Travelling in train in India is no fun. Traveling in coach class in particular could be hazardous to health. In coach class, Juggernaut always ended up sitting next to the latrine. Every time a passenger opens the door to use the latrine, disgusting odor rushes out as if it was stored under pressure only waiting to be released, subjecting the passengers in the immediate vicinity to the stench. Fed up with getting a seat next to the latrine all the time, Juggernaut decided to travel first class.
The first class fare on train was pretty steep; almost close to airfare, though the comfort was superior to air travel. Each passenger was assigned to an individual sleeping berth in a coupe that accommodates up to four passengers. A first class coach would have several coupes. Each coupe has its own sliding door for privacy. Thus, the passengers in a coupe have to be put up with each other in close quarters during the travel. An attendant take cares of the first class passenger, in case of a need, say providing an extra pillow or a blanket. Once in awhile, the coach conductor would drop by to check the validity of tickets and make sure no unauthorized persons were travelling in first class.
During his first travel in the first class, Juggernaut’s coupe mates were all male. A pious looking man in late 60’s named Mr. Viswanath occupied the lower berth. He kept to himself, reading religious journal ‘Moksha’ (salvation). Once in a while he looked up just to adjust his reading glasses. The other passenger was Mr. Rasool, an eco-journalist, a dark skinned man with perpetual smiling face. His moustache was well trimmed which he constantly rubbed with two fingers starting at the middle with each finger ended up at each end of the moustache, repeating every few minutes as if checking whether the moustache was in place. The third passenger, an over sized man in loose white garb with flashy gold rings on most fingers. A large pendulum like gold ornament was hanging from a very thick gold neck chain. He was constantly on his cell phone, talking loudly on getting funds for various government projects to private contractors. It was not sure whether his audiences were his coupe mates or the party on other side of the telephone. One thing was clear; he wants everybody to know that he was a very influential person, sort of a high-power lobbyist.
The door to the coupe was kept opened since it was not sleeping time yet. One can see passengers walking through the narrow passage way, either to the latrine or to drop by other coup to meet friends or so. The noise from the adjoin coupe was very loud. It seems the passengers were involved in some kind of a card game with money changing hands.
The coach conductor seems to juggle the seat assignment for a bribe to facilitate gamblers to congregate in one coupe to gamble night long without interruptions, kind of a miniature casino on wheels. In addition to gambling, the attendant supplied booze and food to the players on as need basis. Juggernaut wondered whether these railway employees borrowed this idea of ‘gambling on wheels’ from an old movie ‘Sting’ in which Paul Newman and Robert Shaw dual each other in a card game under the supervision of a railway coach conductor.
Since Mr. Viswanath and the lobbyist were immersed in their activities, Mr.Rasool started a serious conversation with Juggernaut. He said he preferred the term eco short for ecology rather than the word environment to describe his line of work. When Juggernaut mentioned the term ‘Green’ Mr.Rasool jumped from his seat towards Juggernaut to make a point how much he hated that word and how the word ‘Green’ was grossly misused by everybody in the business of environmental affairs.”You know, people use the word ‘green’ as a mantra to identify themselves as people of conscious and I distrust them,” he said settling back into his seat.
“That‘s true,” agreed Juggernaut.
“I am travelling to attend a conference on global warming.”
“You see, around half billion people living in the rich countries like USA, Canada, Europe and Australia are responsible for emitting most of the green-house gasses or carbon into the atmosphere and the rest of the world population, around 5 ½ billion were being severely impacted from it,” “now you tell me where is the justice?”
Not waiting for any answer from Juggernaut, Mr.Rasool continued his monologue. “As a responsible citizen of the world and as a dedicated eco-Journalist, I came out with a plan to share equally the burden of global warming among the 6 billion citizens of the world. We know from the scientific community, how much green house gasses or say carbon units we can release per year without adversely affecting the atmosphere, and we shall divide this equally among the 6 billion people on the earth. Each person owns equal amount of carbon units that can be released into the atmosphere from their consumption of products and services. If a person wants more carbon units than their share, then they can buy the carbon units from any person willing to sell their share of carbon in open market on EBay, Craig’s list, facebook or any other social network, I call it ‘Cash for Carbon’. If people want to live a lavish life style, its fine, but they have to pay for the additional carbon released into the atmosphere from their high style living.” "Alternatively, folks can buy energy efficient products, use alternate energy sources that release less carbon and so forth rather than spending money on buying carbon units."
“Sounds fair, but I am not sure how this plan can be monitored for compliance,” Juggernaut was not sure.
“It is simple; a regulatory agency named “Carbon Protection Force (CPF)” would be established just like Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to monitor the ‘carbon exchange’ on the open market.
“Well, the SEC and FDA were not known for their stringent compliance practices, you know,” Juggernaut was doubtful.
“True, but any new institution has to evolve through growing pains.” Mr. Rasool was confident.
“Certainly, I like your plan Mr. Rasool, I hope you will find support for your novel idea of ‘Cash for Carbon’ in the conference,” complemented Juggernaut.
“Thank you sir,” Mr. Rasool appeared satisfied.
Paying no attention to the world environmental problems being discussed, Mr. Viswanath kept reading religious journal ‘Moksha’, intermittently smiling with his thin lips tightly closed and shaking his head up and down as if he concurs with whatever he was reading.
Meanwhile, the lobbyist kept dropping names of big time politicians like bird droppings in his telephone conversation. If one were to take his conversation seriously, the world is spinning around him, he being the axle.
The rail car attendant meanwhile was busy supplying liquor, club soda and snacks to the gambling travelers in the adjoin coupe. The railway employee became a paid private servant to these unruly travelers. One can hear emotional outbursts mixed with colorful curse words. Since it was well over the bed time, the Juggernaut closed the sliding door making preparations to sleep. The lobbyist slept on the lower berth and so as the Mr. Viswanath. Juggernaut and Mr. Rasool each took the upper berths.
Juggernaut fell asleep immediately only to get up from a loud bang as if somebody was thrown against the separating wall between coupes. From heavy drinking and perhaps loss of betting money, the members resorted to a fist fight. With no cops on board and no fellow passengers dare to interfere, the fight continued for some time.
The lobbyist was snoring in his sleep making annoying noise louder than his earlier telephone calls. Mr. Viswanath though sleeping, his lips were moving slowly as if he was chanting in silence. Juggernaut hadn’t slept much during the night was awakened early in the morning when Mr. Viswanath started chanting hymns loudly sitting in a lotus position on his berth. At the same time, Mr. Rasool got up and started discussing loudly on the cell phone with his superior about his plans for the day.
Juggernaut jumped from his upper berth to open the door to use the latrine. The rail car attendant removed a sack full of empty bottles from the adjoin coupe, later he hurled the bag full of bottles on to the tracks from the running train. The latrine in the first class was kept clean and more user friendly with less odor.
When the train reached the destination, the gamblers hurried themselves out first. The lobbyist talking on the phone pushed himself out of the coupe. Mr. Viswanath having completed his morning prayer on the wheels, walked out slowly as if he figured out everything what to expect next. Mr. Rasool with full of hope that his novel idea ‘Cash for Carbon’ would receive wide acceptance in the conference bade farewell to Juggernaut.
While the travel in coach class was intolerable from the latrine stench, the close encounter with mankind in the first class coupe was no better from inconsiderate fellow travelers. "Next time, I shall travel by air," thought Juggernaut.