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Why This Info-Kolaveri, IR?

The Indian Railways, by introducing infotainment consoles – a euphemism for television-like contraptions – in premier trains such as the Shatabdi Express, is seemingly either starved of creativity or funneling a potential scam

Trust our beloved IR to leave the suspicions of a scam hanging in the air in anything grandiose it attempts. Proof: the LCD screens aboard the Bangalore-Chennai Shatabdi Express – ostensibly part of its infotainment (whatever that means) systems. Surely, they could have installed a PA system, or boards, to achieve the same, was the first thought that crossed my mind. Loud welcome messages in various languages greeted passengers just as they settled in their seats and were about to drift into sleep. The screens did have a purpose after all; a programme titled “Yoga at the workplace”, with a woman vainly attempting a Shilpa Shetty, was the day's first, interspersed with advertisements on incense sticks, nationalised banks and contraceptives.

Hardened resolutions for renouncement or a hard-on? Take your pick.

Hilarity was in store when the video froze with the lady holding her nostrils indefinitely; that she was demonstrating a breathing exercise was, perhaps, lost. Did someone not flush the compartment latrine, miss?

As if this weren’t enough, there was this usher of a visual – which in computing terms could be likened to a pop-up – wishing a happy journey. Move over Bernard Shaw, we have a successor.

Perhaps the first video, or to be precise screenshot, of use, ephemeral though, was that of the geographical location of the train. Little did I know that it was portentous of the storm that was to follow – a comedy movie with all the elements of a tragedy: a bawdy 40-something hero whose sole purpose in life is to leer at a 20-something PYT, who happily obliges him; a comedian who does likewise to the heroine’s sister; and the heroine’s father who, in addition to facilitating such scandalous unions, has a feminine pursuit of his own. Since when did soft porn supplant comedy entertainers?

IR did us a service by not screening the movie in its entirety – thank god for small mercies; but a cartoon, a shameless rip-off of Disney’s Lion King, sans its classy animation and dialogues, ensured that I had a prayer on my lips. Travel documentaries followed, whose utility is anyone's guess to make.

That was when I reached out for my headphones, recited a thanksgiving for its inventor, and plunged into music, whose genre would not have mattered then. I now knew what it meant to encounter an oasis in the midst of a desert.

A few questions remain. Just what on earth was the IR attempting? The motley of shows dished out, in literary terms, could have been very much Shakespeare's tragi-comedy Much Ado About Nothing, in name as well as in substance. The footage could have been that of the TV channels surfed by a disinterested couch potato. Was it lost on the authorities that passengers would not catch up on sleep on a premier rail service?

A passenger sitting beside me articulated my ruminations aptly. “I would rather die in a train accident than watch such trash.”

I sighed.

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