I like trains, sure I do, as long as they are on a postcard. Or while they are whizzing past me at a manned railway crossing. But when it comes to travelling in them serpentine vehicles of ill-fortune, naah, gimme a bus ticket anyday.
Now, I know many would disagree with me on this count – especially Mac – who likes locomotives as much as his drum kit. But then, I got my reasons… and I am going to tell you why.
Now, we go back to the time when I was still an innocent pissa kaatan at the Madras Christian College – before the big bad world made a big bad boy of me. Greenbacks were hard to come by, and even if they did, most were invested in little quarter bottles of Old Monk. So you see, I never bothered to make train reservations to travel to my home at Ballarshah as they cost me as much as Rs100 (OOOH!!) more than a general bogie ticket. So, most often than not, I would find myself perched at the edge of an open compartment door, with hordes of people jostling for space on one side and the world speeding by at 150 kmph on the other. Don’t think I can manage that anymore, but back then I was young and reckless, and living life on the edge seemed like the right thing to do.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world inside a general compartment. I still remember the time when a bunch of drunk Sardars beat up a transsexual who had come looking for some money. Now, I know they can get pretty pushy, but I daresay nobody deserves to be treated the way she was. By the end of it, the victim was lying on the floor – her face smashed in – and I was looking out the window, trying to pretend as if nothing was happening.
Not that I didn’t give a damn; but I couldn’t dare take on that bunch without an army of ninjas backing me. And in a dog-eat-dog world, you don’t question what the other dogs do – unless you are one real nasty bloodhound. Which I wasn’t, of course. I was just another puppy trying to grow up without getting killed.
Then there was this other time when a middle-aged man rose up in defence of his teenage daughter, who had been pinched in the wrong place by a Telugu-speaking brat. But hardly had the father spoken two words when the offender, who was accompanied by nine of his friends (local college students, by the look of it), delivered unto him a resounding slap across the face. And, for a moment, time stood still.
Then he was slapped again, and again. Until the poor father decided to back down and take his weeping daughter to the other end of the compartment instead. Last seen, the goons were getting off at the Vijayawada junction, discussing animatedly among themselves in gobbledegook over how they had shown the old man his place. Again, nobody in the packed compartment had bothered to stand for what is right and help the man and his daughter out. Quite understandably so, because in the general compartment, you have a different set of priorities. And playing Good Samaritan doesn’t exactly top the list.
There are certain rules to be followed while you are in one of these bogies. And the foremost among them is, if you have – by stray chance – managed to land a seat, don’t ever leave it to visit the bathroom. Happened to me once. Deciding that my bladder couldn’t take it for even a minute more, I left a book on my seat and jostled my way to the loo at the other end of the compartment – only to find that it was occupied by a family of Bihari agriculturists. Well, trying to convince them to come out until I had done my stuff proved to be in vain, so I tried the other one. Which was filled with Marwadis, I think. Wow! The general compartment was like a minature India, with all its occupants hell-bent upon not letting me take a leak.
Finally, I decided to head back, abandoning all hope of completing my mission – desperate as it was. But the fates seemed to have been plotting against me. Upon reaching my seat, I found that it was occupied by a hefty man in a Gandhi topi who was busy spitting paan out the window. “This seat is mine,” I whimpered in broken Marathi, hoping against hope that the fugger would turn out to be a nice fugger. No such luck.
The next thing I knew, the man was holding out a fist and challenging me to a duel in a way that would have made Jabba the Hutt draw up his knickers and scamper for the nearest door. I politely declined the offer and started looking around for the book I had left on my seat. A man sitting on the overhead luggage rack solved the little mystery by pointing at the window and smiling like a maniac. Not content with usurping my throne, the ass in the Gandhi topi had thrown my brand new (oh, well – second hand) copy of ‘The Pelican Brief’ overboard!
It took another four hours for the train to reach my station and, luckily, I still had my bladder in check. But I still remember taking the time to watch the train depart after I had alighted from it, praying furiously to God that he send his next lightning bolt to fry the living daylights out of a certain Maratha hero. Really… it was only after the train became a dot on the horizon that I started racing towards the nearest loo.
Then again, there might be people who think that I hate trains because I have always travelled without making reservations. Well, they are wrong. I have been there, done that too, but – well – those journeys have been just too boring to blog about.
On that note, I would like to say how glad I am to be back – finally. And Mac, just so you know, I am really starting to like your Dreams Untrue. Heh.