It happened in 1944. I was traveling from Sukkur to Karachi by rail. In those days, reservation in first class on slow passenger trains was not necessary as plenty of accommodation was always available, and getting a sleeping berth was no problem, either. On arrival of the train, I was pleased to find a vacant coupé that I could have all to myself. I, therefore, occupied it and spread my bedding on the lower berth. The train was about to pull off when a rustic, ill-clad person entered the coupé. I thought that such a poor, miserable, and shabby person could certainly not afford to travel first class. He must have entrained there mistakenly. So I confidently informed him, “This is first class.”

“I know, sir,” was his polite reply as he coolly proceeded to enter the compartment anyway.

It was unbelievable that such a beggarly, uncouth, and uncivilized person could afford to travel first class. His cool, collected confidence, however, did not betray in the least that he might be traveling ticketless or without the ticket of the proper class. Then I thought that he might have purchased a short-distance ticket to satisfy his curiosity of traveling first class. I asked him, “How far are you going?”

“Karachi.”

Oh no, that meant that I would have to travel with this filthy, miserable wretch all night. How could this rustic, with such dirty clothes, afford a first-class ticket for such a long journey? No! There must be some catch. He must not have purchased any ticket, presuming that no one would check the passengers for tickets at night. So I demanded that he show me his ticket.

To my great embarrassment, with great gusto he took out a white ticket (denoting first class). I was further amazed to see that the destination on the ticket was indeed Karachi. This completely humbled me.

But the final moment of my embarrassment was yet to come. Upon reaching Karachi, I noticed that there was a huge crowd at the station waiting to receive him with a great ovation. I learned that he was an important political leader who traveled incognito so that he was not disturbed during his journey. I still remember the smile he gave me while disembarking the train. How I wish I had not been so foolish as to ask him to show me his ticket.

Arya Bhushan retired as chief commissioner of railway safety in 1976 after a 34-year career at the Indian Railway Service of Engineers.

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