I usually cover my long distance travels by air- for it saves time, and is less tiring (and was affordable in the past).Owing to recent price inflations and my last minute plans I decided to cover my return journey from Delhi to Hyderabad via train. The decision was taken a day before I wanted to return, i.e. 19th May, high time when there are summer holidays in India. The night before I stood in the train line, with my father and brother, to fetch tatkal tickets. The process is hard- the HTTP fetch request by IRCTC works like a lucky draw). Hence, my attempt ended up futile.
Call it naivety or my callous attitude, but I completely forgot the fact that its hard to fetch a cheap ticket when your travel plans are made just a day in advance.
So I decided I'll jump on the train, painful decision-no tickets, no seats, just that.
I left my home at 7PM. Reached Kshitij's place. Had dinner there- met Surbhi, Sonia aunty and uncle there. Kshitij's mom had packed wonderful parathas/food enough to keep me going for two days. Hence, with my bagpack and food packet I walked out looking for a rick to drop me to Nizamuddin station. Rohini was deserted that Sunday night. No rickshaws. I knew if I wanted to reach station I have to start then, else I'd miss the train. It was 8:45PM and the train's scheduled departure time was 10PM.
Rohini and Nizamuddin are 31kilometers away, which feels like 100km in Delhi traffic- Having just an hour to cover that distance it was a do or die.
I decided to wave my hands for a lift outside Pitampura road.
Never done that before in Delhi, the city I grew up in. In general perception if I were ever riding I wouldn't give a ride to stranger in Delhi-for its crime rate. Every stranger could be a thief. That's was we're taught. Two bikes waved by, didnt stop.
My heart throbbed. It was about 9:10PM. Checked on my Android phone, I was still 28 kilometers from the station. Dont' know but the feeling was the same as it was when I used to walk into exam hall with almost no preparation. I was like 'ab to lag gayi'.
Last two hours, I had two scotches, managed a lift, bribed the autorick wala, and jumped on a moving train- ticketless.
The kind of people you meet on unplanned travels can be really diverse! Though you may not appreciate that at times.On my third attempt, a middle aged man on a scooter stopped, probably pitying at my geek face, and the backpack behind me. I requested him to drop me to nearby place where I could get an auto to Nizamuddin station. I felt relived as soon as I sat behind the scooter. My fallacies were shattered. People are nice, and helpful, if given a chance and stereotyping doesn't help. We talked on the ride, he owned a spectacles shop in Karol Bagh, and was going home after work. Curious and amused, I was speeding towards the rick stand. Managed to get a rick, we exchanged business cards and in good faith promised to meet when I go to Delhi.
The rickshaw went real fast. I promised to lend the driver a handful of 'almonds' to push him drive faster. and he did. ! We zipped across and I reached the station at 10:05PM, for the train that starts at 10PM. Dashed onto platform number 7. Kept running, saw platform number 7 and a train starting to move. Fuck! I was excited. Probably gave my fastest sprint and reached on platform and jumped on my already moving train. I was in the unreserved coach. Sweating to the month of May, I forgot all the worry, and was glad that I had finally made it to the train.
I moved around the coach, found no seat. Seats, floors, pathways everything were taken. Finally I spotted an empty area, near the train toilets a corner lied. Took courage, pulled a bedsheet out and sat there, the stink was unbearable. However, presence of other youngsters there was comforting. That time I thought of my room back in Bangalore and the comfort of my bed and wish I could crash in ASAP. There were two Army jawans on the general box. Ravi was from Chattisgarh and Rafiq was from Shimla. Both were in their 30s. As the train was moving ahead I was lured into playing Bluff (popular card game) with them.
After two hours the train stopped at station, and I moved to a sleeper coach to try my luck for a seat. I was ranting in mind about population in India, the state of railways but ended up getting lucky again. This time, I got a better floor to sit- near a less stinky toilet. Soon two guys moved in, one had a book, and other had a steel luggage box with him. Looking at me, they also sat down, the student opened his book, and the other person asked if I had a ticket. I told no. Three of us laughed. None had a ticket. Vrutant Mathur was a sociology student at JNU, and Vicky was posted at Punjab-Pakistan border and was going to Indore for holidays. I also ended up meeting a newly posted doctor at AIIMS who was going to Indore again.
My phone battery was showing 10 percent. Saved it by putting on Airplane mode-No twitter, no email, no calls. Vrutant decided to use his Axe deo and neutralize the toilets' stink, however the mixture of the smells was incomprehensible. Vicky(the army guy) didnt speak much, and offered us a drink, looking at the condition and our tired bodies we had 90 ml of whiskey each. Vrutant- shared stories about his strikes and experiences at JNU- how JNU students can make an issue out of anything.
|With 'Majorsaab' and Vrutant-behind the scenes|
Initially, it was a completely new experience to share stories/experiences/drinking with stangers but it wasn't so bad, for I had to bring home nothing of that, except memories.
I couldn't have done any of that with twitter/gmail/facebook pushing continuous updates on my phone. At that time I thought how technology gives a false sense of 'connectivity'.
I did not select these people - like I almost do now. I was with 'them', all the time, on the journey, while sitting, while hiding from the TC, now I find myself 'tweeting/typing tak tak tak' all the time with two tired thumbs, through my smartphone.First night and beyond
I managed to fit myself on the floor between two sleeper births at 2AM. Owing to the spirit effect, I quickly got to sleep. I suddenly found somebody shaking me and asking to wake up. It was the Ticket Checker at 7AM. I had no tickets, TC was convinced that I was a student by the story Vrutant had just concocted . We managed to get a 'white slip' from him by paying 200 rupees each. Majorsaab didn't bother about TC.
The next day was spent looking at trees zipping by, standing on train's door, buying atleast 4-5 bottles of water, cooling them under 3rd AC's temp, as it was 45 degrees(i guess) which felt like 103.4 degrees due to heat hitting you straight in face from open windows. Even the train's fans blew fire!
We moved from seat to seat looking at various families, kids, mothers of kids who would offer us a seat just like the scooterwaala dude! None did. Shamelessly we sat with a sikh family going to Indore to check on their crops. We asked them to 'adjust' us to sit, and they didnt mind. We had an hour of sitting. We decided to cool ourselves off by going and standing near 3rd AC compartment exit-door. Sleeper coach people weren't allowed inside. There we met a Baba. Not the kinds you see on TV, newspapers. A baba with a rockstar face and kickass attitude. He was definitely 'cool'. The kinds of babas you'll meet having fun in Pushkar!
|Vrutant and me with Baba. He didn't pose for this one.|
Without choice, I interacted with quite a lot of people at leisure. Most didn't have a clue about social media/twitter/facebook. As soon as I stepped out of my urban/geek comfort zone, I know that facebooking/tweeting/virtualworld is not a priority in life, or in most cases, not even a part of life.The Second night and the end
Reached Secunderabad at 5AM, took a rick moved to house, I smelt like stink. Ran to shower. Was happy I had this experience. I crashed into my same old 'connected' world and slept to get some rest.
This was a ~ 35 hour train ride which I was unwilling/scared to do in the beginning. Despite no seat, I had fun. Probably no-seat was the reason of fun. :) Yay!.
I guuess, all because I had my smartphone turned OFF. Nowadays, when mostly outdoors I find myself a part of a very physically inactive activity we'll ever do: staring at a smartphone as the earth circles the sun. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-tech revolution (duh), or even anti-smartphones (got one myself 3 months back).
Agreed, we have a world of knowledge in our pockets, which is VERY useful. I can now find out where to get the best pubs, malls, food within five miles. I can transfer/receive money, sync dropbox, watch videos, check PNR statuses, use Google Maps, read email, text, tweet, friend, unfriend, like, oh, and last but not the least make phone calls( :D ) – all from the comfort of my multi-core smartassphone, oh at times the most used 'tangible object' in the washrooms as well after the 'toiletpaper and soap'!