Posted by: Mojo Jojo | March 25, 2007

On The Wrong Track

Watched Stand By Me yesterday, with a bottle of golden ale by my side.

Now, though I would swear that I liked The Body (the Stephen King novella, on which the movie was based) much better than Stand By Me, there was one particular scene that struck me like a ten-ton battering ram.
Because it brought about a deja vu-like feeling. Or maybe it was more than just that, because, in my case, it was real.
This was the scene. Our four under-teen heroes are on the wrong end of a railway bridge, deep in the forest of who-knows-where. There’s nobody around but them, and the idea is to cross the bridge fast – before the next train comes around. Which would mean a grisly end. On the tracks or in the river under it.
Now, I wouldn’t want to tell you what happened next. It is a personal favourite (second only to The Shawshank Redemption – also by King) and I don’t have the heart to do a dirty spoiler.
What follows is my story. About the time when a friend and I crossed a railway bridge. And a train almost ran us over.
I was doing my pre-degree in the Guru Nanak College of Science, Ballarpur. It was a small ramshackle of an educational institution where students who didn’t give a damn were taught by teachers who didn’t give a damn either. Most of the working days were single-hour ones, after which the students would take to what they do best – play cricket on scorched cotton fields or sit around appreciating the finer points of the opposite sex.
Behind the college was a railway track that trailed off into the forests of Rajura. Which was, simply said, the best thing about the place. Every day after college, Dinesh and I would walk down this track to the Ballarpur railway station — from where we could catch a private bus to our industrial township.
The beauty of these walks was an overwhelming sense of loneliness. There would be nobody around, save for the two of us, the trees, the birds and a long railway track stretching into the horizon. And even if we did see another human being, he/she would just be another small speck doing something vague in a great, vague distance.
Every now and then, trains would go by — and we would shut our ears while the world around us rocked to romantically rhythmic thuds. It was beautiful.
Well, on that particular day, we found ourselves free for the entire afternoon. And the bus was due only at seven-fifteen in the evening.
Dinesh turned to me and said: “Why don’t we go the other way today? We can follow the track till Rajura railway station and catch the bus from there…”
I was not so sure. For one thing, Rajura station was quite a long way off … and, for another, we had never been into the woods. But my friend was more than excited about this, and he had already decided for the both of us.
So, we started off in the opposite direction — the railway track serving as our guide.
This route was more wooded than our usual one, and it was starting to get darker and, in many ways, scarier. With every step we took, the chirping and hooting of birds seemed to get increasingly louder and just when it seemed to touch an awesome crescendo, Dinesh tripped over a rock and fell.
Almost immediately, there was a deafening fluttering of wings and we stared dumbstruck as thousands of flying rodents erupted from the trees overhead, flapping their giant wings and screeching loudly as they swooped on us.
We had seen bats before, but never in a gang as big as this. And even minutes after they had left, we were still gasping with fear.
Meanwhile, the birds had gone silent. And though we were now scared out of our wits, the journey to the other end of the railway track continued.
Two hours into the jungle trip, we were still trudging along obstinately. Now that we had come so far, there was no going back.
“Look here…” Dinesh called out.
I looked down. Lying on the railway track was a green-and-yellow snake, lifeless because it had been cut into two by a passing train. The creature’s mouth was still open and its forked tongue was lying motionless on its side. A living creature killed by man.
However, it was fear, rather than pity, that troubled us back then. The forests were crawling with venomous reptiles and if anyone of us were to get bitten, medical help would be an eternity away. The initial excitement had worn thin; now we just wanted the ordeal to end.
Okay, I did not know Murphy back then — but I did know a little about his laws. And when I saw the railway bridge up front, I realised that the ol’ master of misfortune was up to his nasty tricks again.
It was a long one, stretching over the Wainganga river — which separates Rajura and Ballarpur. Unlike the modern bridges that have railings on both sides, this one was open — completely exposed to the elements. On both sides was a steep drop… stumble once and find for ever a watery grave.
“No way!” I said, “If a train comes along while we are on the track, there’s nothing that can save us.”
However, Dinesh pointed out that there was no other way out. We couldn’t possibly walk back to the college; it would take three hours, and our bus would have left by then. “Besides, there are these platforms on the side of the bridge,” he said, “We could always climb onto them if a train’s coming.”
Indeed, there were a few small steel platforms — meant for railway workers who come and check the tracks occasionally. Flimsy ones… but platforms, nonetheless.
Carefully, we began our journey across the bridge. Though we tried to walk across as fast as we could, we couldn’t afford to be rash… lest we trip and fall. Under us, dirty-green waters rippled — as if in evil anticipation. And every now and then, we would “hear” the sound of a train whistle, only to realise that it was just our imagination running riot.
Admittedly, Dinesh was the more courageous of the two. Even as I stumbled along — hoping to make it across in time — I could hear the dude humming to himself with hands outstretched, like that Winslet woman in Titanic.
That was when it started.There was no warning whistle, and certainly no noise of thudding wheels. Just a vague sound of vibration — running like electricity through the rails.
TRAIN’S COMING!!” I yelled to Dinesh, who was walking ahead. He couldn’t hear me; the wind was carrying our voices around, I think.
WHAT??” he yelled back.
I did not have to answer. The sound was more evident now…. the sound of doom, riding on steam-powered wheels to run us down. And even as the thudding of iron wheels drew closer with each speeding moment, we broke into a run for the nearest platform.
Which wasn’t there. Apparently, it had broken off and collapsed into the river a long time ago.
Cursing a then-unknown Murphy, we looked back.
The engine of a goods train was climbing onto the bridge from the other side. And even as deafening noises filled the air, we raced for the next platform.
It wasn’t that close a shave, actually. We managed to get to safety about twenty seconds before the train raced by, with an enraged engine-driver shaking his fist at us. But it was scary all the same, because this wasn’t some Bond movie… this one was for real.
Then we started laughing like madmen, the way you do after having smoked a rolled-up stick of dry hemp. Laughed, laughed, laughed, laughed … and finally, when we could laugh no more, we sat down heavily on the flimsy platform. It heaved, as if it wanted to break.
But we couldn’t care less. The worst was over.
Later, we got off the platform, crossed the bridge and caught our bus home. And as we went about our everday lives, the incident became just another memory from the days gone by.
About nine years later, it has taken a movie called Stand By Me to bring it all back — draped in autumnal orange and gold. And, by Golly! I would sure like to watch it again!
(PS: The photo is just something I pinched from the Net. The real bridge was longer and the water was deeper and dirtier.)
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Responses

  1. Hey Jimmy,
    Although I knew what the end was I still was quite interested to know how it happened. Good stuff man!
    And looking at the picture (pinched off course), I think what you guys could have done is hang by the wooden sleepers off the side of the bridge. That is, provided any train that passed wasn’t too long and your tiny arms (then) didn’t give out!
    And I’m most curious to know, what were those ‘finer points’ of the opposite sex you used to discuss?

  2. Corrections: *of course; and *hung by the wooden sleepers…

  3. * Ah, my dear Paulos… Hanging by the sleepers would have been impossible – considering that I was not anything like Brendan Fraser (times have changed, of course .. heh). The finer points are like, you know (ahem!) the finer points (you get it? Finer, huh, points…)

    * Ah, corrections! You certainly are growing up to be a nice and full sub-editor 😉

  4. haaaa.JJ… nice one…really well written………and i can exactly visualize ur laughter at the end…thats exactly something that i would do too in such a situation.. haa.. but glad u made it safe….and glad u lived…he he… do u have more railways related stories to tell??? hhhuuu??

    and hey… “stand by me” is a great movie i think.

  5. Stephen King – move over. Thou hast been dethroned!!!
    Okay – because of you, I watched Stand By me. And much to my surprise (what with it being S.K. and all that) liked it.
    Glad you made it to the platform with time to spare:-)

  6. Mac: Ha ha. Glad you’re glad I lived. Coz if I hadn’t, I would have just made it to a single-column in The Hitavada (that was newspaper up there).
    And as the railways have mostly been unlucky for me, I am full of those stories…

    3inOne: Well, really. Stephen King is quite good – as long as he does not overdo his bit.
    Personally, I like his short stories better than his novels – he tends to stretch them unnecessarily.
    Btw, did you get to read Shawshank?

  7. jimmy, enjoyed the read. well written. i enjoy stephen king, also read the body way back when.

  8. BOY!!! Thriller man!! Loved this one..may be u shd write stuff like this instead of the usual desolate vampire stories u do 😀

    Glad u survived man..cant even imagine what Div and I , and the rest of your friends, would have done without u 🙂

  9. @ Cats: Hey… you a fan of King too?!! Real happy to find some company. Everyman’s there … but his liking of King stops with The Stand 😦

    Everyman: You don’t like my desolate vampire stuff?
    And glad I survived… don’t know what I would have done if I died before meeting Div and U 🙂

  10. You mean the ones which go,”no sweat”? definitely funny, but always desolate..:-D

  11. yess JJ..who would i have slept with??

  12. Cool story. Cool blog.

  13. @ Shain: Well, the “No Sweat” story was not supposed to be a funny one. Anyways, glad you guys found it hilarious 😦

    @ Macabreday: You? You could have always slept with Stephen Thangchinmawi Dousel. And that reminds me… Esther’s getting married in April.

    @ Rohan: Thanks man 🙂 🙂

  14. man, r u d king of adventures or what! weather its ghosts or rail road adventures… its like so totally out of the movies man!

  15. hey i think yr previous template was much much better. this is so common!

  16. @ Life Happens: No, it was just that I have been in some interesting places during some interesting phases of my life. Right now I am in Bangalore, and nothing has happened ever since I got here a year ago… 😦

    @ ab: 😦 😦 😦 You think so? Maybe I should take Mac’s advice and browse the net for some templates…

  17. yeah but rest of the yrs before that r enf to gather experiences… I dont think I will ever have enf to write if i write my biopgraphy… u will!


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