Monday, October 30, 2006

The Knight Train

It was the dark, dark night of 27th October 2006 when a dark red WagonR pulled up in front of the Allahabad railway station. Four people alighted from the car and counted their luggage. There were three bags: one heavy suitcase, one large kitbag and an oddly shaped large and bright red polythene shopping bag. It would not have been very difficult for any onlooker to guess that it was a family of four, and they had come to see off the son who was going somewhere with those three baggage items. But onlookers were few, for it was very late. So late that it was actually the early hours of the 28th. None of the people wore any warm clothing, though the air was a bit chilly. That young man, who was traveling by that midnight train (or the Knight Train, as Harry Potter fans would like to say) with one luggage item too many for him to manage, was me.

My father quickly found out that my train, the Patna Secunderabad Thirupati Express was delayed by three hours and was expected sometime around 3:30 am. It was not yet one o’clock. We had two options; either wait there in the station, or go back home and come back at three. However, the railway enquiry had misguided us more than once before (which was the reason why we had not called up railway enquiry but had come directly to the station) and it was too risky to go back. My parents and sister deposited me and my luggage on an iron bench on platform no. 9 (actually between 9 and 10… more like 9¾) and reluctantly left for home.

Now I had the task of spending the night there on that bench, not falling asleep when the train came and protecting my three luggage items from theft, for there were several “highly suspicious” characters sitting around me. Apart from that, I also had to be careful about mosquitoes. With dengue and chikungunya spreading across the country, I couldn’t risk too many bites. Even if I (and the mosquitoes) were to believe the experts that the mosquitoes responsible for spreading these diseases bit only during the day, our good old malaria was always there. It seemed the different species of mosquitoes were working in shifts.

I kept the suitcase on the ground between my legs and the kit bag on my knees. The problem was with the misshapen polythene bag that contained mostly food. I kept it beside the suitcase. Then I realized that this position would ensure the security of my luggage, but expose my feet to the deadliest creature on earth. Apart from that there were large rats roaming around on the platform that didn’t seem too friendly either. If having the food bag stolen was bad, then being bitten by a rabid rat was worse. So I pulled up both my legs on the bench and folded them under me. I took out a steel chain that I was carrying and tied all three bags together and to the bench. But again the food bag posed a problem: it was after all a polythene bag whose handles were tied by a steel chain. A person could very easily cut away the handles and take away the bag if I fell asleep. To prevent this, I put a reminder alarm in my cell phone at 15 minute intervals. This would ensure that I never slept more than 15 minutes at a stretch. It would also ensure that the train wouldn’t come and leave without me.

Just before I started on my first 15 minute snooze, it was announced that the train was delayed by 5 hours and would be here at 5:25 a.m. Then started a series of short naps, punctuated by the ringing of the alarm and my hurried switching it off, and dozing off until the next one rang. The people around me weren’t too happy about this periodic beeping in the middle of the night, though. While nobody told me anything on my face, it was evident from their irritated murmurs that they disapproved of my methods. Some time later I had to take out my half sweater and put it on.

Anyway, the night passed quicker than I had expected, probably because I was longing for each of my 15-minute sleep periods to last longer. In the meantime the train’s delay had increased by half an hour more. As dawn broke around me, the platform became more and more crowded. The sun emerged as a beautiful orange disk from behind a mess of overhead wires. 5:55 came and went. The announcements pretended that train number 7092 didn’t exist. Finally the train came at 6:30. It left one hour later, at 7:30. Almost everybody, including me, immediately went to sleep, waking up after several hours. I came to know much later that a bag was stolen from the family in the seats next to mine during this time, most probably when the train had stopped in Satna. This bag had their cell phone, camera, wristwatch, and ATM cards.

The 27 hour journey to Secunderabad was more or less uneventful. There was a girl about the same age as me on the seat above and we started talking. It turned out that she passed ICSE/ISC in the same year as I did from another school in Allahabad and we shared several common friends. It’s such a small world after all.

The person with whom I was supposed to share my RAC berth never turned up and I had it to myself. My misshapen food packet (whose size steadily decreased) was a pain while sleeping, but otherwise all was fine. The train finally pulled into Secunderabad at 10:30 am on the 29th. Although I had spent most of the time in the train sleeping, I still slept for almost whole of the rest of the day on reaching home. Ah yes, I almost forgot to write, I had the usual fight with the auto driver while coming home this time too.

And I think I should mention that my holidays were fabulous. I spent such a long time with my family for the first time after June-July 2005. We also visited Chitrakoot. My aunt had come with her family and we enjoyed every moment of it. Thanks to all my readers for their wishes. I'll be writing more about my experiences soon.

[After staying up till 3:oo last night and typing this all up I found that blogger stopped responding in my house. So I had to mail it to myself and publish from office.]


  1. its been too long since i experienced indian trains. its too sanitised here :) nice that you are back to blog again. and you've been tagged.

  2. Welcome back to blogging. I love travelling in long distance trains especially if they have an overnight stay. Somehow one sleeps better in trains, may be its the swaying of compartments that puts one to sleep quickly.

  3. I kept going awwww as I read about your food packet and the steel chain. The first time I was back in India for a vacation I had to take the train from Mumbai to Jamshedpur. A family friend who had come to see me of was aghast that I did not have a chain to tie my luggage! So we went and got one for 150 Rs. or something.

  4. So trains in the heartland still run like I remember them!

  5. @bidi-k: To be fair, the sanitation was not much of a problem on this particular train, though I understand what you mean when you say "its too sanitised here".

    @shreemoyee: Well it's the opposite for me. I hardly ever wake up at night at home, but in trains it is always an interrupted sleep. Overnight stays are good if they are in the range 12-15 hours. Beyond that I don't like them, especially when I'm travelling away from the place I like. And on top of that if it is delayed...

    @anyesha: Rs.150!!! You gotta be kidding! It costs 10-20 rupees. Were you sporting your best 'NRI look' or what?

    @km: Well yes, I thought the situation has improved, but it seems otherwise.

  6. Nonetheless, this is your best post. So catching that I could not took off my eyes of monitor untill I finished. I could imagine how you were looking whilst taking small naps. I spent 3 hours like that on Durgapur station but fortunately I was accompanied by my brother.

  7. Nope, the price just went up at the sight of my luggage (with its million and one airport stickers) and my wallet (with its shiny credit cards and a foreign drivers license).

  8. @abhijit: Thanks. Waiting alone is torture. With a companion it can even be fun.

    @anyesha: Ah yes. That's what I meant. :-)

  9. It was very interesting to know thw amount of effort u put in to save ur "polythene bag that contained mostly food". :-);-)!!...
    And consider urslf lucky that the person with whom u wer supposed to share ur RAC berth never turned up els u'd hav spent ur entire next week sleeping :-p

  10. @aurindam: Obviously... my mom's homemade luchi-tarkari and cakes, then sweets and small dry samosas for friends and finally biscuits, chips and rewris for timepass are quite precious stuff. Then there were two bottles of water (which would not stand up straight and which were responsible for the bag's odd shape).

    And yes, last year I undertook this 27 hour journey without a confirmed ticket. I was literally standing in front of the toilets from 9 am to 6 pm. Luckily the train came on time.