I have been working in this boring profession for over 18 years. It’s a thankless job. We have to satisfy a complete stranger who comes to the counter within a maximum of two minutes. And yet, we are an abused lot as most people who travel by train think we are corrupt and make money by selling tickets in black.
Of course, a small number of black sheep make money, hand in glove with unauthorised agents. Only two forms are allowed per person at the booking counter. When these agents bring a dozen forms, we oblige and hold back some amount as ‘our charges’ which vary between Rs 20-Rs 150. If they don’t pay us, we inform the cops that unauthorised agents are troubling us. The excess cash is routed through friendly touts.
A common complaint is that when special trains are announced, all sleeper class tickets are sold within half an hour of the counters being opened. Every morning, we have to declare what the railways call ‘miscellaneous cash’ when we sit for duty, and empty out our pockets before logging out. But there are thousands of reservation counters across the country and 10 times more passengers than availability. Since every one of them wants to book at the earliest, is it any wonder that the whole train is booked in a short time?
Now, with 30 per cent of rail tickets being e-tickets, the system has become transparent. Travellers themselves can check availability and status on the railway website.
Despite tickets being available at post offices, IRCTC-authorised kiosks and all kinds of reservation agents, passengers still trust a railway booking clerk as we can answer queries. We store more information in our brain than even a computer hard disk. We have to be constantly aware of changing rules, quotas, concessions, routes, links, trains and other info. At major stations, we process as many as 30-40 persons per hour, but in reservation counters away from stations, the pressure is much less.
The biggest problem we face is giving back the correct change. There is a shortage of change and reservation clerks are better off than our colleagues handing unreserved ticket counters where there is a big rush.
(This senior clerk is awaiting promotion to superintendent. He has worked with southern, central, SCR and SWR railway divisions)
(As told to Anil Budur Lulla).