Well, there are no ‘other stories’. Only how I sneaked my cat on-board a train. Read on, if it interests you.
12th Sept, 2012: Delhi
A kitten, barely 10 days old,
landed up at my doorstep forced itself inside my house at 2:30am on a rainy night. Since I find these pursuits to be demanding the ever elusive ‘sense of responsibility’ in good measures, I tend to steer clear of them. But this guy was a determined fellow.
I opened my door to give him a bowl of milk and he walked right in and never left. At least till now, he hasn’t.
He had a few health issues like fever, fits, itch etc, which, the vet took care of. After a few days when he recovered, I waited for him to wander off, like cats normally do. But this one seemed to have better plans. He chose to stick around, leaving me with no option.
As the days passed, I started to get worried as the holiday season was around the corner and I had to travel to my home-town. ‘How to carry this chap back home’ was the bigger problem. I asked the people around me who had pets, if they knew the IRCTC rules regarding ‘travelling with pets’. None did. Nor did I have friends who could keep him for a few days. Google couldn’t be of any help either.
As the last resort, I got my seat reserved in First AC in Faizabad express, for Sept 29th 2012. (In the Indian trains, First AC is the coach with least number of berths in a compartment and caters to the luxury segment, hence less crowd).
Why First AC? Because I wanted any nuisance to be witnessed by as few people as possible. Also, I did not want a crowd of people to scare off the kitten. Or the kitten to scare off a crowd of people. For either of which, I had no back-up plan at hand.
29th Sept, 2012: Delhi-Bareilly Train journey
The D-day arrived and I packed the little devil in a cage and took an auto-rickshaw to the railway station. I think either because of the traffic, or the novel experience, this guy w-a-i-l-e-d throughout the 45 minutes auto journey. I was already getting double-minded about the whole plan. I had a fleeting urge to call the entire thing off and stay in Delhi for the entire of the festive season. To add to the anxiety, my phone rang non-stop, with calls from my excited mother, who wanted to know our whereabouts after every turn.
To restore my sanity, I switched my phone off. It is the same story every year, while going back home during the festive season. There are calls from my mother after ever 3 minutes, to ask where have I reached. But this particular year, things were different. I had a humongous task ahead of me, which I had no expertise in.
As I got down at the railway station and glanced ahead, something cold clenched my tummy. I had totally forgotten about the newly introduced baggage-check!
I stood there rooted for a while, totally dumbfounded. After observing the entire baggage-check process from a distance, I decided to cover the cage with towel to avoid attracting attention from the officials at the scanner. No, please don’t ask me how I was going to deal with the situation in case I got caught.
With heavy steps, I queued up in the ladies-line. When my turn came, I threw everything, except the cage, on to the scanner’s conveyor belt and jostled ahead to receive the luggage from the other end.
Calm. Nobody noticed.
I picked up my luggage and tried to walk casually towards the main platform, when suddenly an officer came running behind me. He stopped me and asked if I had forgotten to put the ‘basket’ in the scanner.
I mumbled something like “it has food-items, you can check it manually if you want to”, lifting the basket to offer him to check. After some five seconds’ of after-thought, he let me go without checking. I could hear my heartbeats in my ears for the entire duration.
Thankfully, the kitten was extremely silent all this while.
After I was in the safe haven of the station premises and the platform, I realised that I had every symptom of hyper-tension acting up in my body.
But the good part was that I had crossed the Hurdle no.1.
Next was to tackle the Ticket Checker (TC) on-board.
After paying the porter, here too I chose to observe the situation from a distance, initially. It took me a while to prepare myself for the ordeal, right out-side the coach. The TC was standing at a distance, politely refusing away the last minute passengers, who were without reservation and were requesting him for berth. He seemed to be a genial fellow. I tried to imagine a set of horns on his head, just to gauge how bad could it get. It didn’t help in allying my fears though. Most genial of TCs have been known to turning into monsters from hell for the erring passengers.
I boarded the train and noticed that I was the first one in my compartment to reach. I wanted to settle-down quickly in terms of seating. The kitten had started wailing again. This time, I too wanted to join him. By now I was feeling a bit too tired and drained of courage and patience, but now it was too late to turn back.
I closed the slider-door for my compartment for some privacy. I took him out of the cage and give him some food, and it calmed him down completely. Then I quickly made my bed while he ran around in the entire compartment, ‘exploring’ every iota of it.
Once I was done making the bed, I lifted him and placed him on the blanket, which incidentally had the same colour as his coat of fur (there IS God.)
Just as I placed him on the blanket, the compartment slider-door opened and in walked the TC. He chose to hover (and thankfully, not sit) right over the blanket, and check my ticket for good two minutes. I think those were the longest two minutes of my life, EVER. I had stopped breathing, lest it attracted some kind of unwarranted attention.
The TC left without catching either of us (the kitten, or me in possession of the kitten).
After the door closed, I realised that the kitten was sprawled on to the blanket RIGHT UNDER the TC’s nose.
He we did not get caught because the way this kitten was sprawled it showed only the black part of his fur, which incidentally matched with the rest of the blanket. (I told you, there is God.). So basically, for anybody who gave a fleeting glance, there was no cat, only blanket.
Hurdle No.2 – Crossed. (Lest I get caught if he is checking my co-passengers’ tickets.)
Tackling the co-passengers was next in line.
The kitten started treating the entire compartment as his playground and it worried me sick. I just prayed that the other three people be equally animal-loving, or turn into animal-lovers, at least for next 5 hours. Sensing his hyper-activity, I called up my mom. She advised that I lay down in my bed, signalling him that it is the time to hit the sack. I did just that and this guy calmed down and snuggled up right next to me, happily.
All was under control for 2 hours, when we reached Moradabad. Two solo female travellers walked in. The TC came to check their tickets. I laid there, playing dead. And so did the kitten, inside the blanket.
Just one hour and one station before mine, at Rampur, the train stopped with a jerk and this guy decided that he wanted to peep out as to why the train had stopped suddenly. He materialized out of the blanket, trying to peer out of the window. Just then it happened.
One of the solo female travellers shrieked at a pitch, that renders people deaf!
Turned out, Mademoiselle, till then, had thought that I was travelling with a baby and was hence lying down. The sudden appearance of kitten had brought all her fears to the surface and she totally freaked out. I mean F-R-E-A-K-E-D O-U-T!!
Thankfully the other lady, who seemed to be of calmer disposition, pacified her. I requested her to not call/inform the TC. She promised she won’t, as long as the kitten didn’t get close to her. Now, that was a cake-walk, given the consequences that could be had she decided to inform the authorities. The girl, in her own way, co-operated as much as she could for the rest of the journey. So did the kitten. It was, as if, they had mutually decided to respect each other’s situation. And mine too, which was a huge relief.
Hurdle No: 3 – Crossed!!
As the train touched Bareilly station, I could see my parents at the platform. It lifted me up instantly as, in my family, no one comes to pick up anybody. Or see off anyone, as all of us are travelling all the time. This had to be a special day!
I packed the kitten back into the cage and gathered all my belongings and happily rushed to my parents. Now, what followed, happened in reality.
My mother, who calls me five times in a day (out of which, three are to ask when do I plan to visit them) took the cage from me and walked out to the parking-lot without even looking back once! My dad followed her in confusion. And I tried to keep up with their pace (and failed miserably, given the amount of luggage I had) as I had no idea where the hell was our car parked. Between balancing my luggage and not losing their sight, I jostled my way out of the premises.
Meanwhile, my mother did not look back to see if I need some/any help. In fact, she hasn’t looked back at any of us since then. She and the tom-cat are one happy family now.
I we have been staggering in and out of the house unnoticed, every year, every vacation and hoping that our mother would take note of us, one day.