November 7, 2008Public Policysocietystory

Santa Singh on Train Number 2627

A parable of contemporary India

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Photo: Sid Ganesh/Flickr

Photo: Sid Ganesh

Santa Singh’s love for Indian Railways was legendary. Everyone in Medi Mallasandra, Santa’s ancestral village, knew about his famous attachment to trains, tracks, stations and almost everything to do with the railways. In fact, Santa’s great-grandfather, Master Bantokh Singh was instrumental in bringing the railway line to the erstwhile Mysore state, while his grandfather and several grand-uncles had spent lifetimes working for the railways—trains, you could say, were in Santa’s blood.

So it was not surprising that Santa looked forward to his journey on KK Express (or, Number 2627, as Santa called it) on his way to New Delhi, to make his annual pilgrimage to Rail Museum. He had been doing this every year from the time he could afford the fare—it was his little way of paying his respects to his illustrious grandsire, the great Master Bantokh Singh.

With each passing year, Santa looked on with increasing disappointment as railway property continued to be vandalised (or, desecreted, as Santa termed it). He wrote letters to the Railway Minister, the Railway Board, various General Managers and Station Masters. He admonished Railway Guards and Railway police constables. He even filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the higher judiciary. To no avail. The high officials did not bother to write back. Some low officials just shrugged and asked him to take it easy. Others said they were helpless, and pointed out that the magazine vendor on Platform 2 makes more money than the Station Master. The PIL had yet to come up for hearing, years after Santa had filed it.

As he chained his trusty old VIP suitcase (the kind that didn’t open when it was upside down) to his berth, he noticed that the mirror just outside the lavatory had come loose. He opened the VIP (right side up), pulled out his pouch and fished out the screwdriver that had once belonged to his grandfather. He walked over to the mirror and tightened the screws, and then, settled on his berth, dozed off.

It was close to midnight when he woke up to the sounds of squeaking metal and groaning man. What he saw shocked him. A man in a brown jacket was trying to unscrew the mirror. Another man who somehow reminded him of Brylcreem was egging him on. Santa saw the plot instantly—they were attempting to steal Railway Property! It took him less than a second to get there, and just over two to chase Brown Jacket and Brylcreem away, but ten whole minutes to locate the TT or whatever-they-called-him-now and register a formal complaint. It took him thirty more to register, informally, just what he thought of how the Railways were being run.

The train stopped somewhere at 4:30am for one of those inexplicable reasons they do. Santa decided to give his day an early start and headed to the lavatory with his toothbrush. And surprised Bryclreem, who gave a shout. Brown Jacket hurt his finger and withdrew it, and reflexively thrust it into his mouth, evidently in pain. And in this state, they jumped out of the train, onto the platform and disappeared into the darkness, even as the signal sounded.

Santa was livid. He berated the TT or whatever-they-called-him-now for not being alert and threatened to make a complaint to his superiors. Santa’s anger increased when he saw a hint of a smile on the TTs face. Before either could do anything, the train jerked to a start. Leaving the rest unsaid, Santa proceeded to brush his teeth.


They would reach New Delhi in a few hours. By this time, Santa Singh’s mind was clear. Brylcreem and Brown Jacket had made three more attempts to steal the mirror, and had succeeded in stealing two screws. Santa knew that they would remove the remaining two before long, perhaps after he disembarked. Santa knew that neither Indian Railways, nor the Railway Police nor the Railway Protection Force could prevent this from happening. And then, Brylcreem and Brown Jacket (and who knows how many accomplices they have, for they surely must have them) would do the same to the next compartment. And the next. And the next. And after KK Express it would be Rajdhani. And then Shatabdi. This was not a S2 problem. It was not a Number 2627 problem. It was a problem for the Indian Railways. And the people whose job it is to protect Indian Railways property were failing to do it properly. Who knows, the officials might secretly be in league with the Brown Jacket & Brylcreem gang.

No, it was in his hands now. Santa Singh had to save his beloved Indian Railways. In one of those moments when a passing ray of sun injects perfect lucidity he knew exactly what he had to do.


He squeezed his VIP suitcase shut, with only a little extra effort. He smiled as he got off Number 2627. Those who loved Indian Railways had finally gone one up on those who didn’t. He could imagine the expression on Brylcreem’s face when he saw four empty holes where the mirror had been. Yes, it was time for those who love Indian Railways to save Indian Railways.



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