Humour writer Rachna writes about the comical derailments on a frequent train route she takes. These days, I take the train from Bangalore to Chennai. I have stopped taking flights: they are so short, that they get over before I can say ‘Jayalalitha’. The last flight that I took was so short that the air-hostesses hardly had time to serve the passengers. They resorted to flinging food packets at us. In the feedback form I suggested they load them on catapults and aim for our food trays to further save time. My recent train journey was pleasant till I alighted. I wandered around like one of those dazed people from the movies abandoned at the railway station decades ago: I was searching for my cab driver arranged by the hotel I was staying at. After some stupefied wandering trying to look purposeful and in control of things, I gave up and called the hotel. Like good service professionals, they swung into action immediately. Several people connected with this issue and called me, asking me the same question, ‘Hello Ma’am, this is Jaswant from The Park, Customer Service. Did you find the cab driver?’ ‘Hello Ma’am, this is Viren, from The Park, Travel Desk. Did you find the cab driver?’ ‘Hello Ma’am, this is Just-Another-Person-Hired-To-Annoy-You, from The Park. Did you find the cabdriver?’ They were missing one tiny detail –telling me where the driver could possibly be. Thirty-minutes into the wait, I was losing my patience. Where would it end? Would it continue? ‘Hello Ma’am, this is your cab driver. Did you find me?’ ‘Hello Ma’am, this is your cab. Did you find my driver?’ Finally, they decided that they had their share of laughs and the driver appeared in front of me, waving a card with my name on it. A couple of days of work, and some good, wholesome room-serviced food, it was time to take the train back. I was back at Chennai Central. This time, the task was to look for my train, Mysore Express. I stationed myself in front of the electronic board that seemed low on battery. It flickered alive after periods of coma, displaying some Tamil fonts which I nodded at wisely, since I wanted to be seen as ‘in control’. After a significant period of nodding,I realised I still did not know where to go. Just as I was giving up, it decided to sputter some English on its screen. I have never been so excited about reading English since Macbeth in High School. The first name to roll down was ‘Bilaspur Express’. I waited in excited anticipation. The board decided it had had enough. It lapsed into Tamil again, leaving me nodding angrily. I looked around for help, looking expectantly at every guy wearing a red shirt, hoping he would be a coolie. Finding no luck there, I l searched for an enquiry counter. There were several windows. The signs were in Tamil, though. I could not figure out whether the sign said ‘Railway Inquiry’ or ‘Vacancies for Bathroom Cleaning Staff’. Let me tell you about another incident. This happened long before the above episode. It was when I was eight-months pregnant with my son. I was in Chennai on work along with a gentleman from my organisation. The week’s work completed, we got into a cab and drove off to take the train back to Bangalore. The roads in the night looked well-lit, friendly and abuzz with activity. Half-hour into the drive, the roads started looking better: wider, better lit and cleaner. I got a bit worried. This is not how roads are supposed to look when one is about to reach a railway station! They should get narrower and dirtier, and grubby creatures should descend upon you, almost pasting themselves onto you till you end up looking like one of them. But, this road was beautiful. And, in the vicinity, I could see and hear planes landing and taking off. That, my slow-to-react pregnant-mind noted, was also unlikely for a railway station. ‘Madam, yairport’, announced the cab driver as he turned into the final approach. I almost screamed my baby out of my uterus. ‘We had to go to the Railway station!’, we yelled in unison. ‘’otel desk said yairport.’ ‘No, no, station.’ ‘Seri, no problem’, he made a dangerously steep u-turn and sped in the reverse direction. ‘Will we make it?’ I yelled. ‘Seri, no problem’, he looked confident as the cab screeched and honked through the dwindling trafficof the day. We drove at the speed of light. And before I saw scorching bright lights and dead relatives beckoning me, I heard his gruff and triumphant voice, ‘Madam, station.’ We thrust some money in his victorious palms, grabbed our luggage and ran. The only problem was that we did not know which direction to run into. My colleague hopped and skipped, like a lamb through obstacles: sleeping people, bales of luggage, and cattle. But, like a little lamb, he wasn’t too sure where our train platform was. We resorted to the only technique we had: yelling some more. ‘TRAIN TO BANGALORE. WHICH PLATFORM???’ The yelling was addressed to no one in particular, the attempt was to reach the plea to as many ears as possible, and hope it found one that was: Clear of ear wax, Sympathetic, Connected to a brain that understood English. A Good Samaritan responded and we were, right when the clock struck, at the platform. The train had started easing out of the platform. I was horror-struck. My colleague, I noticed had broken into an elegant sprint. I waddled ahead, pulling my suitcase and his laptop, my belly threatening to give way. I watched as he boarded the second-last bogie. This was dreadful! I had to board the train somehow. I broke into a run. There was no Shahrukh RahulKhan leaning out of any door, his hand extended. That option was ruled out. The only other option as clambering, somehow, into the last bogie. I took a split-second decision, and lunged myself up the door, belly-first, trampling over heads, guts and groins of people strewn there. ‘Why are there SO MANY people here?’ My slow-to-react pregnant brain told me, three minutes later: ‘Because this is the general bogie, duh!’ The place was infested with people, like coconuts clustered on top of a tree. They were in all kinds of postures: sitting, lying, curled, over-turned, feet emerging from the head, skull planted on the butt, somehow, fitting into that one bogie. I tried to find half-a-square-foot of place to stand. It seemed impossible. Few kind souls, taking pity on my belly perhaps, unscrambled their knees from behind their ears and made some space for me. I stood in that corner, near the restrooms, for an hour till the train reached the next station and I could alight and go to the right bogie. Looking back, a shiver still goes down my spine. It was sure a terrifying experience. And, I knew that I would never let it recur. But, then, karma caught up, and knocked the wind out of me again. Some years later, I was, again in Chennai and this time, un-pregnant (but belly-intact) and clear with instructions. I told the cabbie, clearly and crisply, in my best-Tamil accent: ‘Rile-way Stai-shun, saaru.’ I had kept aside a good hour, that, meant, an ample twenty-minute buffer to reach the station. There was nothing to worry. We moved ahead fine for about ten minutes, and then, déjà vu came, this time wearing khakhi. Several policemen appeared from nowhere and started blocking exits from the main road using temporary barricades. Like in a five-dimensional simulation in which there are bad guys at every turn, and the six-pack abs superhero tries every possible exit by retracing and revving up. That was me: the six-pack-lack superhero, trying to find a way off the road that was taking us in the opposite direction. My cabbie turned to me and smiled, and proclaimed: ‘Cheap Minister’ Ok, I’d love to meet a chief-minister and stuff, and maybe have tea with her sometime, but NOT NOW! ‘Saaru, the tra-yin at 5:30 pm’ His smile disappeared. And, he yelled something in Tamil which I assume, meant: ‘You moron, now you tell me?’ He got into action and turned from Selvakumar to Schumacher. He zigged-zagged and zoomed, nudging auto rickshaws and two-wheeler riders out of his way. He tried nudging an oil tanker out of his way too, but realized the odds were not in his favour just when the bulge of the tanker almost shaved his nose off. Some bone-chilling action later, he ejected me right in front of the station, and I was, once again, jogging with my suitcase and belly in tow, towards the train. I need to train better for this in future!
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