Romance On Rails – Dudhsagar Falls, India

Uber Train for scale – Dughsagar falls, India.jpg

 

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Romance On Rails

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Imp Peccable Service!

Amtrak commons.wikimedia.org

“Excuse me sir,” said the man to one of the stewards on an Amtrak train, “I always get nauseous when I go on trains, so I am going to take a heavy sleeping pill, but please do whatever you can to make sure I get off when it stops in Baltimore. I really don’t want to miss my great aunt’s funeral.”

“Sure thing!” said the steward happily, “we’ll make you sure you get off!”

Six hours later the train stopped in Washington D.C. and the man jumped out of his seat in a panic, “WHAT THE HECK! I ASKED YOU TO WAKE ME UP IN BALTIMORE!”

rustrated

“Oh boy! He looks mad!” Remarked the fellow behind him to his wife.

“Not half as mad as that other guy they carried off back in Baltimore.” She whispered back.

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Credit: greatcleanjokes.com, commons.wikimedia.org and alsanda.wordpress.com
Disclaimer: This is a purely fictional piece.

When You’re Put Down In Life…

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A man travelling on a train was getting ready to de-board at Victoria.

The hurly-burly ticket-collector saw him near the door and said:

‘This train doesn’t stop at Victoria, Sir, it’s an express.”

‘Oh, my, I NEED to get off at Victoria!’

‘Sorry, Sir. There’s no stop at Victoria.

‘There must be something you can do.’

‘Well there is one thing …’

‘What? Anything! I need to get off!”

‘Well, I’ll get the driver to slow down and I’ll dangle you out the door and lower you onto the platform.’

‘Will that work?’

‘It’s worth a try, if you’re up to it.’

The train approached the platform at 50 mph. The ticket-collector held the man in mid-air out the door. The man started running! The man was running in mid-air.

‘Run faster! Run faster!’ cried the ticket-collector as he lowered the man down.

The man’s feet touched the platform! Smoke flew of his shoes and his heel came off. The man was running for his life!

The ticket-collector finally let go. The man was running at 30 mph!

He had made it! He began to slow down. He was still running at 20 mph alongside the train as the other passengers watched in amazement and burst into applause.

As the last carriage passed by, he heard a voice say, ‘You’re lucky I was around here! Don’t you know this train doesn’t stop at Victoria!’ as a hand grabbed the man by the shirt collar and hoisted him back onto the train.

…There’s Always A Helping Hand To Lift You Up.

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Credits: traveljokes.resourcesforattorneys.com

Boarding The Madras Mail

Part 2

(Contd.)

Since the halt was only for about ten minutes, people moved right away. We too boarded the designated coach and pushed our way to find our seats. When we finally arrived we were happy to find a fine Gujarati family for company, no babies around, berths cushioned and facing forwards and in the middle of the coach away from the toilets. And most Gujarati’s hailing from the land of Gandhi were vegetarians. Mission accomplished – all injunctions – (a) to (g) – fulfilled. When I was all set to glance at the wife like a proud cock on cresting a heap, something struck me as not in order. Yes, there it was in my face…our seats were also taken by the family. I had to bring this to the notice of the man of the family. Must be an innocent mix-up. With a gentle tap on his shoulders I drew him away from his parental duties of preparing the bed for his brood, quite the thing to do at this hour of the night. Then, whatever had to be done had to be done, no shirking, no putting-off.

‘Sir, these two seats are reserved for my wife and the boy.’

‘Uh?’

I said these two seats here are reserved by me six weeks back for my wife and the kid.

‘Not right. Don’t you see we’re six here?’

‘Well, you may be six here and I’m not complaining. But the seats are mine.’

‘How could the seats be yours as well as mine?’

‘Precisely, my question too.’

‘Have you checked the chart?’

He was referring to the chart pasted on the entrance of the coach that listed the passengers and their seats.

‘No, I haven’t. The seat numbers and the coach are clearly printed on the ticket and so I didn’t think it was necessary.’

‘Please go and check. You’ll find these six seats under the name Lallu. Though we are not.’

‘You’re not?’ I must admit I was in a fog and it showed.

‘Some dope of a clerk’s private joke or a problem with his literacy (lallu is a dumbo in colloquial). You know what kind of stuff you get to man the counters these days.’

I had not emerged from the fog yet.

‘We’re Lalla’s, if you like to know.’

‘Nice to have gained your acquaintance, Lalla saheb. But the problem remains.’

‘For you, yes. I suggest you check the chart.’

So regretfully I broke our handshake and we withdrew to the end of the coach, not to bock the passage. I got off to check the chart. It was as Lalla had claimed. I’m sure you’re with me if I said the precedented at this instant had turned into completely unprecedented. Then yours truly is not a mindless follower of instructions. He could improvise too if circumstances demand as they did now. I button-holed the guy in black and white – the Ticket Checker and told him with a certain amount of heat about the double-booking of the seats. I expressed my disapproval of the disingenuous ways of the Railways to double their income.

He flatly rejected my allusion as abs implausible and not fair. Not once in his twenty two years of service had he come across an instance of double-booking. Though there was a singular case of passengers being booked on a phantom coach.

Not letting the heat cool off, I reminded him there was always a first time for everything.

He asked me to show the tickets. ‘Sir, you are in the wrong.’

‘My friend, that can’t be so. Unless I’m mistaken, it’s a ticket issued by the Indian Railways. The date, coach and seat numbers are clearly engraved on the ticket.’

‘Be it so, but your train pulled out of Kalyan without you about 24 hours ago.’

You could have pushed me with a tooth-pick: ‘I don’t get it.’

‘You won’t, because your train came in at 12-15 last night and is now only a few hundred kilometers short of Madras.’

‘My tickets were for 18th night,’ I persisted with uncustomary stiffness.

‘Yes, that’s for train the one that left last night.’

‘I still don’t get it.’

‘If you observe, the time now is 12-30 pm and it’s 19th morning. The train left VT on 18th night at about 11-15. How could you travel with a ticket of 18th on a train that leaves on 19th? The only train that leaves Kalyan on 18th is the one that left VT on 17th night at 11-15 and reached Kalyan on 18th morning 12-30 – that is some 24 hours ago.’

‘So, night is not night, it’s morning?’

‘That’s what it is. I know it’s dashed confusing. It took a while in the early days even for me to sort it out in my head.’

‘Oh s###.’

‘Let me assure you before you beat yourself hard on this one: You’re not the only one to be taken in by this thing.’

’Oh, s###.’

‘I heard you the first time.’

‘What we do now?’

‘You mean ‘What do I do now?’’

‘Yes…have it your way.’

At this point, kindly recall my telling you earlier: ‘When the unprecedented socks you in the guts, and it’s usually when you aren’t looking, you just gather your whatever wits and play it as best as you can.’

Part 3

‘Well, if I were you, I would purchase fresh tickets. In Railways we’re fair about the fare. These tickets may not be a total loss, you may even get some refund.’

‘But what happens to my wife and kid standing in the coach?’

‘Need I tell you what would people without valid tickets do? They get off the train.’

On pleading with him for some way out like a parent with a child that had hidden the house-keys, he let it be known there were some berths available on the same coach. I felt like I earned remission from some life-threatening disease. Almost falling at his feet, I concluded the transaction at a hefty premium and hurried back to the wife and the boy to take them to their freshly booked seats before anymore of the unprecedented could intervene.

There was no point giving to the wife a full account of what had happened – it would be like guiding the firing squad to train their guns on oneself.

Now with everything finally settled and only a few minutes to go, I said my good-byes and got off the train greatly relieved.

On the way out I ran into the same obliging Ticket Checker. I asked him: ‘This is the time of summer vacation. How were you able to find vacant seats for me? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining for what you did for me. Just curious to know.’

‘Haven’t you read it in the papers? In this week, there is some ‘rail roko’ (civic disobedience stopping the trains) announced at Raichur and a couple of other places in Andhra Pradesh on the way. So many have cancelled their journeys.’

‘My God,’ I was aghast. ‘But what happens to my wife and kid in the coach?’

‘Same as whatever happens to others on the train.’

Before I could gather my wits, the train had moved and picked up speed, leaving me flat-footed on the platform.

End

The venerable 9Dn Madras Mail, for me, evokes a mosaic of lingering memories of by-gone times. An object of undying romance!

Old names for places are used keeping with setting of the story.

Boarding The Madras Mail

Part 1

There are some moments, precedented and unprecedented, inescapable in a man’s life notwithstanding the quirkiness of English language that permits the latter and disallows the former. After all it is the precedented;stuff that makes life livable. When the unprecedented socks you in the guts, and it’s usually when you aren’t looking, you just gather your whatever wits and play it as best as you can. Imagine yourself ambling over on seeing green at a pedestrian crossing and this Pinto comes along and lays the poor unsuspecting you horizontal on the road – that would be unprecedented for you? Whereas, the precedented is entirely another thing, and is the subject of this post. The wise majority know to prepare for them well in advance. For the few others, well…I assuredly belong to the former kind. Even so, life is not without its own quirks that turn best laid preparation on its head. You’ll be quite with me on this when I am done. Without more ado, let me get to the point.

One of those precedented moments for me was when the wife publicly announced her customary summer vacation plans for a month-long visit to her parents taking the kid with her. The first thing that hit me was it meant eating out in restaurants for a month – something I don’t exactly relish. Of course it also meant doing the laundry myself, paying all the utility bills that always left me wondering if they were for my flat or the entire complex and, queuing up before the largely unmanned counters at the bank. Or, answering the door to: women pleading with us to add to our burgeoning collection of hand-crafted brooms, couriers delivering company notices seeking hefty salary hikes for their loss-making directors, well-dressed kids trained to make me squirm about not earning for causes in life other than my wife and kid, visitors to neighboring flats who think their hosts live with us, the watchman of our complex choosing us for some unknown reason to unburden on his living conditions and ask for a loan essentially non-refundable, and many other sections of the society, not accounted here, beating to our door.

Looking at the brighter side, now I could actually read novels in bed using a table-lamp, hitherto accused of being too bright for my bed-mate’s sleep. Not just that, I could even set the ceiling fan to whir at its best, another of those forbidden pleasures. What else? Mmmm….Well, on the chores of buying vegetables and provisions at the market or chasing the boy to do school home-work, walking him to and from the coaching classes, drawing academy and music teacher’s house – I couldn’t really claim relief for they were anyway never my chores. Yes, I’m also mercifully off from taking some vexing decisions, rather, suggestions like should we go for vegetable kholapuri or paalak paneer, would the drinks be strawberry flavored or vanilla…To be honest – and it took some years to get wise to it – these are no longer vexing as the decisions are already made before suggestions are solicited. So I could, without a thought, be putting my finger on a door-mat in shocking pink and be sure to step on one in dull-grey I had really liked.

Backing to the present, the announcement meant working on a tried-and-tested things-to-do that left nothing to imagination or chance including for me to get off the coach minutes before the train’s departure. Starting at the beginning as we must, the panchangam (the calendar) was consulted and three alternative dates of travel and return, declared propitious by stars (of the astronomical kind) of the day and the lunar phases (thithi’s), were picked. There were injunctions to the choice of 2nd class 3-tier sleeper tickets: (a) Specify lower berths. It’s unsafe to park the kids in the middle or upper berths in the night (b) Check if the seats are not allotted near the toilets on either ends (c) And they must be in the direction of travel to get the wind on the face; else it can get very stuffy in the summer (d) There must be families or at least ladies in the seats around; else the danger of being in the midst of boisterous college-going boys on a study tour or something (e) No screaming babies within ten feet (f) No one eating smelly or non-veg food within six feet and (g) The berths must be cushioned.

Since the old-fashioned computerized booking-system was not quite tooled to process a few qualifiers that did not run any farther than (g), it meant I had to spend a few hours at the railway station and negotiate with the booking clerk with as much charm as I could muster, undisturbed by the commotion created by those unreasonable souls behind me in the queue who seemed to be in a tearing hurry as though to catch whichever train – perhaps they were. Even so precedent told me I could expect to be satisfied on not more than a couple of counts. And a lecture would inevitably ensue from you-know-who on board the train on how I did not sufficiently impress the clerk on the remaining points. No point on losing sleep over something that was still six weeks away.

This time I was lucky on the availability – I got the tickets of the first choice itself – 2nd class 3-tier sleeper berths on the 9Dn Madras Mail of 18th night of the following month to board from Kalyan (for those of you not familiar, Kalyan is a railway junction an hour’s run away from VT, Victoria Terminus). The Madras Mail rolled out from VT late every night and reached Madras early on the second morning. What more – the friendly clerk even assured me of complete satisfaction on (a) to (c). On (d) to (g) he couldn’t. There was no telling what would happen until the boarding time. I saw his point and left it at that.

Not one to abuse your indulgence, I’m not anymore going to drag you painfully over what else was ordained by the tried-and-tested things-to-do and what was accomplished during the six-weeks of run-up to the day of departure. Suffice to say the instructions were followed to a T.

Now fast-forward to the time we reached Kalyan station wheeling in the bags and carrying a sleepy kid, with half an hour to go for the Madras Mail to arrive. Just enough time for the final round of checks before the take-off: Do you have the tickets in your clutch bag ready to show? Have you stowed away safely the tickets for the return journey? Have you kept some loose change in the purse for buying things on the way? Are water bottles standing upright and not leaking? Buy more bottles if you need them on the way after checking if the seals are intact. Are there enough biscuits and chivda to keep the boy busy? Have you carried magazines to read on the following day and story-books for the kid? And a few more, ending with: Are you waiting at a spot where your coach would come to stop? Check with the porters.

It was quarter past mid-night when the train dutifully pulled in, easing slowly to a halt.

(To be contd.)

Playing the White Knight for the first time

There is a first time to everything in life – it is life’s act of bringing its ward to speed in unique ways. First day in college, first outing with a girl, first day on work, first salary, first customer-order bagged…marked by clumsiness, tentativeness, wrong turns, embarrassment, lucky breaks, and with mixed outcomes. The endeavor of playing the White Knight, though thoroughly praise-worthy, is particularly testing even for the sure-footed and easily perilous for the uninitiated like biking in a war-zone. This longish three-part post narrates an experience of the latter kind. Here it goes:

 Part 1

The episode is vividly etched in my memory. I was 25 or something, in a job that pitch-forked me from the cocoon of IIT class-rooms into a larger world of people and things, and tutored me willy-nilly in the ways and vagaries of life.

It was a week-end and I was returning by train after working out the week at a customer site in Bhopal, a placid town in Madhya Pradesh. It was a day train; we had a night to spend onboard, reaching Dadar by noon on the following day. I found my place in one of those 4-seater cubicles in a first class compartment, stowed away my single piece of luggage under the seat, dusted the seat and settled down. And, I looked around.

The one other occupant in my cubicle was an elderly gentleman, well-groomed, perhaps over sixty and from the North, from the looks. He was a little heavy for his average height, sparse hair on the dome, inside an off-white jibba at least a couple of sizes larger over a matching kurta. His movements were labored betraying arthritic joints. He had a ruddy face with sacs of skin sagging below the chin and the cheeks that made it appear large and square and set perpetually on the verge of a very amiable smile. Facing him, I muttered a few perfectly inane words on this and that which, in response, drew a benign look of incomprehension. 

For journeys such as this, I usually carried a slow-paced novel in my shoulder-bag that could fill my time between interruptions and diversions.  Soon after the train pulled out of the station, I got back to the dog-eared book where the protagonist was, over several paragraphs, trying to cross over a busy street to join his wife who made it before him. 

For want of a name, Co will be my co-traveler. Co’s attendant was a fine specimen of the breed of men slated to inherit the earth eventually. Hovering in the passage-way outside our cubicle, he blew in whenever a gentle cough-like sound went out, like Morse code, in his direction from Co. He appeared to be in early thirties. Built appropriately leaner and shorter than his master, he spoke in a low mumble meant only for his master’s ears. But he knew his job and went about it with the facility of long practice.

Hours went by and the night fell. The protagonist in the book now was trying to sort out whether he loved or hated his wife’s pet cat, when the train pulled into a big railway junction, a designated meal-stop, I stepped out and had a quick dinner – a standard railway issue devised to hush the tummy growls more than to tickle the taste-buds. By the time I made haste to my seat, Co had finished his home-packed dinner and the attendant was clearing the paper plates. My repeated attempts to engage Co in some after-dinner small talk quickly sputtered to a stop. Co instructed his attendant to prepare the bed; he tucked himself chin-to-toe under a bed-sheet and pulled his shutters down for the night. His job done, the attendant melted away.  

I changed over to pajamas, lied head down on an air-pillow. I went back to the book to read a few more pages under a dim light before dropping off to sleep, with the protagonist’s feelings towards the cat unresolved yet. Relieved but tired from stressful work and lack of adequate sleep during the week, I slept like a log. When I woke up in the morning, the sun was already up and running about its business. It was a morning meant to loll in the bed, hemmed in with soft pillows, sipping hot coffee, turning the pages of the morning edition of Times Of India. Here, the seat in front was already cleared of bedding and accessories, and Co, already up, prayer-beads counted, groomed and set for the day. Was there a mild admonishment in Co’s eyes? I couldn’t say. 

My till-date sketch of Co and his attendant may have already hinted to you my line of sight. At this point, let me get it out in the open, bare a corner my soul for you to get the a drift of why I did whatever I did in the next hour, never mind the unintended flow of events that followed: Has it ever happened to you that you looked at a stranger and felt like putting your arm around his shoulders and comforting him from afflictions not known? That’s how I was drawn towards Co and his attendant right from the first moment I set my sight on them. They looked like an unsuspecting cow and its calf coursing thru a town where meat merchants had their eyes peeled out, I imagined. Leaping ahead, who would take charge of them in Bombay (now, Mumbai) was a thought that arose in my mind.

I must also confess neither these thoughts nor the protagonist’s ambiguous feelings about the pet cat in the book intruded my sleep. Now, back to the events of the morning unfolding.     

The restful sleep had brought me a cheerful outlook at the world at large, which presently had Co occupying the center-stage. Next in order was a generously sunny smile beamed in the direction of Co. Whereupon, I collected my toilet kit and change-clothes and lazily dragged myself to the toilet to shave, wash and make myself presentable. Wodehouse would have observed, if he were a witness, there was a spring in my steps, a song on my lips and a thought in the head that ‘God is in his place, all is well with the world’ as I headed for the morning ablutions. Little did I know the world would not stay as happily described after I concluded my appointment in the toilet, all in under 15 minutes.

 

(To be contd.)