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!


1 comment:

Kumar Sharma said...

Lovely narration of the happenings over a decade back. True, they get etched in the mind!

I travelled with you to Jhansi through your narration.

It is a coincidence that in April 2002,
I too passed through Jhansi and Lucknow and further went to Gorakhpur with my colleague Murali
on an official trip.
Though eligible for flight, I opted to go with Murali by train and our Unit Head agreed, albeit with a 'why?'. Fact is, I have loved long train journeys. This one turned out to be my last long-distance travel [bed-ridden thereafter, in Nov'02 due to a neuro-surgery - & then recovery]. Back to the subject:
We too got off at Jhansi, stayed in the waiting room - had done the same at the same place thrice in
'77,'79 & 80. Then in the morning
boarded the train to alight at Kanpur - a few miles before Lucknow. Not much drama in my case. A ate tasty & hygienic breakfast at Pamam, a village station - Kachoris + Pedas.
Took a cycle rickshaw at Kanpur, stayed in a so-so Hotel.
Later got a ticket booked for the night journey to G'pur
- 'Amrapali Express' -
I love the name! At the station, I recall listening to melodious old Hindi songs on the radio at some Tea-stall.
Reached Gorakhpur in the morning to a good reception by the other
Bearings-vendor who later took us to Lumbini (Buddha's place) too. After a few days' Hotel stay at G'pur, returned to Mysore
from Lucknow to Bangaore via Mumbai by air and later to Mysore.
I had just managed to carry my
luggage which was "feeling heavier" to carry alone as there were already signs of my then unknown tumour near the spinal cord.
Life, for me and the family, took a different course thereafter