It was around 2.30 in the night and I was watching a movie on my laptop, lying on the lower berth seat in the train on the way to Mumbai. My hands had been itching for a few minutes now and I was irritated. I switched on the flashlight on my phone and pointed it at my elbow. I was in for a rude shock.
I immediately shut down the laptop and went out of the coach to the lighted area for a better look. There was swelling on both my hands, spread randomly around the elbow joint and on the fore-arm. I panicked. Could this be the work of some insect? Or is it something more serious?
I immediately clicked pictures of my hand and sent them to my family. They would obviously be deep asleep at this time in the night. I thought of any medication/first-aid that I can take and the anti-allergy tablets were the only thought I had. I returned to my seat, took a tablet and did a frantic search on the white bedsheets for any clue. And there it was- A bed bug!
I removed the bedding to check if there were more. There weren’t any in sight. But I was too paranoid to sleep there now. I couldn’t think of what to do.
I recalled that a blogger friend had tweeted about badcondition of her coach to the Indian Railway Ministry but hadn’t got any response. And this is 2.30 AM in the night, there is no way anything can be done. At least if nothing is done, I can tag the Radio Jockeys at my station and request them to take up the issue on their show, I thought.
So I went ahead and tweeted to the Rail Ministry:
@sureshpprabhu @RailMinIndia insects biting in B5 coach. Urgent pest control reqd! Trn#12140! See cond of my hand! pic.twitter.com/sm3n9GMSc4— Antarik Anwesan (@antarik) March 27, 2016
I went ahead and checked the timeline of the @RailMinIndia twitter handle. I saw that there were tweets which had been responded to in the last hour with the common reply ‘Matter has been forwarded to the concerned authority’. There probably is an automated computer tweeting those, I thought.
I found a list of twitter handles of regional divisions of various zones of Indian Railways.
All complaints, suggestions to be marked to concerned GMs, DRMs for appropriate action and also tag @RailMinIndia pic.twitter.com/gblTgRRtDR— Ministry of Railways (@RailMinIndia) November 26, 2015
I checked the time-table and running status of my train. Bhusaval station was about an hour away and the nearest one available on the list. So I tagged the GM of the Central Railways and Bhusaval division and tweeted:
After just 8 mins of the original tweet, I received the not-so-surprising reply from the @RailMinIndia handle:
A minute later, this reply came from the @BhusavalDivn handle asking me for my PNR number, which I promptly shared:
And then a reply at 3 AM asking me for my contact number which I sent by Direct Message:
@antarik PLS SHARE YOUR CONTACT NO SO THAT WE CAN ASSIST YOU— DRMBSL (@BhusavalDivn) March 27, 2016
I immediately got a call from Mr Rahul in the Bhusaval Division and he asked for exact details of what had happened. I shared my misery and helplessness with him.
He said a pest-control wasn’t possible at this time of the night since it requires complete isolation of the coach. I asked him to at least spray some insect-repellant like ‘Hit’ to which he said ‘Let’s see what can be done, though it’s very difficult at this late hour’.
He asked me to get the TTE or the coach attendant or conductor on line with him. I found the three of them at the other end of the coach and got them to speak to Mr Rahul.
I was then told that it might be an issue with the bedroll or the blanket that I had received in the coach. (Whatever happened to the ‘Blanketsto be washed after every journey’ headline that came recently) They gave me an option to wait for an hour or so until we reach Bhusaval, at which point I would be allotted a separate berth in a different coach which would be vacant. Until then, the attendant was instructed to change my bedroll and dust the berth.
I was pleasantly surprised with the prompt response received from the Ministry on social media and the action taken. (I don’t know why the thought of speaking to the attendant directly didn’t strike me)
@BhusavalDivn @sureshpprabhu @RailMinIndia @GM_CRly Thanks for prompt response frm Mr Rahul, action being taken on train; changing my berth— Antarik Anwesan (@antarik) March 27, 2016
@BhusavalDivn @sureshpprabhu @RailMinIndia @GM_CRly But this is only a temp solution. I hope soon we can have pest-free Indian railways!— Antarik Anwesan (@antarik) March 27, 2016
A few minutes later I got another call from Mr Rahul with some good news. He said that ‘heat induced spray’ had been arranged for at Bhusaval station and a thorough cleaning of my berth would be carried out when the train reaches the station.
Around 4.30 AM, the train reached Bhusaval and a group of 2-3 men from the Railway Control Room with the coach attendant came with a huge torch light and greeted me. The spraying was done and a few co-passengers were now awake with all the commotion but no one said anything.
I thanked the officials for the prompt work and they thanked me in return for reporting the matter and not just being a silent victim.
@BhusavalDivn @sureshpprabhu @RailMinIndia @GM_CRly At Bhusaval, insecticide was sprayed in the coach now. Thanks for the prompt response!— Antarik Anwesan (@antarik) March 27, 2016
I was balled over! I never ever expected a response from a Government of India social media channel. And here, within 2 hours of my complaint, action had been taken. Wow!
I couldn’t contain my excitement and posted the incident on my facebook timeline. Over the next week, one of the producers of Malishka’s show came across my post. The story was then carried live on the Morning No. 1 show on Red FM in Mumbai by Malishka, as a great effort for citizen’s grievance redress by the Ministry of Railways.
@sureshpprabhu received 78 tweets in the past two hours, most by @antarik— Around Social (@AroundSocialCo) March 27, 2016
More: https://t.co/QUrk3JpZOp pic.twitter.com/5tVF72Nneb
Note: I am a very frequent traveller on long-distance trains in India and a train lover. Bedbugs are very rare in trains and this was the first time that I encountered a situation like this. Cockroaches and rats are quite common though, especially in the AC coaches. The railway ministry is slowly taking pest-control measures in the trains in the country, but this will be a slow process. But now you know what to do if a bug bites you on an uneventful train journey in India. Tweet away and help might arrive soon enough…