The other day, while waiting in the platform for the arrival of my train, I was talking to the porter (we call them coolies) whom I had hired for carrying my two piece luggage. I asked him how much does he earn per day. Immediately he started pouring out his tale of woes.
“These strollies which every passenger is using these days have killed our business Sar. In the old days, I used to earn on an average Rs. 600 to Rs. 700 per day. These days I am lucky if I earn Rs 300 to Rs 400. With high costs how can I manage my family sar?”
`Is that why you demand unreasonable amounts even for light luggages” I asked.
With a weak smile he said, “ What to do sar. We would like to get the maximum amount from any client who hires our services.”
As a practice I always hire a coolie even to carry my strolley and the hand bags as I find it a strain to walk long distances in the platforms with them. It certainly is a nightmare to climb up and down stairs in stations with the luggages. These days , with aching limbs & creaky joints , I also find it difficult to lift the bags and put them on the luggage racks inside the compartments.
I have a simple system of dealing with coolies. If they demand exorbitant amounts I just walk away ignoring the guys. I don`t believe in negotiations or to have fights with them. If a coolie demands a reasonable amount, I hire him and invariably tip him some extra amount without his asking. The happiness I see on his face when he gets the unexpected bonus, makes my day.
If you have travelled abroad, especially to Western Countries you will realise that the concept of porters or coolies at the stations do not exist there. You have to carry your own bags, however unwieldy they are. And since most of the stations are located below ground level, it becomes a challenge carrying your baggages
It is a nightmare when your travel involves changing trains! Once at Hamburg station, though I was given clear instructions by the station master about the platform number on which .the train would arrive and the precise location of my compartment,- I decided to recheck the platform number with another Indian on the platform who misled me and I found myself on the wrong platform when the train was streaming into the station.
How I ran up the steps with the heavy baggages in hand and reached my compartment just in time is a story by itself! As soon as I dumped my bags inside and got into the train, the doors closed behind me and the train started. I literally fell on top of my suitcase and was panting for the next ten minutes. I could clearly hear my heartbeat and was sure I was going to die of a heart attack that day.
That was the day I realized the value of the services provided by the coolies back home. And I am continuing to avail of their services however light I travel.
( This article appeared in Adyar Times issue dt. 7-14th February, 2016 under my column `Rajan`s Random Reflections`)