Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Great Indian Railways

My weekend was full of adventure. Well, first of all it started on thursday instead of friday due to a real "Good" Friday. On the morning of 24th, my sleep was terminated by a call from my dear sister Nidhi, who asked :

"You are coming to Dhanbad, Na?".

Poor me. I got blackmailed by her innocence.

Although I was not quite sure how I could make it, I felt that I should have gone to Dhanbad. But I had to say "No" to her as I knew that the day ahead has two labs, the second of which having 2 experiments to do instead of 1, making the job even more difficult. But seems like luck was by my side (or my sisters' side)!

After reaching the Hydraulics Lab, we were told by Prof. Maiti that we have to do only one experiment today instead of two. I knew that this was my opportunity. I decided to hurry on with the experiment, so that completing it before schedule, I can go on to catch the 1650hrs train.

But the experiment proved to be pain fully long. I was able to complete the experiment only by 4:10pm, and told my friends to do the submission on my behalf. I ran for my room, packed my luggage in a record time of 3 minutes, and left the room for the station. The only bit of planning that was a part of my plan was that I wrote "Adra-Bhaga" on my palm to remind me of the station names I can't afford to forget. In the meanwhile, I tried to contact Ankur to ask whether he would like to come, but he didn't answer the ring.

I embarked on an cycle-rickshaw for station, but didn't call anyone as I myself wasn't sure whether I would make it or not. Reaching the Railway Station on dot 1650hrs, I tried to vaguely recollect which train I was supposed to catch that will take me to Adra. My memory failed me and I had to buy a ticket of the 1710hrs Kharagpur-Adra Passenger that looked like a safe bet. Seated comfortably in a window seat of the train, I waited for it to move, as I called Ankur (This time just to inform(!) him that I am going to Dhanbad. It appeared that the last time I called him he was out for Snacks.) and Mamaji to tell my plans. Mamaji reasoned to tell that I may be fortunate enough to catch the Adra-Bhaga local. But this was not to be!

The train refused to move as the clock ticked by. I leant from fellow passengers that the train will proceed only after Neelanchal Express will depart (to the same location, Adra). I dimly recollected that this must have been the train I was supposed to catch on the first-hand. I decided to continue with my journey on the same train as I thought it to be a bit too risky to go for a ticket of Neelanchal, which was about to leave any minute. By the time the passenger train's wheel cranked, it was almost 5:45pm.

I waited as the train leisurely strolled towards its destination, but another surprise awaited me. One of the passenger told me that all the train on this route are running late because of a faulty line on a river bridge. I was already beginning to feel the heat of the problem as the train started halting on stations for unusually long time. The gentleman sitting opposite me was very doubtful of the possibility of my catching any train that day as he believed that there won't be any train remaining for the day by the time we reached Adra. Other passengers had similar views. To add to my misery was the fact that the train halted at a very remote station (Ondagram) for eternity. Bhaga being just under 40kms from Adra, there wasn't anything I could do as people were apprehensive of the possibility of even bus services running on the route during night-time. At this time I started preparing for spending the night at an unknown destination without eating dinner. Never in my whole life have I slept without eating anything, but if this was to continue a bit more, it was going to be my first time.

It was quite late by the time the train started. And in a while, we reached the aforementioned bridge. It was in a real bad shape. Nevertheless, the journey continued and I was happy as long as the train was moving. But another bad thing started happening. It started giving passes to other fast trains on the same route. I was fortunate to have a few knowledgable passengers who told me when the train halted at a station (Jhantipahari) that Purulia Express will also halt on this station for a while. As I had passenger ticket, I was not entitled to board an Express Train, but the way this passenger train was running, I had no other option.

When I got down on that station, to my surprise I saw many more familiar faces, the most familiar being Orko Kundu. He was going to Adra itself to meet his sister so he had lesser worries. The others were hoping to catch Patna bound South Bihar Express, though a few didn't even have a ticket, while the others were unsure of the time. They just hoped that the train gets delayed so that they can go on with their journey. I managed to find a place to sit on the train, while the others had to keep standing. Their misery didn't last long as Adra was just 35~40 minutes from that station.

Disembarking from the train, they found South Bihar Express standing on the platform and about to leave. I was again left on my own, and decided to first have something to eat. I found a snacks-stall, and found only boiled eggs worth trying. I bought 4 eggs and immediately ate two of them, keeping the other two for the rest of my journey.

The vendor was a gentleman who enquired why I was in so hurry. I told him that I plan to reach Dhanbad. He told that all the trains to Bhaga have left and I should try reaching Dhanbad via Assansol. He told me that South Bihar Express goes via Assansol, and if I am lucky, I will catch it. I ran for the ticket counter and immediately bought a ticket to Dhanbad via Assansol, naturally after confirming what the vendor had said.

As I started my journey back, climbing the bridge to go on to Platform No. 4, I heard the announcement of the South Bihar Express leaving the station. Chill ran through my nerves as I ran as fast as I could. By the time I reached Platform No. 4, three such announcements had been made. I found the general bogie just in front of me, but it looked packed. I peeked in to see whether people are just standing on the gates or is the bogie actually full. The person on the gate whiffed my purpose and commented :

"Come on in. The Coach is Empty".

I ran along the direction of the train to find that even the Sleeper class is flooded with people. I decided to take the chance and boarded S4 Coach that atleast had the space to stand. Within a minute, the train whistled off to Assansol.

This coach was also packed to capacity. I barely managed to get a place to stand. But I was counting my days as the TTE was steadily marching his way towards me. I waited for doom to strike as he kept on checking tickets, alloting berths and imposing fine. When he reached our coach he was slowed a little. This was because almost everybody had a grievance.

Some of the people, I learnt, were KGP students who were going to Patna. The two boys had confirmed tickets, while the girls had wait-list ticket. One of them was a First Year B.Tech., while the other was a First Year M.Tech. Atleast they had a seat to sit on. There was another passenger in the adjoining bogie who boarded the train without a valid ticket and creating nuisance. He pleaded to the TTE in a very Bihari accent:

"I know that it is wrong to board the train without a valid ticket but what can I do! It so happened that today was to be the day I didn't had any money to buy tickets. You may have a look into my purse. Please understand."

The TTE looked at him with confusion and disbelief. But he was hardly able to do anything. He continued his work asking others for ticket. When he was busy asking tickets to some nearby passengers, with his back towards me, I decided to move on to the adjoining compartment. When he was done with checking ticket for the remaining passenges, he asked announcingly :

"There was a boy standing here. Where did he go?"

I froze, keeping my back towards him. Fortunately he didn't pursue his quest long and I heaved a sigh of relief.

I gathered from the fellow passengers that I may be fortunate enough to catch a train in Assansol as there still might be a couple of trains left in the night to come. But the trouble was that many of them were long distance trains and hence I might not be allowed to board them. I decided not to worry and continue till Assansol.

"Let's face the demons as they come. Why make your life hell when you are still living?" I said to myself.

I reached Assansol by about mid-night. I stepped down to plan the remainder of my journey. I enquired from a lacal standing on the platform whether any train bound for Dhanbad is due in the night. He pointed to the train stationed on the same platform. I was jubiliant. I confirmed it from a passenger sitting inside the train and to my relief, he too was going to Dhanbad. Within 10 seconds of my climbing the train, it rolled on. I felt like Harry Potter did when he first embarked on the Hogwarts Express.

But I had other worries cropping up. I had to switch off my mobile as there was no network connectivity till Assansol. To add to my misery was the fact that I had forgotton to bring my Mobile Charger which meant that I cannot afford to leave it on without any connectivity hoping it finds a network. I tried to contact Mamaji (in Dhanbad) but outgoing calls were not allowed. I was again losing hope. If I reach Dhanbad to find that all the STD PCO's are closed, how will I contact them? I didn't had their address to reach their on my own.

Here again the luck was on my side. As soon as I disconnected the call to the Reliance Service, the phone rang, call being from Dhanbad itself. I briefed them that I have left Assansol and am on my way to Dhanbad. He asked from which train am I coming. I was clueless. In the hurry, I had forgotton to see the name of my Hogwarts Express. I had to ask the fellow passengers to eventually tell him that I am coming from Ranchi bound Vananchal Express.

He said : "Excellent", which meant to me that I need not worry any more. Now the fact dawned on me that if WickC came with me, he would have reached home a lot earlier than he actually did.

I reached Dhanbad at around 1:15am and was readily welcomed by my Mamaji. The journey henceforth was quite pleasant, and after a tasty dinner, I said goodbye to the most memorable journey of my life spanning approximately 9 hours in 4 trains.

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