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India's biggest sport

The ticket to hell


Booking a train ticket on the Indian railways is no joke. In fact, it can be so futile that it has spawned a new category of online memes.

It could be called India's biggest sport. It needs a lot of mental preparation. Often, it has drama, desperationand nail-biting finishes that can either lead to a whooping victory or downward spiral into anguish and an untimely death of a laptop.

The sport is called 'booking a ticket on IRCTC' (the official ticketing site for the Indian Railways). It is sort of a hurdle race but one that is customised to maximise your pain and despair. Attempts to buy Indian Railway tickets have, in fact, given rise to a new class of jokes on social media and a category of memes. Some Twitter jokes go like this: "We are against reservation - IRCTC", "IRCTC: India's favorite massively multi-player online adventure game", "A lot of people think IRCTC's tagline is 'This webpage is not available'".

The website works on the actual timings of railway ticketing counters. So, the website faces a feeding frenzy everyday at 10 am, when the bookings open. Unfortunately, that is the least of the troubles. Sometimes, even clicking the 'book' button does not spell certainty. Even after going through the whole process, it is entirely possible that the service will suddenly be 'unavailable' and a consumer will have to go through an array of drop-down menus and web pages once again. And by the time, a ticket-seeker has actually managed to reach the end of the road, the Tatkaal tickets will most definitely have run out. It is understandable why 'Service unavailable' and 'Webpage unavailable' and payment failures are the premise of most memes. These web jokes echo the collective, bitter laughter of a country driven to humour out of frustration.

But this is not the worst situation. Often, you might get that tingle of glee when your payment has been deducted, but that could soon be replaced with horror when you discover that you don't have a booked berth.

There is even a petition on Change. org, which requests the ministry to fix the online booking site, make the experience less traumatic. About 1, 050 people have signed the petition. Another person has designed a new railway website herself to reduce it of its clutter and make it more user friendly.

In desperate times, the solution, unfortunately, still lies in the hands of travel agents who can engage their soldiers to stand in line and brave the surge for a ticket on the great Indian Railways.

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