Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Train journey travails

Lucknow was the place chosen for our annual cricket tournament in 2002, organized by the employer HQ. We had a good team, a mix of players from the 'branches' located at several places.  In the 16-member contingent, three of us were from our branch. Prior to the 3-day tournament, there was a 3-day practice. I chose to skip the practice part while my two younger team mates went ahead of me by 3 days. Traveling alone, I was to join the team just a day ahead of the match.

Mysore to Lucknow is more than 2000 kms. Lucknow is not connected by direct trains from Mysore. It takes two full days and a change of trains at Bangalore and Jhansi.  Long time gap during change overs is a difficult time esp. when alone.  Running with heavy luggage to reach the train, changing platforms, crossing footbridges and traveling itself is a tense and tiresome experience.  In the past, I have traveled alone and have faced many tense moments. But this particular journey had in store something very unexpected and freaky.

In Bangalore there was a two hour time gap for the next train I had even gone to my relative's house for a meal in Malleswaram, just ten minutes [by autorickshaw] from the Bangalore Railway Station.

Karnataka Express chugged off on time at 7.20pm.   I was to alight at Jhansi 32 hours [1700 kms] later for the second train-change over.  Half past three in the morning was the expected arrival time, a very odd time to be alighting.

I had the lower berth in the middle of the compartment where its night light was just like night! Most of the passengers had also switched off the lights. Dark.  All was well till I tried to sleep for the second night in the same place.  My luggage was chained to a ring underneath the seat.  I had to be awake when the train would arrive at Jhansi, well ahead as there would be no one to wake us up in case sleep got sound!

The mind was very restless.  What if I sleep through Jhansi, if sleep 'happened'?  When exactly will Jhansi be reached?  Was our train running on time? Whom to ask?  The TTE [Train Ticket Examiner] was unseen. These constant worries kept haunting.  Every few minutes I tried to see my black dial watch but could not see time as it was dark. I would wait for the train to pass through some station which had lights to catch that light on my watch to see time.

Half past mid night, then one, half past one, then two.  I had tried to see the watch a hundred times. How far was Jhansi?  I have known Jhansi to be a busy junction.

It was about 2 a.m when the train came to a halt.  It was some station I could not know.  Many people were shouting in such a way it told the short duration of this train-stoppage. I lay on my tummy, jacking up on my elbows to see through the glass window.  There was a huge sea of people in great hurry.
All of them were barging into all the 'reserved' compartment, including ours.  The number of seats/berths was 72/bogey, but within a few minutes there were 200 people including the sleeping 72. The TTE had vanished. These people occupied every available inch of space in the bogey. I am not exaggerating 'inch'. There were two people sitting on my berth and one had already occupied the leg space on the floor, sleeping.

The huge group appeared to be part of some political movement. I am sure they were all ticket-less. The train started to move again and I lay back to wait to see which station would come next. There was no halt for the next 40-50 minutes.

When the train slowed down and halted alongside another station that had a long platform, I got panicky.   The station appeared to be a large one, with lots of lights. If it was Jhansi, I had to get down now!!  I had to squeeze my way out through the people somehow. I asked someone if this was Jhansi. There was a 'Yes'. I panicked further.  I did not know how long the train was stopping here. I could not get a clue about the station name, anywhere.

In this state of mind, I unlocked my luggage chain, pushing the sleeping fellow on the floor and pulled up my suitcase. There was no space for my feet to land on the floor!  Since I was in the middle portion of the bogey, I had to reach the end for the exit. But the aisle was completely jam-packed. Many were highly drowsy in standing position.  The snorers were not one bit affected by this hullabaloo.

I had left my seat/berth pushing my suitcase in between jam-packed people and I was feeling for my foot to land.  Where the suitcase went, I had to follow.  My kit bag tugged across my shoulder followed me.   It was inevitable that I had to land on one or two sleeping people, with just a mental excuse.

Some people had switched on the main lights of the compartments now.  As soon as I left my berth, three people squeezed in to occupy it, crouching because of the middle berth. If the train moved now I'm a goner, I thought.

I had squeezed my way through these people and with just a short distance from the exit, someone asked me which station I was to get down.  "Jhansi" I said.  "But Jhansi is still one hour away, this is ...x.... station!" Someone had misled me, probably to occupy my berth!

Now there was no way I could return to my berth, just a few feet behind me!!  People in the bogey were like a box full of worms.  At that spot I could see two people fully awake in their berths.  One of them was a young lady watching all this commotion and my confusion. She was in the middle berth nearest to where I was 'trapped'.

On the lower berth, there were two each sitting on opposite seats as the original berth-holder was sleeping. There was one sleeping on the floor.  My left leg was between two people sitting in the aisle and my right had found a place.  If I had slippers, they would have been lost. But I had shoes. The suitcase had found a few inches on the edge of the seat. My left hand trying to get a hold, kit bag hung in front of me.  They pack sheep in trucks more loosely.  Imagine the scene!!  There was no way I could stand one hour here with my luggage.

The only space available was on that young lady's berth. She was leaning her back to the window-side 'wall' and so there was half berth luckily unoccupied by anyone from that group.  There were people near the exit, in front of the toilet door and even in the vestibule.

The young lady readily and understandingly agreed to my request to occupy the half berth.  I thanked her. I now had space for my suitcase and the long legs which had to be kept on the opposite middle berth!  I had to manage sitting in a curved position.  The young lady was reading the Holy Bible and also seemed to be praying in between pauses. She did this for a long time.

A few minutes seemed like an hour. There were no further halts or stations for quite a while as the train hurtled fast as if to gain lost time.  I managed to get a few winks of sleep in the posture I was. The kit bag served as a resting aid for my arms.

"Jhansi".  I heard someone call out when the train slowed down.  The train came to a halt.  Since I was higher than the window I could not see anything.  And IT WAS Jhansi.  Announcing "Jhansi aa gaya, uthro" a few passengers were preparing to alight squeezing their way through those people. I thanked the young lady profusely and got down from the berth.  People near the door had got down to free their lungs and arms!  Finally, some 'space'!  What a relief it was to get out of this compartment!  At last, I set foot on the platform, as if I was landing on the moon!  I learnt that the train was indeed late by about 40 minutes.  It was now past 4 am.

How I wished I was like the Friendly Ghost Casper to walk through doors and walls and people!

Lucknow was still 4 hours and 300 kms away from here.  The next train was at 8 am which meant four more hours - of waiting, alone.  So I went to the resting lounge where many such 'waiters' were snoring, some on chairs and some on the floor, with luggage secured by chains.  I too occupied a chair and tied my luggage like a dog.  Luggage thieving is rampant and so the passengers have to be on the vigil.

When the sun rose and a telephone booth opened near the resting lounge, I called the organizing secretary at Lucknow that I would be arriving at about 12.30 pm and requested for transport for my pick up to join my team at the quarters. All was fine.

We lost our first match in a nail biting finish in the last over.  My personal contribution of 76 in 66 balls in a low scoring match seemed to have turned the game in our favour but not to be. Pitambar Dutt's 70 took the game from us. Since it was a knock-out tie, our team had no further role.

The purpose of our 40+ hours journey had ended in a mere four hours.  It was ridiculous!  But some of us made use of the free time to see the historical city.

Return journey was smooth and we threesome now traveled together with an unhappy feeling of having lost our first match.

Here are some images that float around the web. This is outside the train.  Expect the same inside!

The same year 2002, Indian Railways was 150 years old!


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Train boarding cliff-hanger

In 2007, our official biennial cricket tournament was in Chandigarh.  It was a long travel of 2 days from Mysore by train. Other team members had left a day before.  My team mate Shivu was to accompany me on the travel.  We were to board the train leaving at 9.10 pm to New Delhi at Yeshwanthpur, some way away from the main Bangalore Railway Station.  

Since there was no suitable train in the evening from here, we chose the road journey to reach Bangalore as buses were available every 5 minutes.  About three to three and half hours would be this journey. So we decided to start at 4 pm. If all went well, we would be there by 8 pm, more than one hour ahead of the departure.  

When I reached the bus station on time, Shivu was NOT around the spot we had agreed to meet.  Half past four, no Shivu.  Five, still no Shivu.  Now I started searching for him in all the moving bus windows as bus after bus were snailing out of the station.  Quarter past five, it was status quo.  My train tickets were also safely with him!!  

"I was here", waiting.  Buses were choc-a-bloc that evening and not as thin as it looks in this old Google image. [Click to enlarge].

Strange thoughts crossed the mind several times because this Shivu had a reputation of being careless. Suddenly there came the familiar voice from a bus window, Shivu calling my name in a tone of relief!  It had been almost 80 minutes since I stood there. He had a seat next to him.  I had to believe when he said he was searching for me all the while before he decided to board that bus!  

This was another instance where a mobile in my pocket would have solved the issue!  See my other blogpost where I have had to face yet another small confusion. [Click]. 

The bus was moving.  Half past five and now just three and half hours left for our train.  When the conductor came to issue us tickets we anxiously told our plight. He reassured us that we would reach by half past eight.

From Bangalore, Yeshwanthpur Rly.Stn was some distance away which meant some more precious minutes! Bangalore is notorious for its traffic jams.  It was half past eight and 'on time' and had "almost reached" the destination. 'Almost' because we had reached the deadliest, narrowest bottlenecks leading to the Bangalore Bus Station. 

Look for TCM Royan Rd. towards the left in this screen capture of the map. Look for 'Jam'.  This was about where we were jammed! 

Traffic in this dense jam was inching its way so slowly that it would have taken half an hour to get out past the traffic signal. We were at the half way point and we noticed that smaller vehicles were moving ahead more easily.  We now had 25 minutes left for the train departure.  Each second would count for us from now on.  Any delay meant we had to return home because it was a long distance travel and our team would have suffered a shortage of players. 

Just at that time, we saw an empty autorickshaw stop right next to the foot board.  Since traffic had stopped and there was some 'road space' to get down, we decided to hop on to the autorickshaw.  He had agreed to take us to Yeshwanthpur Rly. Station after we explained our urgency.  We soon agreed to his fare when he assured he would take us there in 15 minutes at the most, through a shortcut.  Luckily, the smaller vehicles were escaping quickly and more easily from the side and there were tens of them ahead of us.  Very soon, we were out of this jam.

I cannot count the number of times I looked at my watch that evening.  True to his words, he took us in 15 minutes flat.  Now, ten minutes left when he left us beside the station in a by lane. We thanked him profusely.  Every nano second would count now.  We had to cross the road and walk, nay run, some distance [with luggage] to get into the Station.  Eight minutes to go. We briskly crossed the road, already perspiring.  From where we crossed the road, we saw the tail of a train.  The station gate was many metres away to the left.

I tried to visualize that scene on paper now.  Remember it was 9 pm and dark. This is what we saw before we crossed the road:

There was a compound wall which was slightly taller than my shoulder that looked surmountable and the nearest route for us to be 'on some platform'!  Much younger Shivu climbed first after keeping the luggage on the wall.  We climbed the high wall like thieves escaping to safety.  I had to pull myself up, holding the edge of the wall, right leg first up, stomach scraping the top of the wall, sitting, jumping down, picking up luggage and running for the train.  Which train, where was our train?  Time, 3 minutes left.  

We dreaded the fact of searching and running to another platform or crossing tracks. But to our luck, the train we had seen was ours!   The board displayed on the bogey showed it!  This was about 40 feet from the compound wall we had just jump-crossed. To add to our luck, even our compartment was right there, in front of us, may be the third or fourth from the last!!  And we need not run anymore at all!  What a relief!  No sooner had we settled our luggage beneath our seats, we felt the jerk.  The train was moving. The time was 9.10.  We had made it!  Call what you may, cliff-hanger, filmy style. 

We had spilled all the 'cushion time' in Mysore itself.  This post need not have been written if I had a simple mobile phone and established contact with Shivu.  Ha, now suddenly I recall that I had attempted to contact him from the public booth nearby at half past four but "switched off" was the message.  What to do?

 The tournament from our team's perspective turned out to be one not to remember.


Let me tell another 1994 story in brief.  
Our club cricket team had gone to Kumbakonam.  I was to join the team 3 days later for further matches.  Mohan Ram was accompanying me in the bus journey which was about 12 hours total time.  We expected to be well ahead early morning for our match at 8 am. We had started at 4pm. On the last stretch, the next morning as we closed in to the destination, some farmers' agitation had blocked traffic for 2 hours.  I remember we brushed our teeth during the blockage, beside the road. When we landed at our hotel, it was quarter to 8 and when we rushed to the ground after dumping the luggage and quickly changing to our cricket gear, our captain had made the toss and we were to take the field.  I played almost right off the bus...the engine sound still ringing after the overnight journey by ordinary seat.  We won the match and eventually after two more matches in the next two days, we ended runner-up.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Passport Photos

"Passport size photos" [35mm x 45mm] are asked by every office.  This is a 'must' when we need to obtain or renew a Driving License, an identity card, for opening bank accounts, PAN card, Ration card, registering for some course, not to mention obtaining Passport and several others.  As such, we need to keep copies handy for any sudden requirement.

In the days of yore a typical studio had one fixed camera behind the wooden board.  The diffuser light was also part of this. The rotation of a crank exposed the film, which the expert would do after asking the subject to look 'here' pointing to the lens.  The size of the print and number of copies needed were to be let known to the person attending.  He would index the photo as per his film and gave us the 'due date' [delivery of prints] when he collected a token advance money.  This was because the studios exposed film rolls and developed them only after the roll was over!  Once I was sent back on the due date which was one or two days later, saying that the 'roll is yet to complete'!  Those days are now gone.  This is the digital era. Why, since the last few years itself.  Electronics has made several things easy and in many ways.

Last week I happened to visit Roy Studio [Estd.1954] close to our house for my requirement. The copies made a couple of years ago have been spent.

"Passport photos." I told the proprietor.  "For 8, it will cost forty rupees".  I said "I need 16."  "For 16, seventy rupees. Comb your hair there."  He showed a lovely vintage dressing table, probably as old as the studio.  I had gone prepared with my pocket comb.  The helmet displaces the arrangement of hairs.  So the crop has to be rearranged.  I prefer my own comb to the one kept there. 

A green curtain was behind me. I sat on the plastic stool for posing and saw this view [pictured] while the photographer was still attending to the previous customer at the desk.   

A young girl-photographer employed by the proprietor soon arrived and sat in front of me with her camera after rearranging the diffuser lights.  She wanted me to keep the head a bit straighter. Our necks tend to take their 'original positions' involuntarily!  

Wait, let me record what I see from this end! 

I chose this one for printing, out of two she 'clicked', because of an inkling of a deliberate grin.

Advantage of digital technology - we can see from the camera monitor how the photo will be.  If we do not like any shot, they can take a few more to choose from!  We now have the option to decide.  Imagine the days when we were waiting eagerly to see the prints two days later, from the ONE exposure!

Immediately, she uploaded it to the computer and played with the keyboard and mouse.  Lo, the tiny printer was spitting out two sheets of 8 photos each.  The way this girl trimmed and separated the copies in the manual trimmer spoke of her skill. 

I paid the proprietor the seventy rupees which he accounted in his register. I was walking out with the copies in barely ten minutes!  Before that, I had taken a few shots from my camera.  Do not miss the vintage bellow model he has proudly displayed here. 

In its sixtieth year this studio had recently shifted [just about 50 metres away] to a first floor building right opposite 'Gayathri Coffee' where we buy our coffee powder.  

 Last year when I reorganized the family albums I created an "Evolution" page in the new album.  One of the 16 was immediately added there, becoming the 22nd Passport Photo and only the 7th color photo taken over 40 years!  Let me see how long the other 15 copies will last. The smaller ones are known as 'stamp size'.

The first one was taken in 1973.