose around hard-working citizens by raising taxes as well as prices of essential commodities. We call it the Budget with a capital ‘B’.

    For most of this month, financial pundits debate whether the fiscal is deficit, or how inflation can power a rocket as it is always touching the sky, and what is the limit to tax one’s income, before coming to the most important question of all – what will be the hike on fuel prices this year?

    Since this is an annual exercise, we the common citizens, are well accustomed to dealing with it – we readjust our inner compass, hard wire ourselves and get on with the business of living!

    This year’s Budget will be out only tomorrow. But yesterday, the government presented the Railway Budget. With a capital ‘R’ and ‘B’. India, as we know, has the largest rail network, and merits a separate day to announce its fare hikes, new rail connections and new trains.

    It has been ages since I took a train ride. But as children, summer holidays for us began when we packed our suitcases and beddings (this one deserves a special story some other time to explain exactly what it means) and nearly emptied the kitchen larder to spend two full days and two full nights on the train to visit our grandparents.

    The journey was good fun, in retrospect! Now when I think of train journeys, I always picture it through the window seat from where I looked at the world go by. I remember the fights with my brother and sister on who gets to sleep on the top bunk, and waiting for the station to come when we would buy cheap desi toys which were not sold in the big city where we lived.

    However, during those days I hated undertaking what I thought was a torturous journey. The reason was the loo. The train toilet. If you have ever used an Indian Railways toilet and survived it, then in my opinion you can survive just about anywhere.

    To use the toilet – Indian squat style -- in a moving train without holding on to anything (are you crazy, I wouldn’t even touch the tap if I could help it) requires practice and a lot of determination. The trains do have the ‘western style’ commode, but you will have to be totally crazy to even think of sitting on it.

    So, such is the state of the train toilets that it has put me off train travel. I hope it will not be for ever. For I hear that the government, in yesterday’s Railway Budget, has revived a six-year-old plan to install ‘green’ toilets, promising that 2,500 coaches will have the new system by 2013. Apparently, the open discharge toilets on trains cost the railways a staggering Rs 350 crore a year because of corrosion of tracks by human waste.

    Coming back to trains and its toilets, I have endured many a journey on a full bladder till I reached I-don’t-care-where-just-take-me-to-the-loo situation. I have sat through hours of agony with an expressionless face dreading the moment when I will have to succumb to the demands of my body craving for a good dump. What a taxing journey!

    (The picture above was taken by me when I visited Pietermaritzburg in South Africa in 2009. This was the platform where Mahatma Gandhi was thrown out of the train because he was not a ‘White’ man. Incidentally, Gandhi was a great advocate of manual labour which did not go down well with his family who did not take too kindly to being told to ‘clean the latrines.’)
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