Millennium Post

Whimsical toast for our transmuting trains!

With the Indian Railways finally and hopefully making a promise to gear up for donning a better avatar, not just in terms of speed and safety, but also in the quality of the edible stuff they dole out from their pantry cars, it behooves well that the railway authorities should also spare a little thought for the hundreds of thousands of beggars who seem to have officially adopted the vast networks of trains as their unofficial, mobile work-and-home space. As one travels, he/she is easily pestered by the scores of hapless people who keep approaching the already hassled passenger by displaying their deformities as props to  arouse his/her compassion, which  drives him/her to ultimately give away the change in their pocket. Now the official and unofficial connotations mentioned above are there for a reason; the ticket checkers and the railway policemen very conveniently ignore the unauthorised presence of the begging lot within their area of jurisdiction, which includes those menacing gang of thugs who simulate and fake deformities and would not budge an inch until you give away something to excuse yourself from them to your relief.

However, there is no denying that the issues of hunger in our country are real and they must be sympathetically addressed. Pertaining to begging inside trains, there can never be an agreeable, compassionate and official solution to tackle; even to define what is a menace is getting on slippery grounds. Hypothetical maybe, but a fanciful idea crossed my mind during one of these countless encounters with a beggar woman on a train on a fixed route, who herself  being absolutely hale and hearty, and of solid Amazonian frame, was dragging her infant child ruthlessly by arm so as to make him weep inconsolably, and simultaneously begging on the pretext of the toddler’s illness and treatment. Spiritually relishing perhaps, this could be laughed away as a nonsensical, pregnant with ideas and downright ludicrously whimsical for Indian conditions.

 Elsewhere I had read that in the states, the famous rock star, John Bon Jovi runs a ‘Soul Kitchen Community Restaurant’ with a ‘Hope is Delicious’  theme where the usual three course American meal is served to the visitors, with foods bearing no price tags in the menu card. The visitors have the option to either pay whatever they like above the price of a meagre ten dollar a meal, or in lieu they may offer to work briefly under the guidance of its regular staff in the kitchen, reception or washrooms, or as a volunteer at the table. Those without money can earn an instant free meal by volunteering to do any of the aforementioned work with due respect and guidance.This rendezvous of two dissimilar angles at one eating point is all that makes that unique soul kitchen extremely special.

For a second, I redirect my thoughts to JBJ’s soul kitchen noble concept,  and returned with that far-fetched, impossibly improbable theory. How about the Indian railways in its current adoption of a fast, futuristic avatar open such a community soul kitchen pantry cars where the beggars, who must earn a living, may do trifling or nominal services such as cleaning, sweeping etc inside the trains and earn a free meal there itself provided by the railways itself! And would you mind making that extra contribution to a railway caterer for the meal you order from your berth for a hungry, volunteering  soul who cannot afford it!

The author works with the Information and Public relations department of Odisha
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