NAGPUR. Geographically speaking, it is the centre of India. And metaphorically speaking, it is the place where heat and cold don’t hesitate to be at their extremes, and devour the inexperienced habitants to the maximum.
Before continuing, I suggest you to plant some seeds of patience in your mind, as the following lines are a bit too long!
I arrived at the Chennai Egmore station exactly 3 hours before the arrival time of the Pondicherry-Delhi Express. 3 hours? Yes, 3 hours. Calculating the intensity of the traffic on Chennai roads, and the possibility that the auto guy might make his vehicle give a speeding kiss to some other vehicle and end up in a brawl, I had to take this decision. Chennai auto drivers are rashly sophisticated drivers, you see. My wallet got thinner by an inch after paying the autowala 200 bucks in ten rupee notes, and then I made my frustrated move onto the platform. (Frustrated because the luggage with me required two people to carry, and the funds I had, required some serious expansion in order to hire a porter)
I consulted my wrist watch for the umpteenth time of the day, and it threw a devilish laugh at me. I had to wait for another two hours and forty minutes to board the train, provided it arrived on time. And once again, the mysterious amalgamation of situation and time had rendered my calculations to be utterly useless. (I had reached the station in just 20 minutes :|) Indian railway platforms are a mixture of different flavours. From the local tea shop whose customers need to have a sense of the real desi taste, to the poshest of the post restaurants where an extremely obese wallet is a prerequisite, everything is available here. Understanding my present condition of economy, which was extremely unpleasant, I walked to the nearest teawala’s accompanied with my irritating amount of baggage.
‘One tea.’ I said and whisked my eyes across the line of eatables displayed. ‘One bajji also, the spicy one.’ I said and within minutes I stood with a glass of tea in one hand, the great Chennai bajji in the other, and my eyes carrying out a periodical check over my luggage. (Indian railway platforms are full of magic. Your bags vanish in a jiffy if you don’t keep your eyes on them from time to time) I dipped the oily bajji into the hot tea and continued my journey through the jungle of deliciousness. I had no idea if the bajji got teaed or the tea got bajjied, as all I could guess was that I was enjoying one of the brilliant snacks of all time. I paid the tea guy after I was done and headed to the only vacant seat on the entire platform, which seemed rather vulnerable of getting occupied. And that is what exactly happened. A bald headed short guy took away my most priced position, and I had to wait standing for the next..err wait..I looked at my watch for the ‘umpteenth plus one’ time of the day..two and a half hours. Internally chiding my seat invader, I pulled off a smile (which was obviously artificial) and began to observe the people around me.
Indian railway platforms, as already mentioned, are a combination of a variety of flavours. This time, it is because of the different types of people that exist around. You get to see folks from across the length and breadth of this country. People of various religions, cultures and backgrounds can be seen swimming in their own pools of life. And here I was, swimming in my own pool of boredom, waiting to reach the shores of excitement. Time seemed to be too merciless. A whisk across ten different people, plus an elastic stretch of my numb body, plus another scary confrontation with my watch, all happened in less than 5 minutes. Sometime later, my eyes fell on a vacant seat. I immediately ran to it and my feet, for my alert decision, finally seemed to pay homage to me.
Two hours and twenty minutes later.. According to me, one of the most awaited moments of my lifetime had almost arrived. The arrival of the Pondicherry-Delhi Express. And just then, a railway announcement went through the air making me feel like a buffoon in a pant and shirt who was munching over a bajji and a cup of tea some two and half hours ago. (And yes, who was highly ‘intelligent’ enough to reach the station 3 hours early) As usual, the Indian Railways had failed to deliver its vehicle on time. The train was 20 minutes late, and that meant an extra 1200 seconds of existence accompanied with an overly burdened luggage and an almost empty wallet.
And finally, the 23-bogeyed motor-machine arrived. I got in with my perturbing paraphernalia and limped my way to my berth. All the berths were empty. My mind instantly found its piece of peace. Setting my luggage and removing my shoes, I jumped near the window, which was to be my source of entertainment for the next sixteen hours. The train moved, and through the window bars I could see the Egmore station disappear in the long lines of rail tracks. Everything was smooth and peaceful till the train halted at the next station. What was an empty and pleasant array of berths just minutes ago, was now filled with eight guys, or rather goondas whom you get to see in most of the South Indian films. All huge, fat, and had that scary look pouring out from their large eyes.
‘You going to the upper berth, eh?’ One of the monster mamas asked, or rather ordered. I understood that revolting to his order would convert my 78 kilos of flesh and blood into a lifeless chapathi dough. ‘Yeah sure…’ I said gulping down a lump in my throat and along with my bag, climbed my way to the top. For the next eight hours I had practically lived a paralytic life. Their thousand decibel laughters seemed to shake the train and shatter the entire rail route to Nagpur. I dared to peep down a few times, and I could see them do nothing other than play cards or empty mammoth packets of biriyani. Around ten, the train stopped at Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh), which was the hotspot for dinner enthusiasts. ‘Not me’, I thought, as I had lost the stamina to buy, chew or digest food.
The gang of eight had finally finished their unlimited rounds of cards and carbs, and were setting their berths for sleep. I at-last heaved a sigh of relief, but only minutes later did I realize that that sigh was not of relief, but of another 8 hours of hellish grief. One by one, each of them began their round of snores, which doubled their decibel limit. My head went under my pillow, then under the bedsheet, and then under my bag, but their snoring intensity rendered my moves to be utterly useless. (I had even thought of bringing up my luggage and shoving my head underneath them, but then I said to myself to be more realistic)
The next day, Nagpur Station.
‘How are you?’ My dad asked with a smile as he came to receive me at the station.
‘Good.’ I reciprocated, which was one of the biggest lies of my lifetime.
‘Hungry?’ He asked.
‘Not at all.’ I said. ‘Had lots yesterday.’
He helped me with my luggage. We both had tea and left for home.