Tuesday, November 23, 2010

To stop train pull chain

The Secunderabad railway station is a very clean station. Very ordered and quite well maintained. And locating the train I was to be on to Bhubaneshwar was relatively easy. Of course, it also helped that the platform on which the train was standing happened to be next to the entrance. But the place where the reservation charts were put up though was crowded. Getting a peek at the charts proved difficult. It was not an issue. All I had to do was check my ticket status on my phone by going to the Indian Railways website to see which berth I had been given. And that was exactly what I did.

It was "WaitList 8" when I had booked the ticket the previous day. And when I checked 15 minutes before the departure of the train, it was "WaitList 1". There was no berth waiting for me. Very well. I was not to be thwarted. I headed straight to the ticket counter and bought an unreserved ticket to Bhubaneshwar, and jumped into the general compartment. Which was unusually crowded for a starting station. As my luck would have it, this was a special train which had started all the way from Tirupathi. And all I could manage was to find a little place to stand and some space under the seats to dump my bag before the train started. But, it wasn't really that bad. Not as crowded as some general compartments can get. I decided to remain there till some seat emptied in one of the coming stations and I could find a place to sit.

The train, after an uneventful six hours, arrived at Vijayawada at ten in the night. And the people poured in. They poured in through the door which was next to the platform. Through the door on the other side, which could only be accessed by crossing the tracks. And also through the emergency exits. And the emergency windows that were closed were forced open and people poured in through that. Head first. Men and women crawled in. Luggage, quite sizeable ones, and children were passed trough. In the melee, it was hard to tell which was which. And when the train finally managed to leave Vijayawada, the compartment was atleast thrice as full as when it came in. There I was, stuck in the middle, standing on one leg, the other stuck between two heavy bags in an odd position and not one hand hold in reach. And I would see, in the next twelve hours, ten fights breakout in the neighbourhood, eight of them caused by a drunken buffoon just for kicks.

There I stood for the next five hours. I had been standing now for the past ten hours and my feet were getting numb. And my hands were sprained from holding on to imaginative hand holds. I pleaded with one fellow sitting close by whether I could sit in his place for 10 minutes. He very kindly agreed and I had one square foot space to rest and take the strain off my feet. And I passed out. I had never known sleep to take over like that. And the next instant, I suddenly jerked awake. It turned out that I had been asleep for half an hour. When I was about to get up to return the seat, the fellow bade me to sit down. He was to get off at the next station which was not 10 minutes away. Grateful, I went back into a deep sleep.

I was rudely woken up at five in the morning. By a kid not more than 16. And he was demanding my seat. Well, according to him, he was claiming his seat back. I asked him how was this ever his seat. And his explanation to this just drove my sleep away. According to him, this grandmother's sister-in-law was sitting in that place, from where she got up last night to sleep on the floor and which was consequently taken by the fellow who offered me that seat as he was about to leave the train. I refused. At which point, an elderly person who appeared to be his grandfather started shouting at me. I was too sleep deprived to be intimidated. I replied that if he wanted the luxury of a guaranteed seat, he should have taken a reservation. The kid was then instructed to sit next to me and attempt to push me out as I was sitting on the edge. I wouldn't budge. Eventually they gave up and on the last station in Andra Pradesh, they along with the crowd just left. The train was comfortable atlast.

The next 5 hours on the train were shockingly comfortable. And as we travelled though the green Orissa countryside, the early morning sun made the outside view magical. But, I was too sleepy to enjoy that. The train would be arriving in Bhubaneshwar at eleven in the morning and I had a precious three hours left to catch up on some long needed sleep. I drifted off dreaming of the places I wanted to visit and the sites I wanted to see and the food I wanted to taste. I woke up just in time to see the train pull into the railway station at Bhubaneshwar. I disembarked, had cup of tea and headed out. And as I left the station, I noticed a spring in my steps.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A friend in need

The inter-state bus stand in Bangalore, the Kempegowda bus stand, was in the middle of a large construction project. The bus platforms were being renovated, and with some of the bus stand consumed by the up-coming metro station, it was not exactly a restful place. It was after some difficulty that I found the platform from which buses to Hyderabad departed. For it was in Hyderabad where my once flat-mate from Delhi now stayed. It was Venu's place that I now made for. And it was the remembrance all things past that bade me to board that bus.

A bus though, was missing. It was on a drizzly Thursday afternoon that I arrived at the bus stand only to discover that the KSRTC bus to Hyderabad had departed a few hours before and the next one wasn't until that night. But, I also discovered that APSRTC buses might be available. Though when they would be was hard to tell. With that in mind, I waited at the departure gate for any passing APSRTC bus headed in the direction of Hyderabad. A few hours later, after much asking around, I finally found a bus with an available seat going to Hyderabad. I finally reached Hyderabad after an event-less 12 hour journey.

It was a chilly five in the morning, when Venu came to the bus stand in Hyderabad to pick me up. And it was on his shiny new Bullet, which, I want I want I want. And a speedy 30 minutes later we arrive at his apartment near Hi-Tech City. When we enter the house, Venu proceeds to present a crate of beer. Twenty four shiny bottles of chilled beer which we start drinking at six in the morning. By about nine, we, pleasantly drunk, head to the city for a breakfast of roti, kheema and kichchidi. This was a wonderful beginning. Better than any I could have hoped for, for the month that lay ahead.

A fine two days pass amid much drinking, biryani eating, and merry making. It was time to think about where I would head next. Orissa sounded nice. I had never been there and this looked like a brilliant opportunity to fix that. After looking up trains from Hyderabad to Bhubaneshwar, I decide to book a 3AC berth in Tatkal quota on one of the trains. After a heart stopping moment when the IRCTC website failed to respond after the money was transferred, I got my ticket. The booking status read "Waitlist 8", which I was very sure would clear by the next day.

The next day, we were invited by Venu's parents for lunch at his place. The train wasn't till 4pm, which gave us plenty of time for a hearty lunch. We reach his place in the morning and after a light breakfast, proceed to kill time. It was then that I stumbled on a four page pull-out ad in the Deccan Chronicle. This ad touted the wonders of a new apartment complex being completed in Hyderabad. It also touted the wonder of high rise living and the supreme luxury on offer. It all looked very fancy and luxurious. Though I could never bring myself to live there. For the apartment was called "Aliens Space Station" and the builders were apparently the Aliens group. The bottom of the page with the ad featured various satisfied customers saying that they were "grateful for Aliens" for giving them the lifestyle they wanted. It all sounded very much like a cult.

Lunch was soon ready, and we were fed the best comfort food in the whole world. Fried stuff with chutney. After a very filling lunch, it was time to leave. The train would be departing in about an hour. We said our goodbyes and headed out. The train was to depart at four and hence the reservation charts wouldn't be prepared till 3:30. We reached the station at exactly this time. I exchanged goodbyes with Venu and headed towards where the charts were put up to see which my berth was. Orissa awaited.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The beginning that wasn't

It was a chilly September morning that I woke up to. It was the first day of my new found unemployment. And I was loving every moment of it. With two good friends from far off visiting Bangalore then, the week seemed like the onset of spring. In a way it was. It was, for me, a new beginning. A new adventure in a new country, a new job, a new apartment. A new life. And it was a rainy day in July when it all began.

I always liked rainy days. They seem to make me go on long drives and forget about the jobs that needed getting done. Staying inside during a beautiful drizzle seems like such a waste. And it was maybe this heady state of mind that prompted me to quit my job that day. As I gave my two-month notice, I felt strangely at ease. But the gamble was big. Lethargy had prevented me from trying for a new job when employed in this one, and this one was slowly eating me from the inside. I decided that the only way I would go about finding a new job was if the security of the current one did not exist. The rains increased into August and my heady mood along with it.

The beginning of August offered a surprising and tempting offer. A mountaineering trip in Nepal was on the cards. We would head to Makalu base camp and see how high we could go from there. When I heard the plan, there was no way I could say no. I was in with all my excitement. It would be brilliant. And since a new job seemed remote at that point, there was nothing holding me back. And it would be for a month, which seemed like the perfect amount of time. We were to head out in the middle of October and return in the middle of November. To me, it seemed like I had quit the job at the right time. Like it was all falling into place.

On the day of departure, my bag was packed. This was something I had looked forward to for the past month. It was finally happening. I was yet to put on my shoes, but there was still time for it. The train wasn't for another five hours. It was then that I got a call from the other fellow who was also going along with me on this particular trip. And it wasn't pleasant. The agency from Nepal had called. All flights to Tumlingtar in Nepal were being badly affected due to the runway being rebuilt after monsoon damage. Our flight may or may not be affected. He would call us back in an hour and let us know.

An hour passed and so did another. And the fateful phone call arrived. The trip was not to be. All air traffic to Tumlingtar would be affected till further notice. There was no way he could guarantee our flight. At this news, the other fellow backed out and the agency refused to arrange for just one person. And so it was, that at three hours before the departure of our train, the whole thing stood cancelled. And as I sat there, thinking about what to do, my packed bag stared at me in the face. And I just couldn't bring myself to unpack it. It lay there for a day.

It was decided that I just couldn't stay at home thinking about what could have been. That I had to go. Somewhere. Somewhere close enough so that lethargy would not win over. And I would see from there about what to do. I picked up my bag and caught a bus to the inter-city bus stand. I reached the bus stand with nothing but a hint of a destination and a fainter trace of a plan for the month ahead. But I knew it was going to be good.