All these thirty one years in parts of North East with occasional deputations and sabbaticals in Delhi had made Akash a stranger to his own place of ‘settlement'. In the first nineteen years of service irrespective of distance or job commitments, he would make it a point to visit his adopted hometown of Ranchi,once a year. Gradually when the responsibility of his family of procreation increased manifold, the gap between two visits too shot up to an average of two years. In December 2014 he planned a trip by train after good 3.5 years. He was, therefore, looking forward to maximum gains from a short stay.
He had no qualm to undertake a journey by the Second Class Sleeper but his onward journey was so time consuming apart from the physical strain that he succeeded in managing a ticket by 3 AC in Ranchi Rajdhani Express, per kind courtesy Dipy Dipy, his dynamic ‘Obama’ oriented Nephew. Latter was ever willing to extend help with a smile, even at odd hours, thanks to his years of experience and contacts in the ticketing business.
Having been a victim of inordinate delay of train barely 60 hours ago, Akash was not looking forward to another nightmare, that too concerning a prestigious train. Till 16.35 hrs on 28th December things appeared normal. Prior to leaving his 'thin and slim' elder brother's place he appeared so confident that he did not feel the necessity to re-check the actual departure time of 17.50 hrs. His joys of having spent three wonderful days in the soothing company of Brothers, Sisters, Bhabhis, College day friends and other relatives simply vanished in the thin air when it was learnt that his return journey too was going to be affected by the delay factor.
The Compulsion Factor
12453 Rajdhani was going to depart at 22.00 hrs that is almost five hours behind schedule. The Mother Earth simply vanished below his feet for a moment .But being a die-hard North East Man, he was not going to be cowed down so easily. In the early Nineties, at NJP Station, he would not be surprised if the promised reservation was not confirmed. Holding his Tiny Tot in lap, he would be too happy if the train actually would arrive from the then disturbed pockets of far flung corners of the North East. 'Beggars could not be Choosers, to say the least', he would console himself.
Looking at the whole thing sportingly, Akash uttered to himself 'There was going to be one difference as far as quantum of suffering was concerned. Rajdhani due to its rank, name and fame was bound to be less cumbersome. Lesser number of passengers and one's location in A.C. class too were going to be comforting factors’, he tried to convince himself in the true Indian spirit of Marta Kya Nahin Karta? (A man destined to die was bound to tolerate everything).
Consequent upon spending four hours without any fixed agenda, Akash looked for a Rickshaw or its Auto version. Having failed in his attempt and carried his 20 kg. load for ten minutes, a good Samaritan in form of an IIT aspirant came to his rescue. It was close to the public ground, M.S.Dhoni was supposed to have honed up his Cricket skills before he became a force to reckon with. Two pieces of luggage thus reached the post office point. After a wait of 15 minutes, a shared Auto emerged from nowhere. There was no time to negotiate fare. Akash was bound to be cheated and Dipy Dipy was not going to extend any help. Latter did ring up four times to feed correct information pertaining to the delayed train. What a verbal duel took place between the Auto Driver and a Bengali couple. Latter was not willing to pay an extra Rs.10/ per head and the Driver threatened him with dire consequences. The usual threat to report the matter to Police figured in the heated discussions. True to Indian conditions, the unwanted event drew a small crowd but no mediation came forward. All said and done, the whole thing delayed two station bound passengers by 15 minutes. At one stage Akash got down and decided to walk the rest of half km distance. Good sense prevailed at last and the journey was resumed. Whether the couple paid according to their own sweet will, remained a mystery. The driver, on the other hand, claimed a 'victory' in his own inimitable style. He did not even check the amounts paid by Akash and a fellow subdued Muffler-covered passenger, as per their assessment of situation.
At Station, Business As Usual
Having reached the Ranchi station for the second time in less than five hours, Akash heaved a sigh of relief. There was no point to go to Enquiry, as all other trains except his had presumably departed. The earlier rescheduled time of 22.00 hrs was confirmed from a well behaved Railway Official. Akash made no mistake in conveying this and his safe 'arrival' both to B.C. (he was almost in tears) and Dipy Dipy. O yes, how could Jaya, his wife be deprived of this vital piece of information? She, apparently, gave her moral support and conveyed the usual 'all the best' to her visibly shaken hubby. In her heart to heart, however, she was a bit sure that this train was not going to deviate much from its changed departure time. Same logic worked-Rajdhani was going to be more reliable even in extreme foggy conditions. While talking goody Akash never mentioned to his folks that Ranchi station was roofless for the cold night and in view of choked scenario at all the waiting halls, he was going to face tough situation for the next two hours. Though his stomach was full, gulping of two huge South Indian Vadas(Rs !0/each)gave him the required relaxation. He could never make it to AC Waiting room on the 1st Floor despite being guided meticulously twice by the Railway employees.
B-4, The Temporary Abode
It was ten to 22.00 hours when the golden time of entry into B-4 compartment came. Unlike at Anand Vihar Station five days ago, it was a bright setting with less number of people. Deputy Train Suptd. (DTS) later informed about mass cancellations. Before train began moving, orders for late Dinner were taken from Akash and Dhiraj. Latter introduced himself as a Software Consultant. His age and appearance however, defied his qualification and years supposedly put in. Before the train picked up speed, Akash's relatives were informed to go to bed and promises were made to re-establish contact the next morning depending upon connectivity factor. In the meanwhile, Amit and Sumit Wilson, two Engineering students proceeding to Delhi by Rajdhani for the first time were going to be denied their meals but for timely 'interference' by Akash. Poor chaps did not know that Rajdhani tickets had meals included in them. Upon eating ,he and Dhiraj explained the intricacies as also cautioned them to be careful from some ‘Sharks’ in Delhi, since it was going to be their maiden journey to the exalted capital of the country, which also had the dubious distinction of being the crime capital of the 'democratic country'. By the time it was 23.30 hours, it was all quiet in the B-4 Bogie. Expected impact of A.C. was not felt. One of the bearers had to be reminded as the AC attendant was conspicuous by his absence. DTS was, therefore, requested to have checked the unhealthy practice of cleaning of Food Trays at the Wash Basins meant for the passengers. He was also urged to get resolved the issue of water logging inside at least two ‘modern’ toilets. If situation did not improve, formal complaint was to be lodged, he was cautioned.
The Day Two
The second day began at 6.15 am when Aakash suddenly woke up after a reasonably good sleep. The train was moving slowly due to continued fog. When no tea was in sight, Aakash managed to get a Dip tea cup from the adjacent B-3 compartment. He was good in cajoling the working class. Before he could take a sip, the train stopped all of a sudden and remained in the static state for 15 minutes. Villagers outside were seen cleaning their teeth by using Datwan. Some of them were seen attending to the call of nature in 'open setting'. From their expressions one could make out the intensity of cold. Between 7.10 and 7.25 am when the train passed through Sonnagar and Dehri- On-Sone, Aakash was reminded of his childhood spent at Dehri-on-Sone. Including him, six of them had to be looked after by his over burdened Parents from the meagre family income. To add to their miseries, once a cow of good breed was purchased and 'lost'. Later it was found grazing at one of the islands of the gigantic Sone River. Its recovery naturally led to a celebration.
Visibility in the meanwhile began playing hide and seek. It was not beyond 40 metres. It was now almost certain that train was going to surpass the expected arrival time at N.Delhi by at least 8 to 10 hrs. When Dipy Dipy, therefore, called to find out welfare, Aakash could understand his logic behind booking a ticket by Rajdhani and thus spending a day extra in the process. Fog or no fog, a Rajdhani was bound to get precedence over others. The passengers instead of appreciating the guts of the Driver began cursing him for the further delay. They simply forgot that beyond a certain point, one could not fight nature. Even the P.M's flight could not take off the previous day due to dense fog which made him miss the oath taking ceremony of the first non-tribal CM of Jharkhand.
Scenario Inside & Outside
At Karwandiya station, Fog became dense but the train kept maintaining its normal speed. A distinct layer of dew was visible when green grass appeared before the eyes. Just before 8 am, delayed cup of tea together with Marie biscuits was served. Those still sleeping, such as, Dhiraj and Wilson Brothers too got up. But the Kashmiri looking young man was still enjoying his well deserved slumber at Berth No.32.Aakash decided to charge his Cell. His attempts, however, to contact his relatives did not succeed. Near Shivsagar station, the speed of train picked up momentum to go down again due to intensity of Fog. Finding no engagement, some of the passengers decide to rush to toilet while others pull up their blankets yet again.
At 8.30 am, yellow Mustard fields appear in the vicinity of Bhabhua Road. That meant train was still in Bihar. When visibility improved, white Cranes were seen flying in groups. Some religious flags too were seen fluttering here and there. When Karamnasha river was crossed at 8.50 hrs Dhiraj Kumar, the Software Chap got up for the second time. His Internet reading revealed that the train was now 9 hrs behind schedule. Since the day was becoming clearer, more people, cattle, vehicles and activities were noticeable. Cow dung cakes, Potato fields, Brick Kilns and yellow fertile soil could be seen on both the sides of the line. While some passengers switched on to songs on their Cells, a solitary man was seen defecating in the open, perhaps being oblivious of the Swachch Bharat campaign of the new PM. A huge hoarding of Amul Macho Underwear greeted the onlookers at the deserted Sayeed Raja Station. A red temple amidst the green fields, at the same time, was seen making a definite statement.
Aakash was pleasantly surprised at getting his first call of the day at 9 am from his wife. She did not appear perturbed at the delay any longer. Rather, the conversation centred around the revised expected arrival time at N.Delhi. After disconnecting, Aakash settled for a Veg. Breakfast since the late Non-veg. Dinner was not exactly palatable, the night before.
Mughal Sarai Station & Changing Norms
Twenty minute halt at 9.20 hrs at the historic Mughal Sarai station turned out to be a good break for everyone. The fruit and snacks vendors were no longer clad in Dhotis or Pajamas or torn Lungis. Most of them would make their unique sales statements while wearing latest Jeans and Jackets. The passengers too hardly use the Coolies in this age of bags having wheels. They travel light as well compared to a decade ago. When Aakash and Dhiraj venture to take a stroll, a fruit seller having delicious Guavas, Apples and Oranges decides to rush to another platform to grab business from another incoming train. Two of his friends extend him help in lifting his container over his head in a professional manner. His tight Jeans and latest Sports shoe ensure his smooth flight on the stairs.
Soon there was a signal that Aakash's train was due to start. Once it began moving, some began blaming bad network for being unable to get connected to their near and dear ones. Aakash advised Dhiraj- 'You do not miss anything if there was no network. In good old days, people never interacted with their family while travelling and thus the wait for the 'first' letter subsequent to arrival was considered sacrosanct.’ This generation gap talk continued between the two when the train began cruising at an estimated speed of 80 kmph and passed through Dagmagpur around 10.20 am. Children were seen rushing to their schools in their colourful uniforms. A soothing song from the Cell phone breaks the monotony- 'Tujhe Dekha To Jana Sanam, Pyar Hota Hai Deewana Sanam'.
Feeling energised, Aakash tries his relatives and friends for the 5th or 6th time but he is unlucky. He presumes, therefore, that his wife may have conveyed the desired message. Dhiraj in the meanwhile, hides himself yet again in the warmth of the blanket. The Kashmiri looking man wakes up at last and upon a quick wash persuades the bearers to serve him a delayed Breakfast. Wilson Brothers keep getting calls from their worried Father at Ranchi and Carefree Mama at Delhi. It is observed that the other end is always disturbed whenever delay becomes prominent. Two families on the either side of the Cabin in the meanwhile, struggle to keep their children occupied. Those on laps occasionally cry.
View Around Mirzapur
Near Jhingura station, good Social Forestry and Guava Plantations are seen. It becomes a Sunny day at last. While series of Pucca houses are seen close to Mirzapur Station (10.30 hours) the hoarding of Hakim Rahmani steals the thunder on the boundary walls. He offers solutions to all the ailments-secret diseases, Backaches, Marital disorders, Cancer and what not?
The old Regal building of Mirzapur station took one back to the bygone era. While the train picks up momentum again, a lovely arched bridge over a rivulet dazzles in Sun. Fog comes and goes. A herd of Sheep, Fish Tanks, Railway Quarters under construction, women grass cutters, children playing Cricket with makeshift bats, villagers conversing on Cells, Cranes flying and touching the ground, Washerwomen engrossed in their routine jobs etc. no longer appear unusual for Aakash. Near Vindhyachal Station, therefore, he tries to break the ice with the Kashmiri looking man. While the Wilson Brothers too desire a Non-Veg. Breakfast at this late juncture, loud voices of two women conversing in the neighbourhood is heard.
Ways To Pass Time
Between 10.50 and 11.15 am Aakash hit upon a brilliant idea of deleting messages and unwanted snaps from his Cell. Thus not only phone became lighter but some of the memories too were refreshed. When his attention is drawn yet again to the scenes outside, he is pleased to see good breed of cows, crows, Crow kind of large black birds, Neelkanth etc. At Meja Road the train stops for two minutes to pick up momentum again. Most of the passengers do not seem perturbed any longer due to delay factor. It was perhaps fete accompli. When Sun appears and goes off, birds too look affected. Another herd of Sheep is seen on the highway. Pillars of North Central Railway are clearly visible, more so, near Bhirpur station.
Dhiraj breaks the silence by announcing that the train was likely to reach Kanpur by 2 pm and Delhi by 7 pm. He is unable to converse with anyone but succeeds in browsing through. Soon the bearers of the Pantry Car inform that Lunch will be served even when train was getting further delayed. It relieved those looking for alternatives. No Non-Veg. food was however, possible. Hats off to the Indian spirits, advance preparations had begun the previous night. A newspaper too was promised at Kanpur.
At 12 noon the DTS at last arrived with his Complaint Book. Aakash did not miss the opportunity. He made six valuable suggestions. Latter became more polite on discovering former's 'connections'. While he insisted on promised arrival of train at N.Delhi at 6.30 pm, the general consensus hovered around 8 pm. Between 12.20 and 12.30 hours, views of Naini and Allahabad were seen but Sangam was under dense Fog cover. Even in this inclement weather some devout passengers were seen throwing coins into almost dormant Yamuna River. While at Allahabad, Dhiraj enjoyed another cup of tea, a tall man holding a Ruck sack was seen rushing towards toilet. Each time he had a 'desire', he would not fail to carry his bag along. Maybe he was carrying some valuables inside or was too possessive about the Grey bag.
Speed of Train & Gossip, Both Fluctuate
Between 13.00 and 13.20 hrs, the speed of the train was worth enjoying. Aakash had this privilege near the gate. While he estimated it to be 100 to 120 kmph, Dhiraj showed it at 98 as per his 'Net' reading. At Bidanpur, however, it slowed down as usual to pick up speed again. At this moment, a new group of conversationists enter the 'fray'-R.S. Pande, an old Teacher and a young Schoolgirl who later turned out to be a student of B.Com. Hons. Once this Chitchat Kumari (CCK) will begin talking on Cell, it would not end so easily. Not only she possessed a commanding voice, she would convince her Father, Brother or friend at the other end with her logical arguments. Occasionally Pande’s voice will be also heard, to get submerged sooner than expected. Strangely, his son in Delhi insisted or suggested that he should bring his own blanket for spending night with him.
By 14.00 hours, the average speed of train came down to 68 kmph. Prior to reaching Kanpur, simple Veg. Lunch was served. Aakash managed to get a packet of Curd, thanks to his being friendly with a bearer. While the train halted at Kanpur between 14.50 and 15.20 hours, newspaper, as promised was delivered. Times of India and Indian Express had many tales to convey. It was a good change for everyone. After glancing through the newspaper, Aakash was able to talk to his Brother, Wife and Nephew They seemed now more perturbed. The Driver had been alerted in the meanwhile for the late night duty.
Firozabad: Long Halt & Courtesies Extended By Railways
By 16.00 hrs, Sri Singh, DTS once again came to find out the welfare of the passengers. It was a rare gesture. He was taking Aakash seriously now and promised to act on complaints soon. By 17.00 hours, some snacks were served out of turn and a promise was made for serving Dinner as well. That meant that train was destined to cross 21.00 hour barrier. Close to 17.30 hours, after crossing Etawah some more family members of other occupants of B-4 could be contacted on Cell. When Firozabad came around 17.58 hours, N.Delhi was still estimated to be 240 kms away.
Easy access to Internet in the train made CCK more audible and interesting. Thanks to it, the youngsters knew exact arrival and departure times, distance, average speed and what not? CCK, after having finished talking to Pandeji began giving sermons about Delhi and Haryana to Captain Solomon, a young Army officer coming from Andaman& Nicobar Islands .He would pretend as if he was completely ignorant and would therefore enjoy every tip of CCK. It was soon learnt that her Father's train from MP had already reached Old Delhi Railway Station and that he was proceeding to New Delhi Station to meet his 'darling' daughter. In the same way, Dhiraj Kumar's friend too had reached Sarai Rohilla Station from Jaipur and he was going to accompany Dhiraj to Maneshar in Haryana even at this unearthly hour.
When halt of train became longer, first a minor Engine fault was reported. Soon it became a major fault, necessitating replacement of the Engine itself. A long halt of 2.5 hours, therefore, forced the authorities to serve Vegetable Biriyani and Raita to all the passengers. It happened after formal closing of the service. No doubt, it led to liberal tips to bearers from the benevolent passengers.
Close To Destination
Akash narrated these developments to his folks at home on Cell. They will not feel thrilled but were not reassured either. They all felt that the train had to restart and move without any further halt towards Aligarh and Ghaziabad. At the stroke of midnight, it did reach Ghaziabad. A sigh of relief was seen on the faces of tired passengers. But yet again it was in static condition for another 20 minutes. The spirits that were pepping up, got dampened. Between Ghaziabad and Shivaji Bridge, it took unjustifiably an hour. As if this was not enough, the halt at Shivaji Bridge lasted 15 minutes. Maybe, the earmarked platform was not free. Some really tired souls, therefore, got down by mistake, to re-board the train.
Flow of Emotions
By this time Jaya, Dipy Dipy and Anand, the Driver had arrived at Platform No. 16.The train, however, got 'parked' at Platform No.17, sharp at 1.50 hours, fifteen hours behind schedule. A journey of 1341 kms, thus got culminated. The passengers in general felt elated and satisfied. But no one had the time and courtesy to praise the efforts of the Driver, Guard and their dedicated team, who made it possible in the toughest of situations. Scenes of union and re-union were enacted all over the platform and newly built arrival building. Without bothering to know the exact circumstances, the 'receivers' kept asking-"How could and why even a train like Rajdhani be delayed by 15 hours ?.
Within no time, Aakash, Dhiraj, Wilson Brothers, Kashmiri Gentleman, CCK, Pandeji, Capt. Solomon and the Rucksackwala, all mingled swiftly with further intensifying fog and darkness of the Night. ONE COULD NOT MAKE OUT IF A JOURNEY HAD LOGICALLY COME TO AN END OR IT HAD ITSELF BECOME A DESTINATION. Nonetheless, Aakash came much closer to the life cycle, thanks to this experience. He could not suppress his feelings while hugging Jaya & Dipy Dipy and affectionately patting the Driver. It is only in India that the passengers are received so late in Night and on reaching Home, they are served piping hot food.