Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Trip to Nowhere

Sometimes, you go just to come back.  Absurdity of life cannot get more explicit. One such meaningless journey was taken by me couple of months ago. I was nominated for a training programme in Delhi and had to go in a day’s notice. There was no seat on Air India’s flight to Delhi. An Air India flight got fully booked when other private carriers on the same day had ample seats. I wondered what the world was coming to. Incredulity seems to be the flavour of the season. Bangladesh beat India. Twice. All we could manage was to beat a fragile kid jay walking on the pitch. But for his country’s flannels, he could have passed off as poster boy for sub-tropical poverty. It seems their Acche Din had arrived. I was happy because if fortunes of Air India and Bangladesh cricket can turn around, so can mine.
I went back to the aam aadmi’s carrier. Indian Railways. If Indian Railways had a frequent traveller programme, I would have had enough credits to get a return ticket to moon. I contribute to five percent of the million odd hits IRCTC website gets everyday. It too hits me back with equal verve with its perpetual rotating circular cursor that could potentially leave you hypnotised or disoriented or both. The cursor has been known to have induced sleep amongst insomniacs and suicidal tendencies amongst Zen monks. Periodic regular systematic exposure to the cursor has, however, strengthened my mental immunity. Among the trains displayed in response to my query, I zeroed on Bangalore Rajdhani. It left Nagpur at 15 35 hours and reached Delhi next day at 05 55 hours. It looked perfect for my training which was scheduled to commence at 10 00 hours. I have had the same luck with women and berth on trains. I never get the one I desire. Due to the constraints of my lifelong affiliation with misfortune, the best the portal could offer me was a ticket wait listed at 1. Thanks to friends in railways and my pleading skills, I managed to get it confirmed.  
I reached the station the next day. The scheduled halt of the train at Nagpur station was 15 minutes. And just one family took 14 minutes to alight. I could see the descent of an entire genealogical tree. An infant who incessantly fluttered his hands with such intensity that if he had wings, he could be Icarus. A teenage girl who was more interested in fishing for her sunglasses than getting out. And a couple whose favourite pastime was one-upmanship in assigning each other tasks. If the wife asked husband whether he informed the driver regarding the pick-up, the husband would reply asking her if she checked that none of the infants accessories were left behind. Amidst their rally of questions, their old man just forgot whether they were alighting or boarding. The rest of family exuded such leisure that made me wonder if the train terminated at Nagpur. If the alighting of family in itself was not a task ardous enough, what followed was even more amusing. The family travelled with luggage of every genre. Suitcases, duffel bags, backpacks, hand bags, cartons and even a gunny sack. Only if Kingfisher had one such family travelling on each of its planes, Mallya would have repaid his entire debt with fare collected from excess baggage. A swarm of lecherous porters suddenly descended looking at their potential high value customer who could catapult them into the Forbes list of porters.
As I was contemplating to use the emergency exit to board the train, the last baggage got off loaded and I managed to board the train. I was surprised to be greeted by a half-empty coach. So what was the waiting list all about? The ways of railway reservation system are like that of God. It is beyond the grasp of the ordinary human intellect. Whether you get confirmed ticket or not doesn’t depend upon the time you log into the IRCTC portal or the number of days in advance you try. It is purely a trigonometric function of the alignment of Jupiter’s largest moon with Saturn’s outer ring and your birthstar. Gemmologists have suggested stones which would improve your chances at the IRCTC portal. Rings with these stones have to be worn on a specific finger which alone must be used while keying the captcha characters. For the best results, the finger should abstain from any ablutionary activity for atleast three days prior to the date of booking.
I was shaken out my meditation on the mysteries of reservation system by a jolt. The train started moving and I began looking for the attendant for my bedroll. After a massive manhunt that spread across four coaches on either side of my coach, I found my bestower of comfort seriously engaged in an animated discussion with his counterparts from other coaches. They were in midst of their Annual Bangalore Rajdhani Attendants conference discussing what they should petition the Seventh Pay Commission. He looked at me disapprovingly for disturbing their conference and tossed me a packet. When I opened, I found that the hand towel was missing.
Like Oliver Twist, I went again and I stretched my thin trembling hands asking for a hand towel.  He looked at me as if I asked for one of his kidneys. He did give me a hand towel but not before muttering the choicest curses on the passengers who stole hand towels and how he was penalised for their theft. The colour of hand towel matched the sheets - pale yellow. They entire linen looked like those white cloths which appear in television commercials before the use of the advertised detergent. He removed the blanket used by the passengers who alighted at Nagpur and diligently folded it. While doing so, lower end of the blanket swept the entire floor clean. Despite the blatant nauseating act, upon folding, he handed over the blanket as if it was the robe of coronation. Regular use of such blankets is definitely going to do wonders for one’s immunity. In fact, travel by train must be seriously considered for inclusion in immunization schedule.
And not just microbes, the other ticketless travellers included lizards, cockroaches, rodents and every living organism which perfected the art of living with you yet invisible to you. There would be many equal opportunity employers, but Railways is equal opportunity service provider too. It does not discriminate between the species or their hierarchy in the evolution ladder.
It was soon dinner time. I was served something that was christened rasam. It tasted like the left over tomato soup from the previous journey that was organically fermented by the in-house microbes which were cultivated on the blankets. I got two pieces in my chicken curry. And both were necks. I always wondered why my chicken curries on trains had pieces with maximum bone and minimal flesh. The uncanny proximity of the bone-flesh ratio to my own body always appeared to be a cruel joke that the pantry staff played on me. The fleshier part, which I would not name here lest I offend feminists who could see lascivious intents in my gastronomic pursuits, never favoured my luck.
While I was grappling with miseries of food and bed, a greater misery was brewing elsewhere. Nine hours before I boarded the train at Nagpur, a fire broke out at the signalling system in Itarsi. The closer we got to Itarsi, the slower the train moved. There was a traffic jam of trains. We woke up at the same latitude and longitude coordinates where we went to sleep. I forgot about my training and started worrying about existential concerns like water at the toilets, charge in the electrical points etc. The journey that was to be completed in 14 hours stretched to 26 hours. When the train finally chugged into Hazrat Nizamuddin station, the training I was supposed to attend was over. I went to Delhi just to catch a flight back home. But what remained in my memory when I alighted the train was the way the pantry staff managed to cook two additional meals with a smile and without adequate supplies.

Hasta la vista, Indian Railways!!!! 


Pilani Pictures said...

Cosmic is back with his hallmark humour..
Kudos! But avoid the gaaaap between the posts man..

Praveen said...

Nice to see you back anna.

Immunisation schedule... :-)

Sandeep Tudumu said...

Neat! Keep 'em coming. Good one.

Praveen said...

reading this post again...

anna, I remember there was a comment by kufir when you were an OT - asking you not to lose your humor in the rigors of your work. I thought you would lose some humor/sarcasm with time. But I was wrong :-) may be sarcasm and you are like vodka and lime soda (railways being the extra lime/salt) :-)

you should write more :-|

Unaccustomed Mirth said...

And... he's back with a bang! :-) The railways should get you to write the screenplay for their next TV commercial!