Rail gaadi journey
When you plan your travel, you probably check for availability of flights on a particular date or in your preferred airline; but for us it’s an entirely different ballgame. Google waits with apprehension and fear while we pause for a moment and frame the search query. And then we enter it into the search field with the help of a few recognizable keystrokes – ‘Cheapest flights available in May – June anywhere in India.’
Thanks to budget airlines, these days even we are seen at the airport wearing orange trousers and florescent green shirts carrying a plastic bag that reads – ‘Super Deluxe Wine Shop.’ But there is one more ritual that precedes the journey, i.e., informing as many people as possible about our mission, “Yup, book my tickets for Delhi,” with a satisfactory grin we continue, “You know, May-June is an excellent time to visit Delhi.”
Sun beats down on Rajpath as people proclaim, “This is the end of this world,” but we brave hearts, unfazed by the tyranny of sun, loiter around India Gate aimlessly at 47 degree temperature with an ice cream in one hand and a balloon in another. Life rocks!
You would have guessed it by now that flying high is not our preferred mode of travel, for that we always bank on that good old Rail Gaadi. Words cannot describe the euphoric feeling of being on a railway platform surrounded by like-minded people spitting everywhere and searching for a corner to address nature’s call; it’s home coming for us!
A month before the journey we meticulously prepare a list of cheap hotels near Paharganj, collect phone numbers of people staying in Delhi who we met once in a shop, ‘Maps of Delhi’ is now part of our precious collection of books. And of course, how can the preparation be complete without an air-pillow? On the D-day, we reach the station minutes before the schedule departure time buried under luggage filled with items that were never used in the history of human civilization and maneuvering through the crowd displaying high level of acrobatic skills. Coolie cannot pick our bags as the gravitational pull can only be challenged if certain conditions are fulfilled, i.e., the item in question is not heavier than the challenger. And hence, after a valiant attempt they usually retreat from the scene without uttering a single word. So we are always on our own. After creating a spectacle for the viewers, we enter a compartment, yes any compartment because we don’t have a valid ticket, and that’s the thumb rule if you want to make your train journey a memorable one. So from here on it’s all about skill and execution. So being a certified without ticket traveler, let me walk you through the procedure.
Once you enter the compartment, try to analyze the situation and feel the vibe. Oh no, don’t even look at the girl with a wish to strike up a conversation, it doesn’t make a good impression to start the proceedings. There are two possibilities:
1. You have been through this situation before, i.e., humiliation in front of 20-30 amused spectators and you will be living with a Shakti Kapoor image for the rest of your journey. There could be couple of compassionate glances with a silent, ‘thank you for taking the initiative and saving us,’ but no one is going to talk to you.
2. With an expression which would give Lalita Pawar a hard run for her money, she might say “Hi”. Congratulations, you have just created 20-30 enemies around you who would closely monitor each and every activity of yours from now on with hawk eyes.
So control all emotions and focus on your basic need first, i.e., a place to sit. Remember, it’s virtually impossible right now to differentiate between you and the hawkers in the compartment with your current status; standing there with bags on your shoulders and looking at the passengers with a plea on your face, so get on with the job. Look for innocent faces and quickly start short listing them; avoid healthy people. Try to be extra nice to that muscular guy by taking out a 10 rupees note from your wallet (preferably torn) and giving it to him saying, “I guess you dropped your money there.” It might be of immense help later in case you get thrashed by everyone in the compartment, he might just stay away from this public outrage. Now start your campaign with those shortlisted candidates. Go to each one of them, make your face as weary and tragic as possible, and like a professional beggar implore “Can I sit here for sometime?” Spread your luggage throughout the compartment and make it impossible for people to walk because of your luggage. They themselves will push your bags under the seat; so you chill.
At night when everyone is getting ready to sleep and you are standing there like an unwanted salesman with a stupid smile, it’s time to pull another rabbit out of your hat. Buy two cups of tea and approach that lonely guy looking at that girl with moist eyes. Offer him the tea with a sympathetic nod, ‘I can understand.’ Carefully formulate your questionnaire and start with the following one:
“So, where you from?” Don’t bother about the answer, you are not going to his house. Prepare you next question.
Following a series of questions, and once he is done with his break up story, come to the point:
“These seats are quite wide, two people can easily sleep here.”
Check his reaction now and hurl the final blow
“Would you mind if I sit in one corner just tonight?”
Make sure you constantly stare at that cup of tea just to remind him that you bought it. Don’t be nervous. You would achieve nothing other than blurting out “Can I sleep with you tonight?” Stay calm throughout the process, he might allow you to sit in one corner of his berth. You know what to do next; gradually expand your territory while he sleeps till you occupy 75% of the seat. However, if he says no then ask for that 5 rupees, which you paid for tea, citing change issue.
Wait for the TT to come. He would completely ignore you, but you know the reality. He hasn’t come to check tickets, he has come specifically for you. Stand in a quiet corner just like a drug peddler awaiting his arrival. They come, they see and eventually succumb to their financial needs; it’s a win-win situation. Once you get a berth, change your attitude. You are not a beggar anymore. Now the next step, this is the image rebuilding phase. Take out some business magazines and start reading them. Don’t worry, no one would get to know that you are actually going through the ads. Few people would hold out their hands “may I?” You will be delighted to see that even they take as much interest in ads as you do. As a contingency plan, you might want to carry a few…umm…not so widely accepted magazines as it’s always not possible to perceive the taste of your co-passengers. Completely ignore the person who allowed you to sit earlier. Maybe you can tell him, “Would you mind taking your hanky off my seat?”
When the train enters its destination, disregard the stern glares of your co passengers and disembark on the platform in the open arms of taxi drivers, auto drivers, and hotel guys. For a second you would think that they were in some way related to you in your previous life; there are good people in this world.