Thursday, May 14, 2009
Mumbai to Hydera...
8 40 PM
It was bad. It was gory. It started in that fateful local. That phone call to Sandy confirmed that worst suspicion which was lurking somewhere in the confined corners of both our minds. Waitlisted? What the hell happened to the fax that was supposed to enroll Dols and me as official 3rd Ac passengers? Maybe Sandy was playing a cruel practical joke on us; but just because he had internet in his room and we were helplessly on our way to CST with a helluva lot of luggage, the thought seemed quite unfair. No, it just wasn’t a PJ after all. Another phone call, this time by Dols, and a glum silence overshadowing his usually animated countenance meant that another god forsaken fax had gotten lost in the commotion and clutter of that World Heritage paperwork of the CST.
8 45 PM
Man looks up to hope for his existence, and it was that very speck of pristine hope left in me that egged me on, and, though I knew the answer, I let slip out “Wassup?”. “We’ll look out for an extra compartment, but tell me, are you ready to travel sitting in the aisles or near the doors also, just in case?” pat came the reply in the form of a question. Now I’m no good at adventure travel, but the situation unravelling in front of us presented us with exactly that kind of a challenge. And when you don’t know how to do something and you have to do it, the best thing to do is to trust someone who’s been there and done that. So, like a loyal soldier to his general, I said “Aye aye Captain”, without hesitation.
9 00 PM
CST was like the pre- and post- 26/11 time, bustling with people and activity. Husain Sagar was on the 9th platform and we went there, with another iota of hope, to check out the list. And as expected, there weren’t our names. That did it as far as Dols was concerned. We weren’t going that day. Maybe next night. Out came my mobile and I immediately asked Sandy to book two tickets for the next day, even though it was quite a huge waitlist.
9 30 PM
A quick meal in one of the restaurants, and suddenly hope rekindled in Dols’ mind. “Let’s go, maybe there is an extra coach, let’s check out”. We both made our way to Platform No 9, without 3/4, with our bulky luggage rattling along, and discovered that there was, indeed, an extra coach. Another vacillation of thought later, we found ourselves talking to the Ticket Inspector of the Ac coaches. The train started moving but still, no deal was fixed. Without a second thought, both of us swung our luggage into the moving train and got into the Ac coach. Well, we made it!
10 00 PM
After being shoved and pushed into the attendants’ seat in the 3rd Ac coach, we found ourselves talking to the electrician of the coaches and the attendant. An agreement was reached and we shoved 400 bucks into their greedy palms. “Meekemi paravaledu…Evadochina memu chooskuntam”. Nothing will happen to you…we’ll take care if the TTE comes along. Ah, the honest bribe of Indians, how true of Linbaba in Shantaram, I wondered, speculating where the place for 3 men to sleep was. As if in answer, the attendant shoved open two box like compartments, about 5’x2’x2’, usually used to store blankets and stuff, and told me that was where I was supposed to sleep. We were sitting innocuously when there the TTE was, a pugnacious little pig of a man, demanding us to show our tickets. Nah, they weren’t even valid, we had to pay up 2100 bucks. It transpired that he had sold the ‘berths’ to 3 big burly Muslims and they were in a pretty belligerent mood.
11 35 PM
We dragged ourselves to the other end of the compartment, led by the attendant who was desperate to give proper value to the money we gave him, to another pair of those boxes. Only this time, they were about 3.5 feet in length, which made me look at my hopelessly long legs in agony. Somehow we climbed into our ‘bunks’ and tried to sleep. It was dark and stifling. But the worst part was that I was trapped in a torture cell with my legs askew and the sliding door was banged shut, lest the TTE sees us. I felt like a waiting lover in there. Every second seemed like an eon. Count Dracula must have been sleeping in an under-sized coffin. No wonder, he was longing to get out!
12 55 AM
Completely suffocated and sweating like mad, I came out of the torture cell and was rather happily surprised to find Dols also in the same state, which meant that I wasn’t claustrophobic. We saw that the TTE had pulled down his shutters. “Enough is enough”, we thought and decided to move to the other end of the coach once again. Meanwhile, Pune had arrived. The TTE would change. The incoming guy shouldn’t see us or we were doomed for good.
01 10 AM
There is always a thin line between extreme bravery and foolhardiness. Both of us did something of the same kind, bordering on bravery and trespassing on insanity. We tiptoed into one of the toilets and locked ourselves in. For 15 minutes, 15 heart throbbing and gut wrenching minutes, we bore the overpowering stench of the ill ventilated toilet and never made even the slightest sound or movement, for fear of discovery.
01 25 AM
Once the train started moving, we got out of that hell hole, sure and happy that nobody could catch us. No way. We went back to the other end of the coach again, took out some blankets, put them on the ground and began relaxing. Alas! That happiness was short lived. No sooner had we begun to unwrap ourselves, than that accursed shutter opened, and in came a swarthy, rodent faced new TTE, as if on remote control. He had pin point accuracy when it came to locating illegitimate travellers, which meant either that he had a very powerful spy satellite at his command or that Pig Face had alerted him of the flagged people.
01 40 AM
There is a beautiful aphorism in English ‘From the frying pan into the fire’. “From one frying pan into another” I wondered as Mr Rodent Face started repeating that we did not possess a legal railway ticket and all that and demanded a fine of 2500 bucks. “500 more? Probably this guy has a deal set with Mr Pig Face” I thought. We didn’t want to give him any kind of moral or monetary victory, so we told Rodent Face to call it quits pestering us and show us the way to the Sleeper coaches. That ineffable attendant offered to watch over the bulkiest parts of our luggage, probably out of a feeling of remorse, and opened up the shutter to the Sleeper side of the train.
02 10 AM
It was a lair full of people, the sleeper side of the train. There were people occupying every little attometre of space they could find, on the berths, in the aisles, near the doors, possibly even in the toilets; sleeping soundly, as if they hadn’t a care in the world. With our backpacks and all, in another situation we might’ve been people from the Red Cross in a war ravaged country. But as it was, we travelled coach after coach in search of the TTE. When we finally found one, he told us he had given up finding places for people. Somehow, we had to convert ourselves into legitimate passengers. As luck would have it, we found an industrious-looking Squad member doing exactly that. He didn’t ask many questions, just our names and ages, scribbled off a receipt for 1200 rupees and shoved it into my waiting hands.
02 25 AM
The quest for the elusive space to sleep continued and we weren’t doing well. However, at the end of the last coach, near the door of the coach, there was some place to rest our bottoms. There were streaks of dusty brown on the silvery white aluminum floor; still we decided that we would lie there in wait, and whenever the slightest opportunity presented itself, we would pounce on it.
05 00 AM
Time passes in huge dollops whenever we need it most.; when we want it to pass quickly, it takes an epoch for each second to tick. After what seemed like ages, squatting in that narrow aisle and discussing virtually everything under the moon, Solapur went. And with it went some passengers. We began our combing operation, our frantic search for unoccupied berths. Luckily, we found one just 2 coaches away. Dols was gracious enough to gift me that berth, while he continued his quest. And I didn’t whine because it was a side middle one and that, under normal circumstances, I would never fit in that monster berth. I just shut up and slept.
10 05 AM
A mad tapping on my shoulder woke me up with a start. I turned round only to see another black coat. I had gotten so sick of seeing black coats that I made the dislike palpable. ‘Same old question about the ticket’ later, I explained the whole story to him and that my friend had the receipt. Black Coat asked me to call Dols up immediately, while he would be out on further inspections. Then the killer blow. I realized to my horror that my phone, my Moto phone that I had purchased because of its Six Sigma quality, was indicating low battery. And when a Moto phone indicates ‘Low Battery’, it means low battery. I tried calling up Dols but he wouldn’t lift his phone at all. 10 missed calls later, I realized that he must have put his phone inside his back pack so it wouldn’t disturb his deep slumber.
10 35 AM
Another tap on my shoulder and I was so relieved to see Dols that I spilled a huge grin. “Whew man…where have you been? I was sweating” I said. “He’s already seen the ticket. No Probs” said Dols. I had a quick brush of my teeth and gobbled up two shiny red apples like a thirsty camel.
12 10 PM
We went up to the Ac coach to collect our luggage and just then, Begumpet station arrived. We did it! We got into and Ac coach and got down from an Ac coach; whatever happened in between was history.
12 20 PM
All is well, as they say, that ends well!