It is the Diwali night here in India. Friends and extended family are over at our place, celebrating. And I am here, blogging. Sigh!
So here is my account. It is true and it happened two years ago.
Every year I resolve that I won’t go home for Diwali. Instead, would stay back and celebrate it here in Delhi with my extended family. Come Diwali and I am home-sick as hell. This particular year (2011 to be specific), I managed to stick to my resolution till the festivities began, which means 2 days before Diwali. After which, I suddenly wanted to be home, cleaning my room and cupboard with my siblings and deciding the rangoli pattern.
Now in north India, 2 days before Diwali is a bit too late to decide to travel to your home-town and be just in time for all the preparations. Trains and buses are booked to their capacity months ahead of the festival. 🙁
So two nights before Diwali, my friends drove me to bus-stands and railway station, trying to get me a place to park my a** for a five hours-journey to Bareilly. Buses were packed from one entrance to the other, with people who intended to travel standing all through the journey. Just to be home. Trains too had the same case.
So we decided that we would repeat the entire exercise the evening after, armed with better information and preparation.
Next night too was the same case. And panic began to set in. That I’ll miss the festivities. I was very desperate to get home. Anyhow. But so were 1000000000 people, all travelling at the last minute from Delhi to Bareilly, or so it seemed. After our efforts on the second evening and its futility, I did what I rarely do. I went home and cried. In that resolute moment, I decided that if need be, I would travel on the Diwali night.
And so the next day ( it was Diwali that day), I went to the Current Reservations counter at the New Delhi Railway Station, and was surprised to find that the lady at the window was sitting idle and spinning her pen. In my 10 years of stay in Delhi, I have always found at least 25-people-long queue on this window. Always.
I immediately filled the form to book my ticket (meanwhile praying hard that I get a seat). The lady, nonchalantly took the form from me and fed in the details into her computing-system. She did not check for availability, which scared me a bit. To the uninitiated, they do not check the availability only in two cases:
1) When the train is full.
2) When the train has high number of vacant seats.
It was festival-time and it couldn’t be latter, I reasoned to myself.
After a minute or so, I happily observed my ticket being printed. Without even counter-checking it, I grabbed it from her, made my payment and ran towards the platform from where I was supposed to board my train. I maniacally searched for the AC 3 tier coach I had got myself the reservation for.
I opened the door to the coach, only to find it completely empty. I thought that I had boarded the wrong train. Probably, a train that had just reached Delhi from somewhere and was now waiting to be shunted to the yard. I got down with my luggage and waited for someone to pass by. After 2-3 minutes, a porter passed by and I asked him the whereabouts of Faizabad Express (or so was the train known as). He confirmed that this was it and I had boarded the right coach.
With great hesitation. I boarded the coach again. This time I peeped in carefully. It was barely lit. I looked for my seat and plonked my luggage on it and rushed out of the coach, waiting for someone, anyone, to join me for the journey. The train signalled its departure and I boarded it back again. It was confirmed that I was going to be travelling alone in this coach.
While it might be a lot many people’s dream to have an entire coach to themselves, trust me, it is no fun. It is spooky. At least the night journeys are. From one end of the coach to the other, you are the sole human-being. The cold air from the AC seems strangely eerie. You wish it was better-lit. Inside and outside, both.
The train stopped for 2 minutes at Ghaziabad station and someone entered the coach. A guy in his early 30s. He did not look like a passenger. Nor did he look like a staff. The guy ambled to my compartment and sat on a berth right across.
He looked like an office-goer, on his way back from work. I asked him if he had the ticket/reservation. Casually, he said he had none and is a daily passenger and would get down at Moradabad. Between Delhi and Bareilly, there are three station where this train stops- Ghaziabad, Moradabad, Rampur. I wanted the train to stop RIGHT AT THAT MINUTE, and de-board. But Moradabad was almost close to 2 hours away and the AC coaches did not have a passage to the sleeper coaches.
I observed that every now and then he would rest his gaze on me. Either out of boredom, or out of curiosity. Every now and then he tried to initiate a conversation, something I was not interested in. Soon after, I could hear him mumble to himself. Continuously. I don’t know whether it really was something to be scared of or it was my figment of imagination, I felt a bit uneasy and walked out of the coach. I waited for some kind of staff to walk in. 20 minutes later, the ticket-checker walked in. Rather, strolled in. And was surprised to bump into me. I told him about that passenger in my compartment and he walked in and after checking his tickets (or the lack of it), instructed him to ‘de-board at Moradabad’. Thank you, sir! He was doing this anyway. I thought you would take him with you to wherever you yourself were seated!
After the TC left, the passenger gave me a few hostile looks. I again felt uneasy and left the coach. This time for next one hour, till we reach Moradabad.
When the train halted at Moradabad, this passenger walked up to me and thundered -“Happy Diwali” and de-boarded the train. I felt a bit bad, but a lot calmer.
I did not want to take any more chances. I gathered my luggage together and got into the nearest sleeper coach. That too, was mine from one end to the other.
But for some strange reason, it was way better in the sleeper coach than in the AC coach. Bareilly was another 1.5 hours away. There were people walking through the coach. Going where? No idea. But the idea and reality of human presence was strangely comforting.
At Rampur, when the train stopped, a few hawkers crowded my window asking me to buy fruits/poori-chholey/magazines/books. I was their sole potential customer. The moment thrilled me in a funny way! 😀
I wondered what could have made them work on a Diwali night, when even someone who is not celebrating it knows that there would be no business taking place. I could see the skyline lit with crackers and hear a distant “boom” every now and then. The train passed beautifully lit houses. I longed to be at mine.
At 11:00 pm or so, my train touched Bareilly and like never before, I was one of the few passengers to get down.
I was home, finally.
My Diwali had begun.
😀 😀 😀
My two cents: All those of you who have “Have sex in a train-coach” in your bucket-list, Diwali night is the time to realize it.