Each mode of transport has its own utility and charm. If time is to be saved, long distances are to be covered and emergencies have to be coped with, there is nothing to beat travel by air, depending upon one’s paying capacity. In order to cover relatively short distances, journey by public or private surface transport, wherever possible, is resorted to. But the kind of relationships one develops or the exposure to diverse life patterns that takes place during the rail travel, is simply incomparable. Apart from time, one should also have a knack for it. Such a means, in addition, is supposed to provide necessary succour to otherwise ruffled mind.
It also goes without saying that sometimes a planned rail journey becomes too long due to weather constraints, technical reasons or public disturbances en-route. While undergoing such an experience, one also puts too many blames, apart from hearing oft-repeated statement-“a train that is late is bound to be further delayed or sidelined or by-passed by those, otherwise moving on time or their rank in hierarchy ”. Against this background, one is tempted to share experience of one train which has supposedly lost its credentials as a superfast one due to its below the par performance in the last couple of years for reasons best known to the Ministry of Railways.
Congenial Atmosphere to Begin With
For the first time, I was going to board a train from Anand Vihar. As weather was o.k. and encouraged by the input of the previous day, the 12874 Jharkhand Swarn Jayanti Express was expected to be on time. On reaching the station, however, it was a reverse situation. It was reported to depart at 11.50 pm, that is, four hours behind schedule. One had no option, but to wait and watch. The experience of neat and clean platform was good to begin with. Even in the inclement weather, waiting passengers of five delayed and two cancelled trains were taking things in their stride. After all, for the majority, it was the time to visit home during usual Winter vacation or leave. When it became unbearable, most of us shifted to halls or relatively clean passages inside the main building. It was fun having home cooked food with some addition from the IRCTC stall. It was the only one to sell meals & eatables, that too, at relatively high rates.
Positive Response to Delay
By the time it was 9 pm, a message in respect of further delay of our train, by seven hours was flashed. One did not want to believe this shock till same was verified from the Enquiry. As it happens in such situations of common interest, a few assume the responsibility of looking after the luggage, while one or two walk down to the Enquiry. After several attempts, the news was confirmed. As it was bound to upset the plans of many, a kind of strange silence prevailed. A few went to sleep on whatever sheet or blanket they could lay their hands on, some began taking repeated walks, while the flamboyant types went on munching sweet and salty items. The ‘revived’ IRCTC tea counter began doing brisk business. A vendor selling Uncle Chips, Auntie Biscuits and Grandpa Paan too emerged from nowhere. I too spread myself in a comfortable corner and would get up, look up here and there every 30 minutes. Lying down on cold surface was not only uncomfortable but one had to believe that age was catching up and travelling alone, therefore, was to be avoided. Just to break the unbearable monotony, I purchased a cream-roll and gulped a hot cup of tea around 11.30 pm.
An attractive Bengali couple was seen engaged in making rounds and rounds of the waiting hall. They seem to be enjoying it. The lady was also fiddling with her mobile, even while being in fast motion. A simple couple either from U.P. or Bihar who had arrived at this late hour was making itself comfortable after purchasing a ‘warm’ polythene sheet from one of unauthorised vendors. Such innovations are very much part of the ‘Jugad’ seen quite often in our country. Even the RPF Jawans on duty, were seen hankering for it. Cell phones were ringing time and again. While incoming callers would be more worried at midnight, some of the receivers would enjoy snoring. On seeing everyone conversing on Cell, I had the reason to believe that India had more cells than the number of toilets.
While two groups of still smiling students were settling for video games and movies on their Lap-Tops, Seeta and Geeta ,two young girls (possibly sisters), fully covered from top to bottom were seen taking light meals and tea at frequent intervals. It was quite admirable, at the same time, to watch them reading magazines at this unearthly hour. It was more interesting to observe Seeta feeding Geeta, whenever latter would show signs of fatigue. I was also amused to be acquainted with the usual talks and responsibilities of lower middle class families from Shyamlal, one of the Benaras bound passengers lying next to me. Apart from conversing we would keep an eye on each other’s bag when there was a need to use restroom or fetch a cup of steaming hot tea. One finds virtual absence of such humanly traits and emotions among the air passengers. A visit to toilet revealed that it was a choke and dirty situation but drinking water was available in abundance.
Ray of Hope, Respite at Last
At last, around 1.45 am, it appeared that our miseries were going to end. When we began collecting and reassembling our belongings in a haphazard manner to board the train(similarity with what Rudyard Kipling described in his book-‘KIM’), it was discovered to our grief that Vikramshila Express, another of delayed trains was going to arrive on platform. Whatever it was, at least a positive development took place after seven to eight hours. While this train finally departed at 2.00 am, we had reasons to be optimistic about our train. Our moment came at 2.20 am. Though JSJ Express was to depart at 3.00 am, the passengers were allowed to get into immediately. What a relief one got from biting cold conditions upon entering S-4 Sleeper bogie. Most of us were so tired by this time that one did not get a hint even whether train left the station at its re-scheduled time.
Six Muskeeters & Other Friendly Passengers
I plan to devote less number of words on the journey proper as major part of one of the two unforgettable nights was spent either on sleeping or in looking aimlessly at the dense fog outside. Many a time, its intensity exceeded the one experienced in Delhi. I did have useful interaction with a group of 5 young ‘Muskeeters’(later addition being a cute tall Sardarji) .They were all the time engrossed in playing the Card Game of 28 or 29 to pass time, apart from being reminded to pick up eatables or a cup of tea each time the train was about to leave a platform. Whenever they were not sleeping or playing, they would test each other’s knowledge of General English, Arithmatics, I.Q. etc. It gave an impression that they were ever ready to write a competitive examination with a view to secure a job. In the train itself two of them were intimated about their next round of examinations at Purnea and Jhumri Tilaya. I saluted their spirits upon myself going down the memory lane.
Behaviour in general of some families hailing from Ranchi, Sisai, Gumla, Daltonganj etc. was commendable. Whenever their tiny tots would run or make noise, they would be immediately brought under control. They, at the same time, would never forget to offer home-made food stuff to the fellow passengers. Thanks to the path breaking Cyber revolution, young heads of Barla and Soreng families were found indulging in video graphy of beautiful terrain of Garhwa, Daltonganj, Barwadih, Latehar and Tori from their cell phones, a day-view of which even I was seeing for the first time. When I evinced an interest in proper focussing & frame and need to have a break in between, they would take it positively.
Discussion on Family Commitments
The typical but realistic middle class family tale of Lilawati Oraon, a widow, hailing from Sisai, presently residing in Delhi, was definitely to be taken note of. Rahul, her Software Engineer son was posted in Delhi, while Guriya, the daughter was a student of Class Xth.( I reside in Delhi but study in Haryana, she would utter smilingly.) Both turned out to be avid sleepers and would decline mostly tea or eatables offered by their caring mother. It was learnt that the family was visiting their village in search of a ‘suitable girl’ for Rahul. In sharp contrast was Albert Ekka,a young lonely passenger, occupying a berth next to the main gate, who braved cold winds on night one before greasing the palm of a TTE to move deep inside the compartment. Since this Lathe Machine Foreman working at Delhi had no visible ego, we exchanged notes by getting down on almost every platform. Sometimes we would pay for each other’s tea as well. Due to further delay of train, he divulged his abrupt plan to get down at Daltonganj or Tori and take a bus to a destination in Chattisgarh, he was otherwise supposed to go after visiting Ranchi.
Adjustment In Given Situation
Another interesting person was a middle-aged businessman in an adjacent compartment, whose seat I had unknowingly occupied to get my cell charged. Subsequent to our 45 minutes of conversation, we met also three four times at platforms. This Bhai Saheb, full of life had many anecdotes to convey. Who looked after my bag for such a long spell ? Any guesses? Mostly one informs the ‘neighbour’. But it may be also noted that if one is too much bothered, the miscreant may become suspicious and partial or full loss is inevitable. So, way out is to keep an observation from distance without letting anyone know. Happy go lucky type approach has seen me through in the trains in the last 38 years but same may not hold good in A.C. Compartments.
Could I go back to the observations on the movement of this delayed train? In view of the fact that it had started 7 hours and 20 minutes behind schedule, our weird guess was-it would be addition of another seven hours or so. Vague estimate would not work unless the mainline of Delhi-Mirzapur was left behind and the driver had his say from Mirzapur onwards as lesser number of trains run on this stretch. But prevalence of a single line in a major portion of this forested Plateau track after so many years of Independence was also baffling.
Further Delay, Long Unwanted Halt at Allahabad
Anyway, whether we noticed or not (apparently due to fog in the afternoon as well), train could reach Kanpur only at 2.30 pm against a normal journey of 6 to 7 hours from Delhi and thereafter Allahabad at 9 pm. Normal time between Kanpur and Allahabad is four hours by an Express train. While two cups of Pantry car tea at 7.30 and 10 am ,followed by second packet of home-made three Rotis and Subji had filled up my Belly in the first half, leftover of home food with the fresh additions from the Pantry Car made up for Dinner. Majority, however, managed to get lukewarm Railway Puri-Sabji(@Rs.30/-) packet from the platform. Duration of halt at Allahabad puzzled one and all. For the fear of further delay, no one showed guts to look for the unique Guava of this place. I have rarely seen a train being detained at a major junction for over four hours and that too during the relatively free hours between 9.30 pm and 1.30 am. Yes it did happen with us when majority was in deep slumber. When train actually began moving after a long halt and woke up some in the process, the usual queries were:’ Have we reached Mirzapur or Renukoot ?, Which station is this? or ‘Is there a tea seller around?.All expressed a collective shock when conveyed the actual reality. It was enough recipe for taking recourse to another round of sleep. When Mirzapur was passed by, no one took note of, even when tea seller’s voice was clearly audible.
Renukoot, Daltonganj, Barwadih: Reflections, Past & Present
Around 8.45am or so, U.P.’s last major station of Renukoot was in front of us. Rather than getting munchies with tea at its newly elevated platform, one saw a virtual sea of humanity making an exodus. In good old days also this hilly township having an Aluminium factory would witness a large number of passengers. Today exit was accentuated due to inordinate delay. Train began moving even when fog had not thinned. First Chopan, then Garhwa stations were passed through between 9.30 and 10.30 am. The sight of Daltonganj took me back to my school and college days when I went there twice as an exalted member of Bridegroom’s party. In keeping with the country’s lavish social traditions we were accorded princely treatment. As the heat and poverty of this town was always heard of, it was satisfying to see many impressive civil constructions and automobiles. Later at Barwadih ,my memories of 1977 July became fresh when a precursor to this train was held up due to Engine failure for 6 hours but the smart Station Master had managed to get us hot Puris and Kohra ki Sabji, something I never had tasted before and did not relish either.
Nice Gesture of Pantry Car Manager
At this juncture, there was a sudden realization that almost whole of first half was spent in waiting for the usual Pantry car Breakfast. When wait was over, it was decided to check by undertaking a visit. After initial roundabout replies from the waiters, the dynamic Manager entered the scene. He announced ’Instead of the Bread, Butter, Omelette/Cutlet menu, two big sized Alu Parathas will be supplied in no time without any extra cost as train had got further delayed’ .Satisfied, we retreated and received a packet each soon after Noon. It was a praiseworthy gesture.
From Latehar onwards rest of the passengers from Jharkhand began getting down, though they had tickets for longer journeys. At Tori, Lilawati’s family disembarked together possibly with Albert Ekka , whom I had not met for an hour or so.. Probably he went ahead with his plans to take a bus to Chattisgarh to firm up the proposal of his sister’s marriage.. I too had undergone once a time saving journey of 2.5 hours by bus from here for Ranchi and had felt proud to see that this area produced varieties of green vegetables in bulk for the lucrative markets of the then South Bihar, Calcutta and Siliguri.
Though the outflow from the train was accelerating, the six muskeeters were still busy in their card game. Ramwant, the Sardarji was destined to get off at Ramgarh while there was a distinct difference of opinion among the remaining five. After three or four quick games followed by an apology to a Breakfast, Sanjay, the most vocal of them (who affectionately addressed me ‘Chacha’ throughout) had his own way and thereby got down at Patratu (town having a thermal power plant)to take a bus to Ranchi. In our student days in Delhi, Patratu would see 80% vacation of train. We would treat 40 kms upward journey as a sort of 'new found freedom'.
Long Wait At Barkakana: Further Test of Patience
Vijay, the second ‘muskeeter’ in the meanwhile, eased himself out of the train at Barkakana around 15.10 hrs. His soul appeared liberated. Keeping in view its past background of cleanliness, once small station, now expanded, looked spic and span. Left over passengers of the area began showing signs of restlessness as train halted for almost 38 minutes. It was more than 36 hours inside already in addition to seven hrs ahead of the actual journey. The Delhi-ites undertaking their maiden journey to the capital of Jharkhand seemed extremely worried on seeing gradual reduction in the number of passengers. For the majority of them, the whole of Bihar or Jharkhand appeared disturbed. They showed no inclination to admire the unexploited natural beauty of the area and the simplicity of the local human capital, instrumental in running plants, factories, businesses, educational institutions, hospitals etc. in several parts of the country & abroad, apart from being the backbone of Bureaucracy.
Cell Calls Make Relatives Cheerful
At last, the reason of 28 minutes extra halt at Barkakana was known-it was recent introduction of the Engine change drill, from Diesel to Electric. As a Ranchi-ite I felt happy that our area too was getting ‘electrified’ in this manner after 67 years of Independence. I made optimum use of time while taking a stroll at the platform. Telephonic contacts were resumed with D.T, C.B, Babli and Guria. Last two got a pleasant surprise that I was coming to Hazaribagh at last after 5 years, albeit, 24 hrs late. C.B.at Ranchi had the reasons to feel disappointed. D.T. at Delhi could not believe that my journey was ever going to end.
Sharp at 16.05 hours (expected time being 17.05 hours, the previous afternoon) the train touched Ramgarh Cantt., the station I had decided to break journey. Most of us, however, were not in a position to celebrate this late victory. But coming closer to home who would not like? The ordeal of 44 hrs had come to an end .I touched the elevated platform of this place after almost 25 years.
As I was negotiating the fare for Hazaribagh bus stand with a well behaved Auto driver, someone patted me on my back. When I turned, he said" Sir, thank you, see you, SAT SRI AKAAL". It was none other than Ramwant. His remaining three friends waved at us from their compartment when the beleaguered or the 'maligned' train began its last leg of journey of 1327 kms for Ranchi. We kept looking till it disappeared from the view, well past the arched bridge, built by the Britishers, almost a century ago.
Hats Off To Railways & Quiet Passengers
This much for the human endeavour and endurance in India. Hats off to the South East Central Railways who made it happen under the extremely daunting and adverse circumstances without any casualty or injury AND the passengers who bore everything silently and decently, bereft of any sound or fury.