Saturday, January 06, 2007

A Memorable Experience.

31st Dec’06, I was in the railway station at Rourkela and my parents had come to see me off. I was traveling till Bhubaneshwar and the train was supposed to start at 8:30 PM and reach the destination by early morning 6:00 AM. So, it took me over a year to cross 450 kilometers, boarding the train in the year 2006 and reaching the destination in 2007. Huh!!!

Since, I had a confirmed reservation in the AC 2nd Class, I was interacting with my parents before the train started. I could feel the pulse and the emotions wading through my maa’s mind. Added to this what I like about Indian Railways is that the railway platforms showcases a potpourri of human feelings, vivid, raw and spontaneous expressions. The unadulterated space of the platform with the chaiwala shouting chai chai garam chai filled the air. Two, three suitcases were lofted high onto the heads of wiry porters, balanced by bags dangling from each skinny shoulder. Paid by the piece they tugged luggage from the passenger’s hands, just to earn a few more pennies. In the next few minutes, the red signal was given and the train started pulling away from the station. As the train gathered momentum, the clamour of the platform magically transformed into the chaos of embarkation.

I settled in my seat but the compartment was sort of empty. After about 45 minutes, I made my way towards the door, as mine was the AC compartment, which meant it was an enclosed one with no open windows. Very near to the door are the toilets in Indian trains and each of the compartments is inter-linked through a pathway. The toilets in the trains are something really interesting. In general someone has to hold the trousers up, so they don't drag in the mess on the floor. Trying to hold onto whatever seems the cleanest part of the wall without actually touching it or losing one’s balance as the train rattles and clatters onwards is an art. I was coming out of the toilet, when I saw the TTE (Train Ticket Examiner) in the other compartment, which was a sleeper class talking to bunch of three people on a higher pitch.

The bunch of three comprised two boys and a girl. They were dressed shabbily and what really made me act on the scene was that the innocent girl was sitting right in front of the wash-basin adjacent to the toilet and the TTE was trying to exhibit his dominance and extract a few bucks. Their fault was that they had entered a reserved compartment while the ticket allotment status was still wait-listed. What pissed me off was that the train was almost half empty and to my understanding, if you have a reservation ticket may it be of any status confirmed or wait-listed you can travel in the train. On top of all this, since the train was half empty one can actually comfort him/her self in the available seat. This is plain and simple rule. The TTE probably seeing these naïve people wanted to play his cards but he would be disappointed that I ruined his plan. I didn’t do anything but spoke to him in a polite way and displayed as if I was well informed about the nitty gritties of the reservation rules.

For these three, the idea of having to travel safely to their destination, with little understanding of the rules and regulations of Indian railways, was daunting to say the least. I offered my seat in the AC compartment to the girl. She was around 18 years old and in the cold she had nestled herself in a shawl, though she had put on a sweater. I spoke to the two boys and assured them that I would give them company till we reached the destination and their sister can rest/sleep peacefully in my berth in the AC compartment. Slowly and steadily these two boys started speaking to me and I learnt that they were around 20 years old and worked as laborers in a tile-finishing workshop in Bhubaneshwar. Their sister was working in a missionary hospital and her job involved cleaning, housekeeping and general maintenance. They were returning back to their work place after a short vacation in their village, which is nearby to Rourkela.We shared lot many stories in each others life and the sister joined us for dinner around 12 at mid-night in the sleeper compartment, where the three of us were sitting.

Dinner was delayed because I wanted everything to settle first. My maa had prepared dinner for me and everything was packed neatly in aluminum foil along with two bottles of aerated water. My three new friends had also got their food and it was packed in plantain leaf. All the four of us, shared the food we had and I had no problem eating the food they had got and shared mine with them. My new friends felt a bit conscious and reserved, but I never felt anything awkward. What better to celebrate New Year, than sitting in a moving train and sharing food with new friends?

"Chai, Chai" cried the chaiwala, as he wended his way through the compartments, trying to sell as much as possible before the train started again. Who cared if the water wasn't safe, I needed a cup of tea and all four of us had hot tea served in the "kulhad" (the earthen cup). It was cold and the tea provided the much-needed warmth, infact I already had oodles of it in the company of these three simple people. Wind gushing through our hair, trees and rivers passing by in the pitch dark of the night, welcome cold of deserted stations striking our faces, and the constant ricketing of the railroad tracks to give us company - no matter how long the journey and how cold it was, it was simply Aaah HEAVENLY....

When we were about to get down the train on reaching Bhubaneshwar, the young girl came to me and told, "Bhai this is my gift to you"(though in Oriya) and she gave me her shawl and a hug. When we got down in the station, the two brothers, noted down my address and contact details, also hugged me before we separated.

It was definitely a memorable experience, one I will never forget and it made me realise how lucky I was to have celebrated the New Year, a simple way. Today when I was about to go to the laundry to give my warm clothes for cleaning, I noticed the shawl, which the girl had given me. I folded and preserved the shawl and didn’t give it for dry cleaning as I felt the infinite warmth and the ocean full of caring will get washed away. Indeed even in this present world of underlying malice and malevolence, sudden encounters like these make life, a more colorful painting. Isn’t it?

Today, I even got calls from my cousins who returned from a week’s vacation to Khandala and Goa. They (of the same age as my three new friends) have come all the way from Singapore and the US to enjoy their vacation. Isn’t it case of total disparity, few people who leave home on a New Year’s night, so that the next day morning they can earn their daily bread and also there are others who cross seven seas for some leisure time and holidaying. Well that’s life with its plethora of amazing shades.

Keep reading and remain connected.


At 11:54 PM, Blogger morristhepen said...

Lovely story - very sympathetically told


At 1:24 AM, Blogger delphinium said...

hey tanay...very nice!can't wait for the sequel!
best wishes.

At 4:21 AM, Blogger brahmachari107 said...

good one

At 10:17 PM, Blogger tpraja said...

Have you seen the new India search engine they added all the cool features of popular products like MySpace, YouTube, Ebay, Craigslist, etc. all for free to use and specifically for India. Anyone else try this yet? First to Blend Search, Social Network, Video Sharing and Auctions Into One Seamless Product for Indian Internet Users.


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