Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Long winded tale of a train journey

About three weeks ago S and I got the brilliant idea of going to Wayanad in Kerala over the Republic Day almost long weekend (an almost long weekend is one which becomes a long weekend when you take one day off. Republic Day was on Thursday this year).

The trouble is, if you want to travel by Indian Railways, such brilliant ideas should hit you at least a month before your date of journey. If your date of journey, like ours was, is during a public holiday, any brilliant idea would do well to hit you at least 2-3 months before the proposed journey. Because, Indian Railway trains fill up notoriously fast and if you want a sporting chance of securing a ticket on them, you better adhere to booking your tickets by those timelines.

Well, we hadn't. "Fear not," said S, "I know someone who works for the railways who can get us a ticket". So, our tickets were booked; and though our waitlist position was at some insane number, we continued to plan. As D-day approached, our suitcases, dinner, books and snacks were packed. I was running a comb through my hair preparatory to leaving for the station in 15 minutes when S's phone rang.

I heard S answer the phone, listen for a bit and going, "What!?! No tickets? We can't go?" and ran to find out what was happening. Apparently, we had reached spots 1 and 2 on the waitlist and any further movement into getting confirmed tickets was unlikely. Ouch.

Now, I am usually one of those people who obsessively plan their trips. Thus, long weekend plans are hatched well in advance and the necessary arrangements are made eons prior to the actual trip. When the date of departure arrives, all that is left to do is packing, locking the house and heading off to the airport/train station. Thus, any uncertainty in travel plans usually throws me for a loop and I tend to become a nagging nervous mess of, "Oh my God, oh my God, what will we do, what will we do?"

However, that day, I could have been the poster child for the Zen philosophy. Even as S frantically called other people who could help out, I told myself that we would go to Wayanad. Worst case, we will go to some other place. But, we are going somewhere. So, unperturbed, I helpfully hovered around S doing nothing ( in retrospect that time would probably have been better spent ticking off the items on our check-before-we-leave-the-house list but hey, moral support is important, right?).

A few calls later, S said that he was told that we should go to the train station anyway and see if someone there could help us but we should leave immediately to maximize our chances of getting tickets.

Now we both ran like two chickens with heads cut off. Good thing we had packed and done all winding up activities earlier. So we were out of the house in five minutes and in an auto. When you want to get somewhere in a rush, it is a given that all kinds of traffic not seen on normal days will show up. And thus, we found ourselves stranded amidst the Republic Day arrangements near the beach. But our enterprising auto driver found an alternate route and deposited us in the train station 30 minutes later. Yaay.

Once inside, I continued my helpful moral-support giving act by sitting on a bench and keeping an eye on our luggage while S did the honors of running around to find out what to do about the tickets. The thing about S is, if something can be accomplished by talking to people, he almost always accomplishes it. In other words, he is the type of person who can not only take the horse to the water but also  make it drink (and happily at that). So, I was still in my Zen like state and assumed that we would be going on the train we were waitlisted  on. The neat part was, I only had to assume while S had to actually do something about making that assumption come true (can you see a pattern here?).

Twenty minutes before the train left the station, S came running towards me and said that the train's ticket conductor had asked us to take seats on the train and he will work something out for us. Yaay. Of course, it was not the airconditioned coach we had originally wanted, but hey, at least we will be going on the train.

So, S and I boarded a coach which looked like it belonged to the first batch of coaches which were made when the railways were first introduced to India. Oh well. We had another couple already seated in the coupe. Ah, good! Only four of us were there and there were 6 seats. So maybe we will get our seats without much fuss after all. Yaay.

Which was when a group of 6 guys looking to be aged between 20-25 entered the coupe, looked at the seat numbers and declared, "Hey cool, looks like all of us are in the same coupe!" To their credit, they did not remark upon the 4 characters already seated in the coupe. To our credit, the male half of each of the two extra couples got up to make space.

And thus the situation was when the train set off with a long-drawn horn. S was standing in the passage way, I was seated next to the window. Both of us looked at each other and giggled like truant-kids. The train was off and at any rate, we were at least going out of Chennai. Yaay.

S found another seat. I stuck like a clam to my seat by the window. It had been ages since I last went on the train. I love, love, love looking out of the train during day-time while listening to the chugging (which is why I prefer non-AC cars since the chugging is louder there).

So, I sat there, the wind blowing my hair about my face and a blissful smile on my lips while my mind wondered at the blase attitude of the rightful occupants of the coupe with regards to the 2 non-authorized folks occupying their seats (God bless them for that attitude. In the past, prim Ms. Perfect me has often displayed unlady-like frowns and muttered uncharitable remarks about people lacking the common-sense to plan beforehand when I have found myself dealing with passengers having no pre-allocated seats. Like they say, never ever declare that *you* would *never* do something like blah, blah, blah). In any case, my newfound Zen attitude, however temporary, was still sticking around. Thus, instead of cringing in shame, I thoroughly enjoyed the view from the window

S called me over the phone and said that the ticket conductor had said that he would allocate seats to us in an hour and asked me to stay put till then - as though I was going to navigate seven pairs of feet which getting up would entail any more than necessary!

After an hour, the blase attitude of the rightful coupe occupants had diminished considerably, which probably had something to do with progressively sorer backs. I thought I heard someone whisper about why extra folks were sitting in the coupe. However I blithely (though a little guiltily) ignored it. How the mighty had fallen!

Finally, the guy sitting next to me politely asked me what my seat number was. Which was when I announced that my seat was yet to be allocated. To my surprise, none of the guys gave me death glares but nodded understandingly. But that was when my Zen attitude began to take leave. Assuming that all was well in your own little bubble was one thing. But *knowing* that  all was not well with others made me feel very uncomfortable and I started praying that we would get seats allocated soon.

Thankfully, within 10 minutes, S called me and said that the ticket conductor had found other seats for us. After apologizing to the paragons of patience, the rightful occupants, about hogging their space, we lugged our luggage and went to a different compartment.

Only to find 5 people already seated there. God Lord - was anyone *not* traveling over the long weekend? However, it turned out that 2 of them were getting off at the next station. However, we got 3 other people as replacements once the original 2 got off. O boy, were we going to be playing a version of musical chairs the whole night?

Now that we were sitting on fairly official (i.e. not fully confirmed) seats, my Zen attitude had returned full force and I found everything amusing. Finally, 4.5 hours after we had first got onto the train, we got our tickets in our hands. Yaay. Finally, we were all set!

I clambered onto the upper berth with my book, read for a while and then slowly fell asleep to the rocking of the train, looking forward to seeing Wayanad the next day. However, before Wayanad happened, 1. Moron turning on the bright coupe lights in the middle of the night, 2. Moron with a cellphone alarm which rang every single hour, waking me up, 3. Moron hawking coffee to train passengers by yelling "Cofffffffffeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" at 1a.m. in the morning happened.

Still, it was, to put it mildly, it was an interesting experience. And no, I am not looking forward to repeating it anytime soon.

p.s. Wayanad was awesome and worth every minute of the effort we put into getting there.

5 comments:

SK said...

Arch,
Hahahha! Quite an experience I should say. Good your Zen attitude helped you, I would have been mortified. But what is life without such thrills. :--)

May you have more such experiences so you reward us with such hilarious posts. :--D

dinesh said...

And you expect a train journey in India to not have these elements? How? :)

Archana said...

SK madam - why this kolaveri :-P?

Dinesh - LOL - if you travel with confirmed tickets in the AC coaches, most of these elements go missing :-). At least, that's what I discovered on our sedate train journey back from Wayanad.

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic way you write.. Humour running all through..surely S is one lucky guy..

Nalimia Shinde said...

Thanks a lot for the beautiful lines about the journey in kerala. I like this very much it is too much interesting to go thorough. I have visited Kerala from Goa in 2015. this was one of the most remarkable journey in my life time.