Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Train Journey

It’s Raining here so madly today (yes, madly I say cause it wasn’t a rain of the normal sort) as if to imply that, the Rain-God however, had decided to let go of his longstanding anger on being so mean to us -- and so he goes splashing and drenching frenziedly, every nook and corner of the oven-baked Land stretches and the sun-tanned terraces of the multi-storied buildings that distinctively stand proof for the overtly populated, ever – buzzing and westernized proviso of this once traditionally enriched and culturally enhanced metropolitan mega-city of mine – The Chennai.

Rainy days are definitely a feel good factor and a welcome change for us, who are, always open to the chastisements of sizzling and searing Universal God of Light – The Sun!
Eventually taking sometime to roll back to the past reminds me of an almost adventurous rainy day experience that I had five years ago!
It was 1999 mid-October and yet again not-so-surprisingly it was pouring down so hard and heavy (I bet hailstones included which I probably didn’t take much time to notice) just to add more to my most renowned and exemplary late-start to the railway station to catch my “Guindy-Tambaram” 7.20a.m Electric Train. I was doing a half-run and half-jog journey across the 100ft road to reach the sub-way and find my way thru’ the tunnel that was crammed with office-goers, college-goers, school-goers, market-goers and business-seekers all heaped up under the single roof of a lengthy stretch in vain tries to be saved from getting sodden by the heavy down pour.
The same sub-way which used to look like a creepy under ground place for all sorts of illegal (business) dealings on all those sunny afternoons was unbelievably over populated with a strong stench of unwashed socks of the school kids huddled towards the corner of the narrow passage-way peppered with the reek of moisture, sweat, unwashed clothes, unwashed bodies and what not’s?!
It was 7.13 already and I was still at the threshold of the sub-way and I had a long way to go, though buying a ticket wasn’t a problem because I had my train-pass with me, so that process at least was a time-saver!
In the menacing crowd that was unsuspectingly manhandling me from all four directions in their desperate measures to find room in the constricted space available, I was trawling to find my way out of this deadliest trap with quick-glances at my digital sports watch once in 15 seconds and even quicker prayers coming out of my mouth naturally at the time of crisis such as this to get into the 7.20 unit & even hoping to empty my last minute ditch effort at that as long as it serves the purpose in the end to find me in my train!!
Slowly trudging my way through the messy mass I was getting restless....and suddenly like a gust of wind from nowhere with a quick-push from a group of ladies behind me I was shoved towards the egress of the eternal sub-way!
At the first rush of the fresh air, I thanked the almighty for letting me survive the Tunnel-Effect Syndrome!
But then that definitely was not all there was to it!
Well in fact it wasn’t even half of what it took to make this incident a wholesome adventure as I called it before!
Now comes the most intriguing part where I am to choose between two options: Either taking the long route of walking another furlong surpassing the heavy road-side traffic or to do a high-jump across a 4 and a half feet high wall amidst all the unknown and unauthorized bushes and shrubs and not to mention with a nostril-flaring thick odor of the fluid-downloads done (at morning, noon and night) by our fellow humans in and around the area. For once, being lightweight and athletic did help me in a real-time situation such as this, to go in for the high-jump option, which almost none of the girls who travel by the same transport media as that of mine fail to choose. After having achieved a successful time-saving tactic, I look at my mega sized sports watch to make sure that its still working having lived quite a strong hit against the half demolished side parapet wall.
Thanks to god the watch is intact!
Defiant as always as I am to my mother’s advise right from rising early from my bed in the mornings to starting out early to reach the railway station in time, as usual it was cringe time to hurriedly recoil all the advises of 'amma' while maintaining a fast gait across the railway gate towards the steps to my platform, I must appreciate myself at managing a prayer cum time-check all at once…oh gosh! It showed 7.23. I split into a quick run down the steps now praying that I don’t end up
falling-down face first stepping in a slippery pool of idle waters formed at both ends of every step due to the mad-rain fall…in the past how many ever hours it had been raining for…but thanks to my Reeboks it was very much firm to give me all the grip that I needed to do a safe-landing.
Guess I was too young back then to have managed such a remarkable speed.
Therefore I reach my platform, and let out a sigh of relief at the notice of my usual train-mates. A couple of college girls, a vegetable-vendor and a 40yr old lady who works for the “Tambaram” sub-registrar's office.
It was that dainty lady who first acknowledged my last minute inclusion in the prolonged wait for the train and ensured me with a soft pat on my shoulder that I haven’t missed it and that the train is delayed due to the wash-out of the tracks at the basin-bridge.
Now…Another creep begins to unveil its face slowly when it was not even 2 minutes since I felt happy at having kept up the time before the train reached the station.
It was “Will I be able to reach my college on time; which is at 8.30 am?”
And it takes 1hr to reach Tambaram especially.... when it’s raining like this.... it would take a quarter more extra to reach Tambaram from where I am to walk again for about 10 minutes to reach my destination!
And I immediately skip into a mental arithmetic of approximate arrival time of my train at Tambaram from 7.27am which was what my watch displayed at that point.
I was damned sure to be late for a minimum of at the least 10 minutes to at the max GOD KNOWS!
Anyways gathering some more energy to withstand the loud and disgraceful barks of my college gate keeper and instructor and the stifled ridicule of my own
class-mates as a topping to everything that I had gone through for the past half an hour or so made me emulate a shiver followed by the real one that was due to chillness of the climate and my wet dress.
In utter distaste at the mental picture of being ridiculed and yelled at, I feel a sudden urge to hop down the railway crossing and get back to home and produce a leave letter the next day at college saying that I was sick with fever or had a bad stomach pain that kept me immobile.
But then that again was an even more irritating procedure, as I must produce a prescription to the college authorities so as to make them believe that I wasn’t being dishonest about my fever. Hell with that. At least going late stopped with few warnings and a minor ridiculing. Consequently, I decide going to college somehow as a much better and a saner option.
With in the next 10 minutes the train comes puffing and gasping, with maximum possible number of passengers foot boarding and clinging to the windows of every compartment from the first to the last as fast as a buffalo walking in the rain.
My instinct tells me not to get into this train but as I have no other go if I loose this train…My gut warns me again at least, not this compartment; My usual one. The ladies compartment. But who dares wins, I tell myself - It's going to be crowded only for the next few stations to come but after Airport it’s going to be all right, so I decide to dare.
As fast as I can manage, I push across the trampling, squashing, tumbling bunch of ladies fighting with their full force, yelling on top of their voices to find a place inside…I take pride in spotting just the right spot on that compartment - just near the entrance, but not too near. I let myself into the two straps of my legendary black bag and rest my back with a semi-cushion effect that my bag gave my back resting atop the partition between two sitting enclosures. The next station comes even before I could start feeling comfortable with the convenient place that I found for myself.
So I feel all the more happy…thinking after all this isn’t as bad as it looked a few minutes before. Just then from the station by which the train had just stopped emerged a crowd of ladies that I never imagined could fit in 5 compartments of the train. A female with a hefty built and an unfriendly appearance with a funny face skewed in the process of chewing what looked like a truck load of tobacco grumbled and cursed at the new faces in the compartment for snatching her private little place (the one facing the entrance where my bag and in turn by back was rested upon) that according to all virtual non-existent rule books belonged to her…and showed her full-frustration at placing a huge jute basket full of vegetables on my right foot. Apparently, that took me few minutes to gather my strength to react to the acute pain on my right foot, as a result of the mercy bestowed upon by the hefty-lady!
I tell her she had conveniently rested the basket on my foot and she retorts back asking
“Vera yenga vechhi tholayaradhu?? Ingadhan moochu vidakuda yedam illye?”
[Meaning:“where the hell am I to put it then? There is no place here to breathe even!”]
Hurriedly without wanting to hear another verbatim to be blurted out from the dear lady I keep my big-mouth shut and indulge in the process of slowly releasing my foot from underneath the heavy vegetable-basket inch by inch.
In what looks like a few decades, the train reaches the next station. To me it only means more crowd. But the hefty lady some how managed to shove in a few lean & wiry girls who work for the leather company next to airport and got herself some place to stand by me comfortably, looking down she pushed the basket towards herself and said
“Romba valikuda papa? Vera edamey illayema na yenna panrathu ?”
[Meaning: “does your feet pain real bad? What am I to do dear there was no place around”]
I was taken by total surprise, at her sudden concern about my hurt foot and beamed at her with an assurance that I am perfectly ok and that it didn’t hurt much when in fact it did hurt very badly with a numb-some pain that I was going through I couldn’t actually gauge the depth of the damage done to my poor little tail ender toes.
Having received my endorsement about the state of my hurt leg, she switched on to her ranting again about the new crowds during rainy times giving the usual passengers a big time trouble because of lack of space and about her morbid profit rate at selling these vegetables on a heavy–set day such as this and what wud she do if the rain continues this way spoiling the meager money that she was making.
Although I nodded, I was wondering what a world it is…we wish, pray, chant, do Pooja’s and perform Yagnya’s wishing for rain but here we are when the rain decides to drench us as an answer to all the Pooja’s and Yagnya’s carried out in favor of the same, We LAMENT & CRIB about it.
Just another perfect example to the fact, that, Life is always a mishmash of ironies and paradoxes.
A sudden jerk of the train brought about with the blow its whistle got me back to the practical world where I found the lady next to me grinning and saying
“yenna papa na sollradhu sari dhaney?”
[Meaning “what dear, don’t u think I am right?”]
Well apparently I didn’t know what she was referring to as I had lost myself in my thoughts about rain and its consequences.
So I manage with a grin in return and a nod, which made her feel, pleased and kept her happy at that.
With that blow of the whistle, I was expecting the next station to approach very soon.
Unfortunately which never happened for the next 15 minutes, and I was getting restless, at last when inquired, I was told that the train was waiting for the clearance and it seemed like the dangling half-dead signal had totally broken down last night as a result of the wind blowing at some hundred and odd kmph.
Very Insightful – I think – and feel pissed off!
After what seemed like hours (Actually 15 or so minutes) we got the manual clearance from the station guard who was late for the day (because of the mad-rain...Ha Ha) and had no knowledge about the knocked down signal, got threats for being reported to his higher authorities for failing in his duties by few of the furious passengers.
Having done all that the train got back to life again and my heart was pounding and racing more than the speed of the train because as for now I was already running late for about 20 minutes and I had 1 more station to go.
The rain hadn’t slowed down all the while and amidst all the pushing and pulling and hodge-podge of the crowd there were shouts and screams of missing and broken umbrellas….
Thankfully I was wearing a jacket so wasn’t running the risk of losing one or breaking one.
And the train stops abruptly; definitely meaning it’s not the station where I was supposed to get down and did not move an inch for the next 20 minutes.
By now I definitely was undergoing a repetitive stress injury because of the excessive load on my shoulders as a result of my the trekking bag stuffed with my engineering drafter, Chart pipe, books, lunch, water bottle and other college essentials. I was holding on to the central pole at the entrance as if my life depended on it. Actually it did!
The train starts moving (just after my feet go numb and I can feel a 'spring' in them) only to stop midway, a few yards from where it had started to move. Another twenty minutes in the middle of nowhere. I try to perfect my transcendental patience practice. It just doesn't work. I give up. Every inch of my body either aches or feels funny. I feel absolutely hopeless.
And then it was time to get another announcement --- Due to some engine choke-out we were told that the train wouldn’t move any further and that we were to go by walk for about 1 km to reach the last station, which was also my destination – Destination Tambaram!
How did I know that something as worse as this was waiting for me in this train journey making my gut feeling come true that I got at the first look of this train propelling itself as slow as it could to reach my boarding point?
Nothing worse than being a skeptic, I tell myself…. Too ghostly I say! I start thinking about who said, "Thank God I'm an atheist." And I find no answer to that so I give up. I surpass.
Now, all I can do is eagerly wait for the moment I'll be pushed down by the raging and growling crowd jostling me all over and put me back to square one to trudge my way to my destination once again – just the way it had all started !

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