Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Train Travail- The Desi Version

It’s that time of the year again. Barely a couple of months have passed since we went back to R-land from our homes, and yet, our zest to return has not decimated one bit. People start making a wild rush for their tickets to civilization, and according to some unwritten law, the ones heading home earlier attain an exalted status. Statements like, “When are you leaving? 8PM? Pah, I’m leaving at 4!” are quite common, and invariably have the listener cursing himself for not booking an earlier train. The fact that four hours is a negligible period of time in a 100-day vacation is a thought that seldom crosses our minds.

After the entire hullabaloo about tickets, packing and, lest we forget, grades, we eventually return home. We return expecting a royal welcome, complete with your favourite dish for dinner and a smile on your dad’s face that says, “You’ve done it, son!” Much to our chagrin, the reception is lukewarm, to say the least. The entire family sports an expression that says, “You again!” After the mandatory, “You’ve grown so thin! Don’t they feed you well?” you’re left to yourself, longing for the welcome that never was.

This time round, though, there was a twist in the tale. No, there was no warm welcome this time either. It’s just that, in my case, the return was overshadowed by the journey.

Though it may seem inconceivable to the guys who know me now, there were days in the not-so-long-past times when I used to read books that weren’t all from the shelf that read, 'fiction'. The epoch of the studious Abhishek started and ended in my twelfth grade, and it was on one fine day then, that I came across an interesting analogy in one of the books that I have not spared a glance since the day I set foot on R-land. The analogy went thus: Picture yourself traveling by a bus. Your destination is A, and to get there, you travel by a deluxe bus with every facility possible. However comfortable your journey is, your memories will always be of A, and the things you did there, and not of the bus journey. A, here, is analogous to the concepts of physics, while the deluxe bus corresponds to mathematics. (I know the analogy is absurd and irrelevant, but I just want to prove that, contradictory to common perception, I can act geeky too.)

The analogy set my rusting gray cells working. I could never think of a situation where the journey could eclipse the destination, until I actually experienced it. As I mentioned previously, I was heading home by the earliest possible train. The fact that I had The Incredible Bulk for company meant I was assured of entertainment, food (courtesy Indian Oil Corp.) and a ride back home from the railway station (courtesy Indian Oil Corp.).

The journey of a thousand miles began with a single step and a three hour delay. Trains do incredible things to you. For the first time in over a year, I was up by six in the morning, though I had to go back to sleep as I had forgotten to bring along my toothpaste tube and the Bulk was still fast asleep. Eventually, I managed to wake up by ten, and much to my dismay, The Bulk was still fast asleep. Frustrated, I shook him awake. He responded with, “Ass, I have an alarm” with the simultaneous thrusting forward of his phone, while his eyes still remained tightly shut. Be it Seat 11, Tamilnadu Express or S46, Rajendra Bhawan, this was one universal action- unaltered by time, weather or location.
The Bulk eventually woke up a tad past the stroke of noon, which meant I could finally relieve my mouth of the appalling stench that a dozen hours of sleep brought with them. With no sign of any interesting events or people in my compartment, I got back to reading the novel that I’d brought along. The lunch cart came, and went. So did Agra, Bhopal, Itarasi and sundry other stations I had never even heard of. The Bulk was behaving strangely, oops, that’s not something new, is it? Let’s just say, he was behaving in a strange manner that was different from the strange manner he usually behaves in. Was this the real Bulk or was it some solar-energy-dependent-alien masquerading as the Bulk? Come on, this was the Bulk. The slightest mention of anything remotely related to food should have made his digestive juices itch for action. Instead, here he was, engrossed in (of all magazines!) Lion, our institute magazine.

As we crossed the dreaded Chambal Valley, I gave up on the Bulk, and decided to work on Mission Food all by myself. India is one hungry country. Nothing turns us on as much or as well as food does. The picture of a typical Indian station is incomplete without a dozen food stalls on the platforms. Traveling by a train passing through twelve states is one hell of a gastronomic experience. Nothing unites India the way food does. Apart from trains, that is.

Nagpur brought with it shrill cries of ‘meedo-soan papdi’ and two Indian Oil employees desperately vying with each other to impress the Bulk. In their attempts to do so, they brought us some food as well. Hang on a second, did I say ‘some’ food? It was enough to feed half a compartment. Though it was delicious, we could barely finish one-fourth of it. Thankfully, India has no shortage of beggars, and on this occasion, it was an old, maimed lady who turned lucky.

Another good night’s sleep later, I woke up at 7AM sharp. There is a common belief downsouth that the first thing/person you see after waking up determines how your day will turn out to be. If it is true, I must have a hilarious time today. I woke up to the sight of the Bulk lifting up and down each of his suitcases, one after the other. “I’m practicing now, so that lifting them won’t be a problem once we reach Chennai” was his explanation. Who needs comedians when you have the Bulk? Chennai Central finally arrived and so did a Ford iKon with the Indian Oil Logo on its bumper. There are some things money can’t buy. For every thing else, there’s Indian Oil.