Continued from Previous Post: Migrations – Reservations – Observations
It was a journey planned in haste, to some universities and colleges in Kolkata, for promotion of our new concern, a symposium, which we were hosting. Trains will be jam-packed to multitudes of its capacity when you are least prepared to travel so. It was month of December. On our waitlisted tickets we tried to board the general coach, but in vain. As usual it was too packed to let us enter without getting squeezed, if not crushed. We decide to endure the stench and managed to find a place to stand beside toilet in one of the sleeper coaches. Thus began the journey, a Train to Howrah.
As the night fell, so did the temperature and a few stops on the way, by midnight we found ourselves unusually comfortable in the humongous space created by people getting down to their destinations. Despite our pleading requests to the Ticket Collector who came afterwards and an offer of a few green notes, he declined on the availability and vacancy inside those coaches to sleep. There was not much to do, as on Indian Railways if a ticket collector refuses to give you a berth despite inflated bribe, he is being honest, he speaks truth and it is a truth that there is no vacancy inside. Although the elderly ticket collector was sympathetic enough to ask us to go inside and see if any friendly passenger can allow us to sit on their berth as the chill was unbearable. We stood there for some time in the cold, aware of the fact that after getting down at Howrah, the first taxi we will catch will be to a hospital not to Jadavpur University as we have planned.
As the night progressed and the journey, we planned that my friend will go in first as he had a more juvenile face, it will fetch more pity and sympathy, and that is what we needed despite the price of the tickets we paid. He went inside, I followed, and we walked to the other side inspecting every berth. We were careful like a feline on prowl; it was a hunt for a place to sit, to save ourselves from the harsh cold. It was warm inside and what we saw appeared to us a gross injustice. Two of the children were sleeping on each of the lower berth of a compartment. The berths oversized than what they require, we finalized this is the spot. My friend positioned his haunches on one on the berth and I sat on other. In the dim of the dark and glow of the board indicating berth numbers, we sat still. We didn’t talk and made no noises, we smiled, we were grateful for whoever the parents were for these children.
“A couple of hours, it will be morning and we will be in Howrah”, I thought. Then I heard some noise other than the chug of the wheels, metal ranting on metal, I saw my friend look up, I turned to lookup too. A pair of eyes was peering over us in the dark. She spoke, she asked us who we were, why are we sitting on her berth, she don’t feel safe, why don’t we go away, why can’t people like us make a reservation then travel in class. We didn’t answer but we didn’t move. She said she will shout, she shouted at her husband who happened to be sleeping on the other berth opposite to her. He woke up and peered too, he asked us to leave or search some other place. We told them we mean no harm, no danger, like them we boarded train where it started and will go up to Howrah, we have not encroached any space to cause discomfort to them, that is why we are not even talking and it was too cold outside, unbearable. We told them we will manage on the edge of the seat, they need not to worry. The husband said, it is alright, but be on the edge, don’t encroach. We felt relieved and thanked him multiple times thank you, thank you, thank you… like the sound echo as it hit the darkness from the dim light.
Hardly 15 minutes passed, when the woman started peering again. “What now?” I thought. She shouted again at her husband, asking him to ask us to leave. We looked at each other and thought it is better to leave.
We walked out, sat beside each other, our backs against the side wall. We cussed the woman, the man, people sleeping cozily in their blankets, we cussed the ticket collector, our teammates who must be sleeping in their hostel rooms, and we cussed ourselves. My friend said, “Aadmiyeta rahi nahi aajkal” (Humanity is dead these days).With the only blanket we were carrying we covered ourselves from head to toe, a compact formation where we intended to turn ourselves into a ball so that minimum surface area will be exposed to the cold. Somehow it worked; we survived to see the dawn of the day. Howrah is near, people began to move around. One woman in one toilet the other one waiting for her turn, an old man with loose ends of his Lungi turned up and tied around his waist waited for his turn, murmuring things undecipherable. A young dad with toothbrush in his mouth held his kid mid air so that he can reach the level of the steel sink and spit in it.
Another guy came out, peeked out of the coach doorway and took out a pack of cigarettes. We were envious, he needs smoke to wake up, he slept too much, and we needed whatever available to keep us awake. “Where are you guys going?” he asked. “Don’t you know this train links Port Blair Kolkata? We are going Port Blair.” I felt like answering, annoyed at the stupidity of the question.
He asked us if we want cigarettes. My friend took one. I said we will share. “Which engineering college?” he asked.
I told him the college name as my friend was struggling to light the cigarette with his hand shivering of cold. My friend asked about him. So, all would be engineers, and then the rituals of handshakes and introductions…
Although he was sure from our faces, he asked “Were you on waitlist? Didn’t you get a seat?”
“No, somehow we managed to stay alive; it was too cold at night.”
“Let’s go and sit inside, we will chat, Howrah is still half an hour.” He finished the cigarette and we too hurried.
We went inside, we followed to his compartment. To rule out the coincidence, we were in same compartment. The woman was sitting with one of her child made room for us and asked us to have a seat.
“Are they your friends? In which coach you people were?” asked the man with another child by his side.
I couldn’t figure out whether the question was meant for us or for the guy. He appeared to be fixing his hair in the mirror, he turned and introduced us. After exchange of pleasantries, he expressed our plight of waitlist.
The couple made a face that showed complete sympathy for our sufferings.
“We booked separate berth for each of us. Kids don’t need a whole berth, a single one is enough for them. If you guys could have come at night, both of you could have shared that.” said the woman.
Whether she was being nice, I didn’t know. Doesn’t she know it was us at night?
“It is so nice of you.” I replied.
“If we knew it before we would have come to you. There aren’t many kind and considerate people these days.” My friend added “Aadmiyeta rahi nahi aajkal”.
I looked at his face; he was struggling hard to control his laugh. That made my smile burst into laughter.
The couple was wondering what is wrong with us, so was the guy. “What’s so funny, why don’t you share?” The guy was interested to know. I saw a fine grimace appear on the woman’s face. “Was it you…”
“Yes. It was us. And you were so kind” said my friend. We burst into laugh again. The woman looked away out of the window.
Next on the Series: A Journey through Rogue Lands and its Bahubalis
6880+ words so far in 2012 on Barunjha’s Blog
© Barun Jha || 2012