When they ran the first electric train between VT and Kurla in 1925 I think they hoped people would travel comfortably on planks of wood. The operative word is comfortable. The lengths of the planks were designed just right for three people. However, with time, the push came to the shove, and the Fourth Seat was born.
The Fourth Seat is an achievement of our crowded times. It’s the one thing that has moved from mere courtesy to a human right. The fourth seat may just be a sliver of wood, but it’s a pretty mean sliver. The fourth seat is like some crumb left over behind the main dish. You know those fried bits sticking to the pan after your cooking’s done? The ones that tastes utterly divine when you scrap it off into your mouth? Ah! Those crumbs. It’s not the real thing, it’s actually quite measly, but you are happy about it anyways. That’s what the Fourth Seat is.
A normal process of getting a fourth seat goes like this.
“Please shift”, you begin. The three already-seated women look at each other.
“Thoda shift karo na”, you ask again. The women wiggle in their seats.
You change tack and say, “zara sarkha ho”.
“Handle* hai”, they say.
End of conversation.
If you can wriggle in, and balance yourself on half a bum, excellent. If you decide to keep your dignity (whaaat?) and stand, please wait patiently till someone pushier claims the Fourth Seat and make you feel stupid.
On the other hand, if you are in the first class compartment, this is not going to work. They will NEVER EVER give you a fourth seat. You could however do what we used to do as students. Allow a fourth person to sit and coolly say, “We are simply sharing the third seat”.
*handle = arm rest at the window side of the seat;
Photo By K.