footboards ed




Like all tellers of tales, I mix imagination with reality. The ratio varies, from story to story. However, the piece given below is all fact with no fiction. It is a narration of an experience from my own life; and it is as true as truth can be.





hanging on train


1962. I had just turned 21, and being young and healthy, the world was my oyster. I believed that I had learnt the fine art of entering any train, and travel without reservation. However, on that fateful evening, I was in for an unsought adventure. By the time I reached New Delhi railway station, the train had already formed on the platform. The booking clerk was adamant that he could not issue a ticket to me without a reservation slip, which was just as hard to obtain. After much coaxing and cajoling, I did manage to acquire a II class ticket and rushed to the platform, only to find that the train had already begun a slow crawl. I slung the rucksack around my neck and got onto a footboard. The compartment inside was fully reserved and its occupants had no place for an intruder like me, even if I only wanted to stand on the floor of their coach. My request for opening the door was turned down with a rude “Reserved hai” yell from within.

Resigned to fate, I decided to hang back and enjoy the inevitable ‘rape’. It was a pleasant early-november evening and the cool breeze was a sure sign that the long, hot summer had finally come to end. I savoured the fresh autumn air and recalled my association with the places as we passed by them.

Trains move slowly when still within the city of Delhi, perhaps as a mark of respect to the Capital. I suppose it would be rude to ignore the skyscrapers of Connaught Place, the splendid Old Fort, the majestic Oberoi Intercontinental and the sprawling Zoological Gardens and just speed through. In the light of the moon, I saw them all. But along with all this, my eyes fell on some uglier sights. I saw a large spread of slums. Countless people living in jhuggis, filthier than doghouses of civilized men. Near every big colony, there was a settlement of these miserable people. A lump formed in my throat at the sight. They stole a big chunk of beauty out of the scene. I protested aloud, ‘Why must we tolerate this? Why, can’t the Government do something about this? They talk so big; spend so much money on making parks, lighting up streets and planting ornamental trees along the pavements. Can’t they remove these wretched people from here?…These are the breeding grounds of mosquitoes, flies and other insects, all ailments originate from here. If nothing else, on grounds of health we should eradicate slums, or at least move them away from such prestigious cities as the Capital of India. These joints are the harbours of beggars. If slums are removed, beggars will disappear, too!’

That day, if I were made the ruler of the land, the only order I would have given would pertain to the elimination of slums. For a while, I conjured a vision of India transformed into an affluent nation. But, soon, harsh reality brought me back to the footboard. We had reached the recently built Nizamuddin railway station. The train made a brief, unscheduled halt there. But it was not long enough for me to find an entry into the train. And so, when it began to move, I got back to the same compartment, and got onto the footboard.

As we reached the end of the platform, a few urchins joined me on ‘my’ footboard. I protested mildly, but did not have the courage or the heart to push them down, or away. There was a hidden fear, deep within, of beginning a squabble, and I could not afford that. I moved over to the extreme corner of the footboard. The slum dwellers were on the other   side.

I was choked with the foul odour they emitted. The entire stench in the world seemed to have converged there, at a point twenty inches from my nose. Afraid that their touch would soil my clothes, I shrank further into ‘my’ corner. I made reasonably sure that their hands would not reach me unless   fully stretched. What followed was worse. The boys let loose a tirade studded with the most obnoxious swear-words. Such filthy vocabulary, such mean thoughts!

It was obvious that they were menials. Children of sweepers, cobblers, washer men and unskilled labourers. All residing in slums which I had just passed by. From their conversation I gathered that they were going to Mathura. Their parents lived in Delhi and the boys commuted to Mathura to work during the night shift of a factory. Habituated to that form of travel, they were quite comfortable on the footboard. Though there was no evidence to support my suspicion, it got into my head that the trains stopped at the suburbs only for the benefit of these vagabonds. How else could these people rely on this mode of travel for regularly commuting to their place of work? ‘The railway staff must be in league with them,’ I thought.

 jhuggis on track 


flag station

By that time, the evening had turned into night and it became somewhat chilly. My hands were beginning to feel tired of holding on to the handle bar. I felt uneasy. In the extreme corner where I stood, there was space only for one foot and so I had to continuously shift my weight from one leg to the other. When I grew tired of performing that balancing act, I shifted to a lower rung and then, for a change, to the  lowest  one.



It was a lot more comfortable there. I had practically the entire board to myself and so I could choose any position I felt like to rest my weight. I complimented myself on having thought of shifting lower and felt that the boys were stupid, crowding up in one corner of the uppermost board.

It was a respite, indeed, for my fatigued appendages. But it proved to be a short-lived one. Suddenly, there was a commotion on ‘our’ footboard. I do recollect having heard a whistle from the fore of the train but I did not know its significance.  The boys yelled out in panic.

“Upar, Upar Sahib, Jaldi . . . Flag station hai.” (“Up, Up,  Sir,   .   .   .   quick  .   .   .   this   is   a  ‘Flag’   station.”)

I did not understand what they were saying and just stood there motionless. Suddenly, two of them got hold of me and physically lifted me up. Goodness gracious! They were strong… their grip revealed the enormous strength of their muscles.


We were speeding past a dimly lit ‘flag’ station. For those who may not know, a ‘flag station’ is one, where the train does not stop. It is shown a flag to proceed. However, its platform was as high as that of the major stations. The few lights on the station made, but a feeble attempt to illuminate the station, and warn the inexperienced footboard passengers. I recovered my wits in time to notice a man standing on the platform with a green flag. By then, I was in firm control of myself but the boys were still firmly holding my arms. Only when I thanked them did they release their vice-like grip.

A sensation passed through my veins which left me cold. What would have happened if I had not been lifted up by those slum-dwellers? My legs would have been crushed between the carriage and the platform. The thought sent a chill   down   my spine.

injured leg


Through the mind’s eye, I saw it all. I had been thrown off the footboard. Sandwiched between a moving mass of steel and the solid cemented platform, my legs were crushed.  A fountain of blood got sprayed all over the platform to present a grotesque spectacle, or maybe, my soul parted company with the body. The newspaper hacks   had   found a spicy story for the morning papers,





 But all this did not happen. It could have, though. Those filthy, stinking foul-mouthed urchins had prevented it. Though unwashed, ill-mannered and illiterate, they had not failed in their social duty towards a fellow passenger even though he did not belong to their class!

In fact I had detested their presence on that footboard.  I wondered how I could thank them for having saved my life. An inner voice said, “Money can pay back all debts. Everyone needs   it, everyone craves for   it.

At that juncture, the train slowed down a bit. I was trying to search my pockets for some rupee notes. But even before I could proceed further, my rescuers jumped off the train. The well-lit platform of Mathura was, as yet, quite far. I marvelled at the deftness with which they jumped off from the moving train, and onto the stones below.  My debt remained unpaid.

At Mathura, I managed to enter a compartment. One by one those faces came in front of my eyes. Those  cheerful, lively, vibrant faces. Their filthy stench seemed to have gone with the wind. I had undergone an attitudinal change.

It occurred to me that they were useful inhabitants of Delhi; the city of the rulers. It seemed to me that we lived in clean houses because they swept them; we wore washed clothes and polished shoes because they soiled their hands with the soap, polish and brush. In fact, the very houses we lived in were there because they had braved the sun and the rain to   build   them for us.

And, in turn, we had shoved them into the worst holes which man has ever invented for his ilk to live in. It seemed strange that they had accepted their miserable lot so willingly. I thought  we, who lived in comfort, had cunningly forced them into the squalor of the jhuggis, to reduce the cost of labour.

My eyes fell on the door of the compartment, and I looked at the footboard. Sure enough, it was occupied. In the moonlight, I saw their faces.  They were just like the ones with whom I had shared life, a little while ago. They were laughing, talking, giggling and calling each other names,   using   obnoxious   swear words.

It must be cold outside by now’ I thought. And the very thought of being outside the snug compartment made my   hands   numb.

On an impulse, I got up and opened the door. The occupants of the seats nearest to me protested in unison, “Sir, we did not let you in for this. Let the filth stay out. You do not know, if they are around, one can’t even breathe   properly.”

One of them rose to push the door back to where it   had   been   when   I   had   opened   it.

Angrily, I pushed him back to his seat. “Shut up,” I yelled. “They are also human beings, just like you and me. Do you know what it feels to hang by the handle-bar   on   a cold   night   like   this   one?”

They did not. I did. And no one had the guts to argue with me. I went   up   to   the   boys   and   asked them   to   come   in.

No, sahib,” one of them said, “we are quite happy here. We haven’t got tickets. We’ll get down before the station   comes.”

I was wondering what to do next when an older boy moved up and closed the door, and shut us into our coach.

Perplexed, I stood there. It seemed to me that I, on behalf of the fortunate citizens of India, had invited the jhuggi-dwellers to come and share our tenements and they had   turned   down   the  offer.

Or, was it that they did not approve of our mean, selfish ways?!




A Footnote

Whenever I cross the ‘labour chowk’ I see scores of men sitting under a tree. They have nothing to sell, except the power of their arms and legs. The contractors complain that manual labour has become expensive. They are able to earn Rs 300 at best for a day of toil. But do you know how many days they are able to get work in a month? No more than 20 to 22. Please remember that they have no medical facility, no insurance and no social security. Do you know where they live and what they eat? How they travel? How they are treated if they get injured?

The Indian Railways does, indeed, provide them a facility with which they are able to come from ‘poorab’. But,  pray, do take a good look at how they travel. And also see how they transport milk, courtesy, kind hearted railway engine drivers, who stop at unscheduled places for their sake!

Once every five years, our politicians go and sell dreams to them. The slum dwellers know that election promises are mere hollow words. Yet these men and women trust them, and cast their vote. Their houses are dirty, the clothes are torn, their language is foul, and they are not good company for civilized people like you and me. But I can tell you one thing for sure. They are not as evil as they look. In some respects, they are better than the elite that live in posh colonies with swimming pools on every floor, sprawling golf courses and tennis courts for the evening sport.  They neither evade taxes nor stash their ill-begotten money in Swiss banks!

For the venerable people who live in these posh colonies, we have created a ‘palace on wheels’ A few pictures of this train are placed below, for comparison. We respect and even adore people who travel in it, despite all the illegal and nasty things they do! 

Diversity and hypocricy, thy name is India!


train crowded




indian rail

 Just look at the ingenuity of these people. They have made the best possible use of all the available resources!


palaceon wheel


palaceon wheels 

 And now compare the above scene with the ‘Palace on Wheels’ Our princely maharajas are with us, right here!


An Epiphany

At the end of the above journey, I began to look at life afresh. I felt that I had sinned, when I entertained those vile notions about the unfortunate ‘Jhuggi dwellers’ and I was weighed down by my unpaid debt. There was no way by which I could trace my saviours, but I desperately wanted to do something to lighten the burden on my soul.

Then many years later, in a casual conversation with Savneet, the daughter of my younger brother, Brig Surinder, the answer came. This young lady has a heart made of gold. One day, when we were shopping in a market, she observed, “Look chacha…this woman has driven to the ‘farmers market’ in a Mercedes car worth twenty lakhs, and here, she is haggling for a few rupees! She is laden with jewellery including solitaires, while this poor man can never earn more than what is needed to feed his children…”   

What happened to me at that moment can be described by the word ‘epiphany’. I am told that even though these sudden bursts of ‘enlightenment’ are triggered by a new and key piece of information, a depth of prior knowledge or experience precedes the leap of understanding. Famous epiphanies include Archimedes’s discovery of a method to determine the density of an object (“Eureka!”) and Isaac Newton‘s realization that a falling apple and the orbiting moon are both pulled by the same force.

As for me, what followed was a change of heart. Ever since that day, I am as generous as possible while dealing with less fortunate people, be it coolies, rickshaw pullers, unskilled workers or petty vendors.  Every time I give an extra buck, I feel that the weight on my spirit has lessened.




  1. Lt Gen Paramjit Singh says:

    Paramjit Singh
    8:51 AM (5 hours ago)
    to me

    It was wonderful meeting Mam and you the other day. After we drove off, Gudia asked me “How does Uncle know so much”? Listening to you, Sir, has always been inspirational!

    The piece that you attached has been written beautifully. The deductions that you draw from your experiences are pure ‘Wisdom’.

    Warm regards

    Lt Gen Paramjit Singh, AVSM, VSM (Retd)
    D-502, KLV Signature Towers,
    Sector 66A, Mohali, Punjab. 160055

  2. Dr Nita Bansal says:

    Nita Bansal
    Mon, Jan 17, 10:22 PM (19 hours ago)
    to me

    Dear Surjit Uncle,
    First I want to apologise to you for taking so long to reply. Due to some personal business, It took me a while to write back to you. I liked both the write ups. Especially the second one which is a life experience. Both the stories showed the pre conceived biases which we carry towards others and most of the time our behaviour is dictated by that. In Vanity that mooch wala sahib, i feel is the ego which we carry inside and sometime it makes us pay dearly. But both the stories have something to tell which I thoroughly enjoyed.
    Hope u don’t mind my delayed response and keep sending me the stories.
    And a Very Happy New Year to you.

  3. Lt Gen Harbhajan Singh says:

    From: Harbhajan Singh
    Sent: 28 November 2020 22:19
    To: Hsingh1


    The Gen is from EME and his father was our instructor in the Indian Military Academy in 1952. General’s grand father was the very renowned Ragi Hira Singh from Faruka Town near Sargodha.


  4. Brig VHM Prasad says:
    9:25 AM (7 hours ago)
    to Harbhajan, me

    Harry Dear ,

    I read Gen Surjit’s article straightaway; knowing he would write something very interesting as he usually does .

    This was again an excellently worded masterpiece in the best of English ( and that surely is an understatement ) portraying the ways in which the poor & the underprivileged have to travel risking their lives (and those of others ) as compared to the wealthy who travel in such extreme luxury .

    And to this day I did not know what a Flag Station means . Thanks to him I now know, at my ripe old age .

    Thanks again for forwarding .


    ( Brig V H M Prasad )


    • Surjit Singh says:

      Thanks for the kind words.
      Nearly sixty years have elapsed since that fateful day, when I shared a footboard with those filthy and stinking boys, who saved me from a gruesome disaster, but the memory sends a chill down my spine.
      Even today, when I see menial unskilled workers, I think of them. It pains me when I see the gate in front of our house. The unfortunate people who built it brick by brick are not permitted to see what they constructed through the sweat on their brow, even for a glimpse!

  5. colls says:

    My Dearest General Sahebji

    Your Juggi dwellers
    If you see all comments
    only mine remain unanswered.
    I am glad you email me.

    Make it a point to answer ”thank and say just a hello” to each one who has spent a moment of time scanning you.
    There was a time on the Internet composing poetry, none read me. A young girl wrote to me as a comment ”O great poet… read others first… reply each one.
    She even composed a poem on/for me.
    She just went into the breeze, never again to be seen …like GONE WITH THE WIND
    Was she an apparition.
    But her message was well taken…
    I shared with all.
    Today 1000 folks read me. Do as they have less time, comments are few and far between, now. But it has helped.

    This experience makes me recall all the many train journeys, we all must and have taken being in the Army. But there were times when as a Lieut, a train was delayed by the Train Master, by one and half hours… as the linking train was late… Coz I had a reservation in 1962/63.
    But when I became a Col a train guy, said so what!

    We as a class of officers must say a word …as we now are about to end our sojourns… Let India think of Population Control and then say
    Like someone above has said….

    “achhe din ayenge” And for want of choice, we believe them.”””’

    Regards and all the best…You are doing a yeoman service Sir…
    Small csm 15Nda…
    13 Oct 2017

  6. colls says:

    I was digging in GUFTA GU
    for GOLD

    A voice from the compy
    CSM Ji

    To his imagery I am now totally sold
    as towards one’s end one gets bold

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear CSM,
      This incident occurred more than FIFTY years ago. Yet whenever I recall that moment, when those urchins pulled me up, the memory sends a chill down my spine!
      And the most profound part of the story is that I could not give any thing to them in return for saving my life!

  7. Air Vice Marshal Hamid Shahul. says:

    Surjit, what a poignant rendering of a human side of a problem that has become a common way of Life: infact a routine matter. A very few, I agree see the pain of others.Decked up in expensive garments and Jewellery, they haggle for every thing, with people who barely manage to feed, clothe and even manage to send the children to school. This perhaps is Nature’s Way to test us Human Beings.

    Regards. HMS.

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear Air Marshal Shahul,
      Thanks for the kind words.
      That fateful evening proved to be a turning point in my life. Until then, I looked upon the poor with contempt. I thought they are a burden on our society. I was under the impression that they are selfish, thieves and even criminal. The ninety minutes which I spent with them on the same footboard convinced me that they are as humane as any one else. In fact, it is the rich who cheat the state.
      It is apparent that you are a kind hearted person. I would like to know more about you. Which branch were you and what was your seniority? I have a lot of friends in the Air Force.
      Regards and best wishes,

      • Wg Cdr Joseph Thomas says:

        Joseph Thomas
        Sun, Nov 29, 8:59 PM (2 days ago)
        to me

        Thanks 2997. It is one of your best stories. My contribution was minor.
        I think some of the pictures have been added after I read it.

        Ref Air Mshl HM Shahul. He was from 11th NDA and a navigator. He was married to Dr Rachna Chibber, d/o Maj Gen Chibber. Unfortunately, she divorced him after having 3 children. The youngest was just 2 years old. He looked after them and they are well settled.

        HMS was Chairman of National Airports Authority. When International Airports Authority of India was amalgamated with it, he became Chairman of the combined entity. When I was in Delhi, he was there and was settled in NOIDA. After the children grew up and moved abroad, he moved to Chennai. His ancestral home is Vellore, near Chennai. He had a brother and sister in Chennai.

        He died suddenly in London in June 2016, less than a year after writing this comment. A big loss. He is sorely missed.


        • Surjit Singh says:

          You have an eye as sharp as that of an eagle!
          The last few pictures were added recently. They were borrowed from the IR advertisement website. They were trying to sell tickets for the “Palace on Wheels”
          Sorry to learn about AM Shahul

  8. D S Suri says:

    Dear Gurvinder ji,

    I am forwarding a touching true story with a message of the kind that you have always promoted.

    Pardon me if it is a repeat.

    With deep regards and fully in unison with you for your thoughts.


    Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

  9. Gurvinder Singh says:

    Dear Veer ji,

    A soul stirring awakening for me and I hope for many other people also.

    I do not appreciate Winston Churchill as the man he is but I do love his oratory and communication skills. He said, “Men occasionally stumble upon the truth, but they pick themselves up and hurry off”.

    What I am not able to come to terms with is why do these extraordinary experiences not change most of us?

    We may express appreciation for the writing but we rarely change.

    What do you think we could & should do to translate these observations into positive action?

    Please accept my compliments and my gratitude to you and Maj. Gen. Surjit ji for sending this to me. For opening my eyes and heart to something so vital, yet we have learnt to cruelly ignore.

    Warm Regards


    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear Gurvinder ji,

      I am fortunate to have got in touch with you. Davinder Suri Bhai sahib was two years senior to me at the Academy, and by a happy coincidence, his cabin was opposite to mine in the first term. In our very first meeting, it became evident to me, that I could turn to him for help and wise counsel, at a time when I needed it the most.

      I am touched by your words. Like a creeper in rain and sun, I tremble wit joy and pride.

      Tagore stole the words out of my mouth when he said,

      ‘Praise shames me for secretly, I beg for it’ ​

      Look forward to hearing from you, more often.


  10. Joseph Thomas says:

    Was traveling when the piece came out. Thanks for reminding me about it. It’s a powerful article. Human society is utterly interdependent.

    The Railways are India’s lifeline. In most cases, the very poor are allowed to travel free in the two ends of Sleeper coaches. They do go from one end of the country to the other.

    We have made great material progress since Independence. We forget that life expectancy used to be 28 years. Today it is difficult to even contemplate that.

    The poor of 1962 travelled on the footboard because they could not afford the ticket. Today, even the poorest can afford the fare and travel on footboards only if the train is overcrowded.

    We should be happy that, in our lifetime, wages in the metros and in states like Punjab, Haryana and Kerala have gone up and are now higher than in the Gulf.

    We should also be happy that India gets the highest number of immigrants. They come from all over — Bangla Desh, Tibet, Nepal, Pakistan, Burma, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran, the former Soviet Union. We may not exactly welcome them but we do let them stay and earn a living.

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Things have improved a lot in the last fifty years. However on the route between Bihar and the Punjab, roof travel is still quite common.
      And I want you to know that people still travel on footboards for short distances almost as a routine.

  11. Rajinder Singh Bhatti says:

    Thanks. We enjoyed this narration. It touches the soul!
    May the Lord grant you the strength and the energy to keep churning out such pieces. They are needed to balance out thinking process!

  12. col (dr) s s malik says:

    Indeed it is a life saving piece. The naked truth is we also boast of max billionaires in world list, who own ships, liners, and trains too. After Indira Gandhi’s sterlisations campaign no successive Govt head has dared to address the population issue. Iremember in school in mid sixties. our populatiom was around 50 crores, today it is three times of that. so many noble laureates but still many remain deprived of primary education. Even if FLAG station was covered in books, still crores would not be taught and will remain deprived. We the public perhaps like these diverse extremes and amuse ourself. Practical india is also a good story to write about. the JUGAAR invention, moving on roads in north india. Max deaths, suicides in the country of TAJ, in the name of LOVE is also a good subject. Cutting of trees on mass scale where the king of jungle(bengal tiger, leopards on mumbai roads,pythons on roads, crocodiles on streets) has no jungle left. We are hypocrates of the highest order who need lohardi not sunar di…HIT

  13. Soorkhan says:

    Thanks a lot Surjit,

    Effective heart rending presentation with photographs. Tears of compassion cannot be controlled.

    Confirms, our approach towards the have nots. Destiny has denied them what we have. Your efforts for awakening reminds me of our “Saint Sipahi” upbringing by our Sikh upbringing & polishing by NDA.

    God has been very kind to us for a similar disposition. Even during the worst of my commercial career, the favorable consideration of their plight has been perpetual.

    Give and one gets much more of self satisfaction – Contentment. Abundance of means and money are not the path to peace of the inner self. The path brings you closer to the Source.

    Keep at at please. Like Colls, I admire your creativity & kindness.

    I am still working as retired /working for daily needs on my own. Running a printing work shop for printing on garments. The joy of a Job is fulfilling.

    Please keep me on your mailing list, even if I do not respond regularly in the higher levels of literacy of your kind.

    Love you. God be with you for your goodness.

    Suri D.S. 15 NDA

    • Surjit Singh says:

      I have very distinct and fond memories of our two-term long association in the NDA. There is nothing very great about this piece. You have liked it, because compassion and empathy are, and have always been a part of your personality.
      You have chosen a very unusual country to migrate to. If you find some time, do tell us about the life and work culture in Kazakhstan. And if you can send us some pictures, it will make a very useful post on this blog.

      • colls says:

        Dearest maker of men
        like small ”colls”
        ask Surkh Khan to give a write up of
        ”SHIT HOT PILOT—–
        Iced with his hits
        and snaps
        and then let
        GUFTA GU see
        how guys move from
        Zero to hero and back
        the circle of life is complete
        until then even heaven has no place for guys like

        Surkhan Colls and may I say Ye,

        as we two include you in a
        Trio group
        accept it will you

        I know Sur since 1956
        without him
        I would have been travelling like Bombay suburban guys
        train high!

        With love from

    • Joseph Thomas says:

      Hello sir, the last we met was more than 25 years ago at your factory in OIE. Yes, do let us know about Kazakhstan and how you happened to migrate there.
      Best wishes and God bless.

  14. Sudha Murgai says:

    This is in response to the writeup on the Jhuggi dwellers.This is an amazing article.The feelings shared by the author are so similar to mine and maybe to that of many more.
    Yes these people are humane too. I would say much more humane than us.I have had varied experiences over a period of time which make me feel for them and also appreciate them.For them the comforts and luxuries are but a dream.But this does not mean that do not want to live a good life.

    I have always felt that our children have a lot to learn from these kids.Happiness does not come with material goods and goodness does not come from status.

    I have had many experiences with jhuggi dwellers because of my social work and moreso because it comes from my hear!I have always helped them with clothes,food and education personally. I feel that they need to be empowered and not made dependent.

    This is such a subject that one can go on and on.

    Please do keep writing and awakening us since we tend to slip in into our stuper.

    Sudha Murgai

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Sudha ji,
      You have put it in such soulful words! And that is just like you are!
      I think you pass this on to other friends.

  15. Brig BJS Oberoi says:

    A very simple & nice story with a very good message for us all.Thanx.


  16. Barin Ghose says:


    Reminds me of my days in NDA

    Vice Admiral Barin Ghose (Retired) AVSM VSM

    A 23 Trinity Towers DLF Phase 5

    Gurgaon 122002


    Phone 0124 4044069

    Mobile 9871381469

    E Mail

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Indeed it does!
      At the NDA we had a brush with adventures…sought as well as unsought!
      And some times it was a real close shave!!!


  17. Arun Udit Ghatak says:

    Really heart touching story.

    Our compliments to you.

    Best Wishes



    • Surjit Singh says:

      The memory of those few seconds can still send a chill down my spine! Even though 53 years have passed since then!

  18. Manu Puri says:

    Loved the article, thank you!

    Do we know each other?


    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear Manu,
      Are you the son of the late Col Satish Puri?
      If so, then we know each other very well!

  19. Rohini Khare says:

    Just got your article .Even I follow my heart and my chats with auto drivers and veg. vendors give me the feeling of ‘That debt’ becoming ftaction of gram lighter .
    Thanks and good wishes.
    from rohini khare.
    Sent via Micromax

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Yes! Even if it is just a few grams, it makes a difference. It is the spirit which matters!
      Even a kindly look towards the less fortunate people makes a difference.

  20. SJ Singh says:

    Many years ago, when we were children, a movie came with the title, “PHIR SUBAH HOGI” I think, it came in 1957 or 58. We were given to understand that our problems had been created by the British rule, and now that we were a free nation, we would overcome poverty, hunger and social inequality. And we were naïve enough to believe those who made those tall promises.
    Nearly sixty years have elapsed. The trains are just as crowded as they were then; the poor continue to live in slums and poor are just as poor. We have now been told that “achhe din ayenge” And for want of choice, we believe them.
    It seems that what Charles Dickens said in the first para of his novel, “A Tale of Two Cities” is an eternal truth. His first words were:
    “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times…”
    And he concluded by saying that the past was just like the present. Only the noisiest authorities of the time insisted on referring to it in the superlative degree of comparison!
    Woody Allen says, “The more things change, the more they remain the same!”
    I think the world will go on like this, ad infinitum…
    Thanks for the piece. You have depicted reality the way it is.

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Yes. I remember Raj Kapoor and Mala Sinha singing, “Voh subah kabhi to aayegi…”
      It was a soulful movie. It came in 1958.
      Those days, we believed that now that we are independent, poverty will be eradicated. But I suspect it will take a lot of effort for our ‘Gini’ factor to reach a decent level. And when it does happen, people will complain that manufacturing is no longer cheap In India.
      I think it was Shaw who said,

      “Revolution does not reduce the burden on society. It merely shifts it from one shoulder to the other!”

      Thanks for the kind words,

      • colls says:

        Jesus Christ had said

        ”…..the meek will inherit the Earth…”

        In his time all knew all….
        today we are only 7.5 billions
        do we know even our neighbors ?
        I wonder

        So ”meek” was meant as POOR
        but he was learned not a
        NUMERO- Astro like me !

        The WEST is rich you think
        yesterday I saw a guy …well to do picking up tins of coke …from garbage bins

  21. Wg Cdr G N Bhaskar (Retd) says:

    A Very realistic and true narration of one’s actual experience and the transformation of one’s views and thoughts. A well written piece. Thanks for sharing.

    May I have your permission to send it to other Groups and friends?

    Wit Best wishes,

    G N B

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear Wg Cdr Bhaskar,
      Thanks for the kind words.
      Yes, indeed. You are most welcome to share this piece with your friends. This blog is in the public domain, and we feel happy when the message is shared.
      With best wishes,

  22. Lt Gen C Sundara Rao says:

    Dear Surjit,
    Thank u. The story is an eye opener to me.

    Sundara Rao

    • Surjit Singh says:

      When kind words come from you, they are like music to the ears.
      We pray for your long life…for a very selfish reason. We like your mails. At 93, you are more alert than people thirty years younger than you!

  23. Rakesh Sachdeva says:

    So Good!
    Life transforming story.

    One of the best I have read.

    Thank you for sharing Sir.

    Col Rakesh Sachdeva (Retd)


    • Surjit Singh says:

      Thanks. If such experiences can improve our attitude to the less fortunate people, I think we should all record them!
      Please share the link with your friends, so that the message reaches out to more Indians.

  24. Lt Gen Prakash Gokarn says:

    Nice piece, brother.

    By the way, I strongly recommend you to read a book by BILL BRYSON, ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’.

    It is an amazing book on the growth of science, from the Big Bang to the rise of civilisation.

    Am recommending to other friends as well.

    With best wishes,

    P Gokarn

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear Brother,
      I like your salutation style. And I am going to copy it!
      Is Bill Bryson’s book available on the Internet? If you have the link, please share it with me.
      Why don’t you write a piece for our blog? You write so well, and travel so much!!!

  25. DeepaK Sharma says:


    You have communicated a very important aspect of life in a very nice way. We have to be more sensitive to all human beings.

    Very Thought provoking.

  26. Maj Gen AJB Jaini says:

    CUDOS Sir,

    What lovely ‘Emotions’ & his ‘Wonderfully’ exhibited.

    So very ‘Heart Moving’.

    While it may be too late in MY own life to emulate Your tantalising Experience ( except, of course, giving that Extra Buck to the Coolie next time !),

    —- but I’m going to show YOUR life’s TRUE story to my Grand Daughter — still young enough to ‘Learn’ what ‘ Human Nature’ MUST BE.

    THANX, Sir — fort that most illuminating Pace

    P.S. — Had also read ur ‘ Phook Theory ‘ . Wish it had been while I was still there in Service !!

    With Fondest Regards

    Maj Gen A,J.B. Jaini, AVSM

    Veteran & Member GB of IESM.

    Presently in USA

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear Gen Jaini,
      You are always kind with your words!
      I am sure your grand-daughter is already a kind hearted person…She has the right genes!
      When are you due back from the US? I think the IESM would be waiting for your return. They are going great guns!

  27. Ranjit Grewal says:

    A very accurate and true to life narrative penned by you . I too have had the experience of travelling on the foot board one and it is very very true as you have narrated. A friend of mine (late) Brig C M Mehta too lost both his legs in a similar manner ie travelling on the foot board


    • Surjit Singh says:

      More than fifty years have elapsed since then. But even now, when I remember that moment, I experience a chill going down my spine!
      And then I look at my legs. I owe them to those stinking, foul-mouthed urchins!

  28. Maj Gen Aditya Jaini says:

    CUDOS !, Sir,

    What lovely ‘Emotions’ & his ‘Wonderfully’ exhibited.

    So very ‘Heart Moving’.

    While it may be too late in MY own life to emulate Your tantalising Experience ( except, of course, giving that Extra Buck to the Coolie next time !),

    —- but I’m going to show YOUR life’s TRUE story to my Grand Daughter — still young enough to ‘Learn’ what ‘ Human Nature’ MUST BE.

    THANX, Sir — fort that most illuminating Pce

    P.S. — Had also read ur ‘ Phook Theory ‘ . Wish it had been while I was still there in Service !!

    With Fondest Regards

    Maj Gen A,J.B. Jaini, AVSM

    Veteran & Member GB of IESM.

    Presently in USA

  29. Vinod Bahl says:

    I admire your sensitivity as also your lucidity, Surjitji.


    • Surjit Singh says:

      You have compressed a lot in the few words!
      I always wanted some one to say that I am lucid!

  30. Gagi Gandhi says:




    Colonel Randhir Singh
    Dhillon Marg

  31. Col JS Bhangu says:

    Dear General,

    Thanks for the mail. I read the story. It was interesting.

    Sincere Regards,

    Jora Singh Bhangu

  32. Kishan Bhatia says:

    I am five years older than you are Maj Gen sahib jee.

    Starting age 16 (1952) I used to travel between Poona (Pune) and Bombay (Mumbai) regularly and experienced what pictures and description of juggie dwellers in your article. Thanks for let me relive the past.

    I left India in 1961. I have visited India more than a couple of dozen times and travelled from Pune to Kanya Kumari in south and from Mumbai to Delhi and beyond.

    Before 1947 several times in 1942 to 1946 I travelled with my parents and grandmother to my ancestral home in Dera Ismile Khan. Even then as a preteenager I witnessed poverty spread all around the rail lines most of the way. Even then those ticketed passengers with seats on the coaches, some times behaved heartless and denied the ticketless travelers if they could.

    From 1999 to 2011 I visited India every year and travelled all across south and north India up to Delhi.

    Life goes on.

    Sitting in my first or air conditioned coaches I have seen juggie dwellers on trains, presumably now they are ticketed passengers except may be on suburban trains with their affordable monthly passes. The express trains I have taken were 10 to 100 times more comfortable than what I experienced from pre-teen to young adult age.

    These thoughts flowed watching and reliving your pictures and descriptions. Thank you again May Gen shib jee.

    Kishan Bhatia

  33. Vinay Kapoor says:


    Best regards,

    Vinay Kapoor

  34. The story is as beautiful as it always was. Not much seems to have changed in our railways despite so many brilliant railway ministers. Good days will come…says the PM. Till then, the best we can do is to be kind to the slum dwellers.
    Touching indeed!

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Yes. That is what Savneet said. And that is exactly what Jhai ji used to say!
      Life gives us a reminder every now and then, through such incidents.

  35. yogi says:

    Thoughtful,intense and deeply sensitive-touching and transformation. Thanks.

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