Monday, 20 February 2012

Limping back to base…

It was 11:00 by the time we realized that Bala Express would not take my daughter to Chennai, the daunting task of reaching Chennai after getting back to Pondicherry before the Hyderabad Express chugged off brought out the schisms in the family. The blue blood in my wife’s veins cried Taxi and my Gandhian (nee stingy) blood signaled a battle royal. My daughter in whose honour the battle was being fought was at her diplomatic self (she has always been her diplomatic self since she was eight and was asked to choose whom she liked, papa or mama by her would be school principal in Delhi). Coffee-Toffee continued all the way from Auroville to Pondicherry. I put my foot down and said a day’s class at her college was not worth a Taxi fare to Chennai. I marshaled all the Gods I had visited Manakula Vinayakar, ruling diety of Basilica church in my holy cause. We packed in a hurry, paid off the rest house caretaker (we couldn’t say a proper goodbye, next time) and rushed to catch an auto, we had found out from the caretaker that it was 50 bucks to bus-stand from station. I rushed to an ATM to recoup my lean purse. The auto driver was a model of virtues and took his time following all traffic rules while we needed a Schumacher or at least a Rush-hour Jackie Chan. It was 12:35 when we got on to an East Coast Road bus leaving Pondicherry. We got seats in separate places. The best part was that the fare was Rs. 255/- for the three of us, I decided to lean back and enjoy the journey. I did not exchange glances with my wife who must surely have been looking daggers drawn. After a little while a request to my young neighbour let happen the first family reunion, my daughter got to the seat next to me. I worked on her with my photo offerings of the marathon. We got talking. I now had the numbers on my side. The bus was terribly crowded with mothers carrying children, but, I had to put paid to chivalry owing to battered legs from the marathon. I explained to the lady next to me and asked her to let the child sit between me and my daughter. I wanted to do as many good deeds as possible to win the race to Hyderabad Express. The ride was nice with the sea breeze cooling us and picturesque backwaters for scenery. We kept looking at our watches like we were running the Olympic race. The driver got the hint; we crossed the previous bus which had regretted missing at the bus-stand. Before we could celebrate, the driver decided to give some business to his roadside shop friend. I shed all inhibition and took a biological break amidst the reeking roadside. I was not the first offender and would not be the last (why can’t we build toilets on wayside stops?). I gave my wife a water bottle (premium of Rs. 5/- over the printed fare of Rs. 15). I only hoped the water was potable (I had no hopes of it being mineral, which it boldly claimed to be). I ventured to ask the conductor as soon as the bus left the break-point, as to what time it would make it to Tiruvanmiyur (it was 02:3 PM). He said another one hour to one and a half. I crossed my uncrossed toes! The lady got down after taking the sleeping child from us, thanking us profusely. Rest of the journey was watching the scenery and time on the mobile between snatches of conversation with daughter. I could see signs of civilization and with it the traffic on the road picked up, it was a brake on the driver’s rush into town. We reached the stop at 03:30 hrs. Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost, this match will go to the last overs! My wife interjected what about an auto from here to station. I wanted to win fair and square, luckily the bus came out of depot and stopped next to us and we got comfortable seats. The bus fare was Rs. 15/- per head. Amma means business; I remember having traveled this route during probation below Rs. 2/- per ticket. The bus entered Chennai station at 04:00 PM. That left us enough time for packing lunch for her from Saravana but not enough for a bath at MMC rest house. We put her on the train and came back to the rest-house and crashed. I did not gloat and was humble in my victory. Money saved is more than money earned!
We had lunch and next it was 10PM, almost time for putting my wife on the train to Bangalore. There was some amount of expected coldness as between rivals after a closely fought match!
I had my entire morning free and I wanted to make the most of it. My plan, walk on Marina, visit to Parthsarathy temple, breakfast at Ratna café, visit RVNL to see my old friend Pradeep, Kapaleeswar temple (balance Shaivism with Vaishnavism), pick up my brand of Cheap Green Tea and finally meet Bala to pick up the book ‘Born to Run’ and settle accounts of the stay at Pondy. Tall order would you say between 06:30AM and train at 01:30PM.
I walked to Marina and took photos of Kannagi statue (symbol of chastity and bone of contention between present Amma and her predecessor) and Labour Statue. Watched the sunrise, but, it was not as alluring as the one back home in Hubli. Walked to Parthasarathy temple and had a good darshan followed by wonderful Idli sambar at Ratna café. The bearers know if you are a pro if you are able to absorb the first installment of copious sambar in the mashed idlis before he says Jack Robinson. He pours another mug of sambar which again gets absorbed by the idli as the first few rushes of water in Indira Canal in the deserts of Rajasthan. The dish was filling and the taste of Sambar heavenly, I did not want to spoil it with coffee. There were many foreigners who knew their south Indian and traffic policemen who paid for their fare. With the tip the royal breakfast cost me Rs. 30/-. I took a bus to Chennai Central. Pradeep rang back to say that I will be picked up by the driver before he goes to pick him up. I waited till 10AM, when I rang him, he said that the rest-house was out of the way and that he had sent the vehicle after reaching office. I asked him to call off the car as the MRTS would be faster, he wanted to impress his ex-colleague and senior. I got to know Immanuel, his driver, and got educated about Catholics and Protestants when I asked him if he had visited Pondy church. We both agreed that Christ was a great inspiration and what was good for Gandhi was good enough for me. I asked him to drop me near Mylapore Tank so that I can cover the temple and my tea shop on foot. I would have created a mionor riot if I had gone on the official steed on Kutchery street. The tea shop chap, Mohammed remembered me and made my day. The Kapaleeswar temple was severe and austere as compared to the grandiosity of the Parthasarathy temple of the morning. I reached office at 11:15 AM, Pradeep insisted on feeding me something, I settled for an Aavin flavored milk, which took long in coming. I still had to collect the book from Bala and settle account with him. I was cutting it too fine. This did not stop me from expostulating with Pradeep and his finance officer as to how converting food in the body as glycogen was a mechanism of old times when availability of food was uncertain. Now that food is within opening of fridge door, the insulin was actually vestigial and diabetics were ahead on evolutionary chain. This did not stop him from force feeding me 200 ml of flavored milk. I escaped with one, while his plan seemed to be to try all flavors on me. We Indians show our affection and respect by assaulting the stomach of the adored. I rang up Bala to ask if he can send the book through someone, he did one better and said would meet me in 10 minutes at the Sai Baba temple nearby. I said my hurried farewell at RVNL and refusing his offer of vehicle for return trip ran to the Sai baba temple. I got the book and had a minor scuffle in thrusting the money which I thought was due to him. Explanations would have to be on phone, I also felt I was a bit abrupt in matters monetary. He advised me to take the MRTS as that would be the fastest way to get to Chennai Central. I took a little while finding the entrance to the MRTS station at Mylai (so much for our signages). I rushed to the SM’s room after ascertaining from Pradeep that our Metal Passes were valid on MRTS (that saved me precious minutes of buying ticket). The SM did not take me seriously when I said I was an FA&CAO ( I was dressed in khadi shirt, bathroom slippers), believed me when I offered to show him my talisman (my silver metal pass). He said there was a train at 12:40 which should reach Park at 12:55. He called his staff and exhibited me as his model of simplicity and put me on train which came at the appointed hour and minute. I reached the rest-house, threw in the unpacked stuff, tea purchased, book borrowed and hurriedly rushed to the train. Having reached the platform, I realized that I had not planned for lunch. I stopped at the Jan Aahar outlet for my pack of Poori-Bhaji, he looked down on me and informed me that it was out of stock. I remembered to advise my junior and Accounts officer in charge of Chennai division about how he should always inspect availability of Janata Khana and drinking water in station taps for poor FA&CAO’s among other needy passengers. I shed my Gandhism and settled for two packs of Brittania cakes and Nutri-choice biscuits to last me till the train reached Bangalore.
I had a middle seat in second sitting class (my kinship with Gandhi and way of saving pennies when traveling on my own) coach D4. A lady with a child and her well to do hand bag in that order were sprawled on the three seater berth. She told me that she was waitlisted as that should satisfy me. I told her I cannot do anything about it as I was not the TTE and that I don’t mind her and the child sitting as long as I was allowed to seat myself. There was no sign of TTE, and I settled for my one day of incognito travel to sample the customer’s view point of Railway service. The lady’s husband came and said that the TTE would come and help after he checked all the seats and settled, the child kept eating junk food and mis-behaving with parents. I tried to act stern and said that I would call the TTE, as if, the TTE would come for this duty when he could not come for the allotted work of checking tickets. People kept getting on as the train stopped at stations enroute, within no time the compartment looked like the Hitler’s cattle car ferrying its cargo to death. I should not be harsh on Hitler, he would have appeared humane compared to our treatment of the passengers. The rightful claimants to the berths next to me came at Katpadi and the couple had to get up and it fell on the lady to carry the child. I offered to let the child sit between me and the window seat lady (it would also let the lady breathe easy!). The child refused. All the while the crying of a girl child and her mother’s frustrations turning into beatings further down were a contrast to the way these parents were handling their child. The mother made a game of putting her down when she got tired of carrying her and did a countdown of four hours of journey left. My legs were still not strong enough to let asset my chivalry. When this lucky child asked why the other child was crying, I told her that she was lucky to have a good set of parents and that she should not disrespect them. I don’t know how much of it the child understood. There were passengers with Kingfisher airlines ticket tag still on their baggage. Still there was no sign of the TTE. The frustrated and angry lady kept beating her child as if daring co-passengers to intervene. I was tempted to go snatch the child, I was afraid that she would throw her out of the running train.
The FA&CAO in me asserted himself, I did not mind blowing my cover. I called up my SAO/T and asked him to check tickets of a few passengers when the de-boarded at Bangalore Cantt. or Bangalore City. My idea was to nail the TTE for being negligent in his duties. The train stopped just outside Bangarpet and a team of squad rushed into the compartment to check tickets. They were very rude to passengers and the TTE was the most zealous in the checking now to impress the inspectors. I felt sorry for the passengers. All of them had waitlisted tickets, I did not disclose my identity to the checking squad, but, messaged SAO/T to ask his team to be polite to passengers. I felt we Railways were as much to blame as the passengers. Shortly, the train entered Krishnarajapuram, the lucky child’s stop. I told the lady that she was a brave and good other and she blushed. The child beater got down at Bangalore Cantt, the child had survived another day’s ordeal. The train reached City station bang on 20:05 hrs. leaving me enough time to catch the earlier train to Hubli. Having bought the ticket for the 21:55 train, I had to spen the intervening time at the station. The time was not enough to make a dash to my f-in-law’s place for a quick dinner. I decided to inspect the Jan-Aahar outlet and the II class waiting hall at PF 1. The man at the counter of Jan-Aahar was very courteous when asked about availability of Janata Khana and lamented that people don’t patronize this fare. The food was hot and well packed in casserole. I blessed him and told him my designation if that would make the blessing sweeter. I spotted a purified clean water taps outside the II class waiting hall. I filled up my bottle and went in and settled to have my food. The Poori and Bhaji was fresh and hot but since the Bhaji was liquid, I had trouble in eating without a spoon, I suppose, you can’t have everything. After this starter I walked across to Kamat’s to have a regular meal for the missed lunch. I could call up DRM Bangalore after two days only to compliment him for the passenger friendly services for the common man. I had a chattering gang of Rajasthani youngsters for company on the Jodhpur Express. I told the leader in chaste Hindi that I have office to attend next day otherwise his exploits were the stuff bed time stories should be made up of. He got the message, shut up and switched off lights. The train reached on time the next day and I went home and claimed Biscuit from his foster parents. A very eventful outing and a memorable Marathon wouldn’t you all say.

No comments:

Post a Comment