29-Aug-2007

Journey to Yercaud and back

Phase 1

Saturday , Chennai

4.30 a.m.

Mobile alarm rings.

I pick it up and see that I got 5 missed calls when I was sleeping and my phone was on ‘Silent’

I pick up the 6th incoming call.

Strange male voice in exasperated voice: Madam, why are you not picking up the phone?

Me (who is this guy):..er…because I just woke up.

Male voice completely ignoring my explanation: Anyway. I am your call taxi driver. I need directions to your place.

I give him directions, roll out of my bed and go to the bathroom. I have a train to Salem in a couple of hours.

Fifteen minutes later I am out and I check my mobile. Eleven missed calls. The twelfth call is just coming.

Call taxi driver in tortured voice: Madam. Don’t you have any sympathy? I have been calling for so long and you never answered my calls

Me: Don’t you have any brains? When people have a train to catch in the morning they usually need to get ready. They don’t sit by the phone in case you call. Besides won’t people return missed calls?

Pause

Call taxi driver in hurt voice: Madam. Now you have flipped the situation around and you are blaming me for your fault. It is Ok Madam. All I can say is that I am merely a taxi driver and you are the customer.

Me: ???!!

Atleast I know for a fact that the entire ride to the train station is going to be a long whine about how I never returned his call. Sure enough, it is.

Phase 2

Saturday, Chennai

6.15 a.m.

The train to Salem is full of people who have decided to sit by their loved ones irrespective of what seat numbers have been allotted to them (Indian travel rule #1). So I find myself with no one to my left in the aisle seat and P to my right by the window. Trying to use up all the free space in the seat next to me (Indian travel rule #2), I stretch myself but finally give up and stick to my seat and fall asleep.

10.15 a.m.

Train has come to a standstill. News is flying thick and fast that on account of a rail roko at Salem, our train has been stopped at previous station, Jolarpettai. I wake up, pull out my book, buy a cup of soup and settle down to read. I am going to enjoy the wait.

Suddenly an old lady has occupied the space by me. In a voice designed to be a foghorn, she begins cursing the family’s spectacular fate for being stuck in a train. Hurriedly, P and I get out of the train under the pretext of finding out what is happening with the train. It is 40 degrees in the shade. My cup of soup begins to feel like holding hot coals. We walk to the engine where a crowd has collected to hear what Bollywood would call ‘true rumours’ from the engine driver. Assurances of the train being late by atleast two hours are given. P and I saunter back and find the old lady still in full form. Our AC compartment is preferable to the heat outside and we resign ourselves to a complete education on the old lady’s miserable luck.

11.30 a.m.

A crowd rushes from the platform into the train. The train starts. P and I are having a slight headache from all the raving and ranting we were subjected to and are slightly restless. But the old lady? Ah. She has gone to sleep like a baby, the miserable old crone.

Phase 3

Saturday, Salem

2.30 p.m.

The bus to Yercaud is already full by the time P, N and I get in. The conductor, honoured by the presence of two city belles, insists that we sit on the big box in the front through which the gear stick is sticking out. N is left to his own devices being a strong Indian male (notwithstanding his lost puppy look). Standing next to us is a man who has been in a drunken orgy for atleast ten days and has not bothered to have a bath. Ten minutes into the journey, P and I realise that we are sitting right over the engine. My rear is beginning to feel warm. I can feel the paint melting off the Adidas logo on my track pants. I can feel my skin begin to peel. Finally, I give up and stand besides the drunken man (who keeps his balance admirably during the hairpin bends). P continues to sit over the engine since she is wearing jeans. Occasionally she does a tiny jig to change the area of her body exposed to the engine, but otherwise manages just fine.

Phase 4

Sunday, Salem

9.46 p.m.

We have finished about six hours of trekking. I am pooped and cannot wait to board the train at ten and let the rosy fingers of slumber carry me into a land where there are no aching limbs.

9.47 p.m.

J has just discovered that our train tickets show ‘Chennai to Salem’ instead of ‘Salem to Chennai’.

9.50 p.m

All of us run like headless chickens to the Railway Information center to be told nothing can be done. The train is running full.

9.55 p.m. onwards

We find out that all buses are running full too. P and I approach the info center to check for other trains. The gentleman at the counter is also in charge of making station announcements. So replies to any queries are given over the mike possibly in an effort to allow everyone to participate in everyone else’s lives. He chuckles over the mike when we tell about our train ticket fiasco. Then he announces to the station that there is a train at 4.45 in the morning to Chennai. We book open tickets on that immediately.

After some research, we find out that the railway station has AC retiring rooms in which we can stay. P, N and I walk up and down and discover the retiring room tucked away in an unobtrusive place, befitting Harry Potter’s platform 9 and ¾.

The lady in charge says there are no rooms, just the dormitory. And with a smug grin adds that women can’t stay in the dorm, unless they pay a hefty bribe. We do and are permitted entry into the dorm with instructions to cover ourselves and not reveal we are women. We quietly troop into the clean ward with individual cubicles. We quietly go about doing our pre-bedtime rituals. Quietly, all of us get into bed and all of us women cover ourselves well. The silence is deafening till P pulls out a phone and calls her mom. So much for camouflage.


Monday, Salem

4.45 a.m.

We get into the train, buy tickets in the AC coach, get our berths, blankets and pillows and fall asleep. Bliss indeed.

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