Do you know of anyone who might know of someone who has said he/she liked rail food? I have yet to come across one who relished – I mean, yummy-yummied – a meal in the train. That the train food is no good isn’t worth writing about. What intrigues me is capability of caterers to serve meals in trains that are so uniformly tasteless.
I had occasion to try out rail meal during my recent travel to Vizag from Bangalore and back by Prashanti Express. The menu varied, from brijal in the day to beatroot at night for curry. There was variety, such as sambar, morkozahbu, bhaji, puri and rice. But they all tasted the same, every time.
Sambar, rasam are the kind of items amenable to fluctuating taste, even if cooked by the same hands. It has to do with the masala mix; making it a bit too hot one day, a little less salted on the next, and, occasionally, even tasty, through sheer human error. But railway cooks, it appears, are trained never to err on the side of taste. And this is an aspect of catering management, I thought, the country’s best known rail management guru ought to highlight in his talks at IIM-A and management lectures to visiting students from Harvard, Stanford or wherever.
Prof. Lalu P Yadav can tell his Ivy League undergrad disciples how caterers in India’s vast rail network manage to maintain standards of tastelessness and still sustain the demand for their meals. The server in my compartment (AS1, July 6, Bubaneswar-bound Prasanthi) turned up with dinner at 10 p m because there were 500 meals to be served that night and there was no one other than him to serve them.
Another distinct feature of our rail system that might interest students of communication management is the working of public address system at Bangalore railway station. Our railways have public announcers who tend to betray supreme indifference to aspects of oral communication such as diction, phonetics and pronunciation. And then, from where I found myself on Platform-6, one heard a clash of voices emanating from two different P A systems.
As one announcer belted out scripted messages about delayed arrival of the Brindavan Express, there was a counter voice, from another system informing us about the status of the Mysore-bound train from Jaipur. The blare of announcements, delivered in Kannada, Hindi and English, not always in a conducive tone and accent, made less sense than noise.
Yet another feature of customer service communication pertains to availability of wheel-chairs at the Bangalore railway station. My source of information on it was through word-of-mouth. And licensed porters were willing to produce a wheel-chair for you, at a price that is directly proportionate to the level of your helplessness. I paid Rs.60, beating down the initial asking price of Rs.150, to move my handicapped mother from platform 7 to 5.
Later I learnt you could get a wheel-chair from the station manager’s office by producing an ID card. There is also provision for requisition of wheel-chair by incoming passengers who can ring up a designated number. One would have thought information on customer services such as availability of wheel-chairs and the contact phone number ought to be displayed on closed-circuit TV or electronic message boards and also announced through the public address system.
Cross-filed in Desicritics