Third Class in Indian Railways by Mahatma Gandhi
In the essay Third Class in Indian Railways by Mahatma Gandhi we have the theme of class, acceptance, desperation, dependency, greed and hygiene. Taken from his Selected Works collection the reader realises from the beginning of the essay that Gandhi may be exploring the theme of class. Gandhi chooses to travel by third class in order that he might see how other people, who are less privileged than him, might live. Something that strikes the reader as being a noble task. Gandhi throughout his life wanted to know how others, less fortunate, lived and the railways were a good place to start. It was on the railways that Gandhi saw first-hand how others not only traveled but lived. In the essay he also manages to bring the reader through the dirt that passengers may have encountered and the hostilities due to overcrowding that were felt by passengers travelling third class. Though a third class ticket cost five times less than that of a superior class. Gandhi found that the treatment of people was not proportionate. In reality those traveling third class were treated badly.
However it is interesting that people accepted the conditions they found themselves in. Often bribing railway officials in order to get into third class. This may be significant as it suggests that people are not only reliant on the train system in India but that they are accepting of the conditions they find themselves in. No matter how dirty the carriages and closets (toilets) may be. If anything the people on the train in third class are desperate to be allowed to travel. They have places to go and have no alternative because they have so little money but to travel third class. It may also be important that Gandhi felt the need to write an essay on travelling by railway in third class. It is possible that he wants those in authority to improve the circumstances of those involved in traveling in third class.
It may also be a case that Gandhi is exploring the theme of greed. Railway officials know how bad things are in third class yet they do very little if anything to change the situation. This can only leave the reader suspecting that money talks for the railway officials. No matter how squalid the conditions are the railway officials know that people will still travel in third class because they are dependent on the railway. People have no other option but to travel third class in order to reach their destination. Often people are travelling for two or three days in order to get themselves to their destination.
The end of the essay is interesting because Gandhi, unlike those who travel third class, is not prepared to accept the conditions as he finds them. He has written an essay that he hopes will change the situation for his fellow travelers. However the reader holds little hope that things might change. Again people are dependent on the railways and as such will accept the conditions that they might find themselves in. It will take more than an essay or embarrassment for those in charge to change.