59 hours and counting – Part II

Posted on June 12, 2015


The summer gave to some good memories of Calcutta, thanks to Piku and Detective Byomkesh Bakshi. Both the movies (directed by Bengalis) showcased the city so well.

This reminded me of this long pending post, especially after getting lovely feedback for the preceding part of this trip.

Given that the monsoon had engulfed Mumbai, I feared that Gitanjali could be delayed and subsequently make me miss my connecting train, Coromandal Express, to Madras. So, I changed the boarding point of my AC three tier ticket to Kharagpur which gave me more buffer time. And subsequently booked a sleeper class ticket from Howrah till Bhubaneswar. But as luck would have had it, the coaches were at the either ends of the rake. Thankfully, the TTE, after listening to my explanation allowed me to board in the AC compartment from Howrah itself. “I will allow on humanitarian grounds,” he said in a strong Bengali accent.

I would have loved to travel by sleeper class, but on my father’s insistence – especially after a 30-hour journey – I decided to go for it.

I have always wanted to take a ferry across the Hooghly river, but that one thing has slipped past me in my four trips to the city. “Next time it gets top priority,” I told myself while settling into my berth. I got an action side window seat, and along with me a family travelling to Chennai on a holiday. The Sen family were typically Calcuttan. And it looked like they had not stepped into a train in ages. They absolutely had no idea about train travel. I helped them settle down, answered their queries. They were more than happy to see a Chennai native to get all their doubts answered, which formed a big part of the 26-hour trip.

They had a son, doing his MBA. He had a receding hairline and for some peculiar reason has his sunglasses on his head the entire time he was awake. He kept cussing the mobile network for disrupting his text conversations. Little had he an idea on how connected the remote lands of West Bengal and Orissa were. His earphones were new and the wires not completely unwrapped. He wore sparkling new blue sport shoes. So much invested on a train journey, and here I was in tattered shorts and a faded T-shirt.

Mr.Sen disappeared when the journey started, he got back the strong bad breath of filtered cigarettes with him. Must have been Gold Flake, typically Calcuttan.

He kept doling out savories and biscuits regularly, but I was back on a liquid diet and felt sorry to have constantly refused their offers. The family was taking a cab to Pondicherry after getting down at Madras Central. Mr.Sen’s sister lived there along with her family. From there on, it was a holiday to Ooty. They had no geographical inclination of what was where and the Mrs.Sen also asked me if Chennai was the capital of Kerala too. I really felt sorry for her. Her life was bound to South City, where she thought music. She and her son got along a lot Bengali magazines and they discussed a lot of cinema. ‘

The other co-passenger in the bay, who spoke Telugu, travelled from Kharagpur to Vishakapatnam. He was in his 40s and was reluctant to talk. He spoke aloud the politics of his office and boasted about doing his duty right and not cowing down.

On the side berths was a lady from Bangladesh headed to Madras for treatment with her brother. The lady was headed to Apollo Hospital (the little I figured as a flurry of Bengali dominated the scene).

On finding that I covered cricket for Hindustan Times, the guy started making fun of the Indian cricket team. We had staged a brilliant victory at Lord’s in the second Test but then tumbled down subsequently.

Well, he was correct in his criticism. All I could do was grin and bear with it. It reminded me of my friend Naimul Karim, who writes for the Daily Star in Dhaka.

Sitting in the luxury of air conditioning, I seldom ventured out for door plating. I visited the pantry car and it was the exact opposite of how it was in the Gitanjali Express. A private caterer from Kerala was running the show. I asked to cook me a dry chicken dish. Sometime later it was delivered to my berth, crispy, crunchy and tasty. My co-passengers were curious to know how I got that while they gorged on the meals they ordered for.

At Bhubaneshwar, my friend Namrata Sahoo literally made a dash to meet me at the station. She was kind enough to get me an OMFED roll on short notice. The OMFED chicken rolls count among my favorite street food dishes. She was having a tough day following an important story, but still made time to see me.

As the train rolled out of Bhubaneshwar, I was reminded of a childhood incident that cost my family a couple of hours at the city’s railway reservation counter.

It was the September of 2005 and we were on a family holiday of Calcutta and Orissa. My parents had booked the return ticket on the Coromandal Express (waitlisted) and on the Guwahati-Madras Egmore Express as back-up. As we left Puri in the morning, my parents insisted on cancelling the Coromandal ticket since it was still under waitlist. But me being me, and the prospect of travelling Vijayawada-Madras Central nonstop I was hell bent against it. I was praying that the ticket would get confirmed. At that time, I had not travelled on any train that did the 434-km stretch between Vijayawada and Central nonstop.

As we reached Bhubaneshwar, we realised the ticket did not confirm and we had to stand in the queue for refund. The wait was terrible to due to a server problem. I was so let down and disappointed that the ride on Coromandal was not going to happen with my mom reminding me that the counter at Puri was empty. Well, they did take the chance for me. They always supported my passion for Indian Railways.

I exchanged my lower berth with Mrs. Sen and settled for the middle berth. I am not a big fan of the lower berth and always exchange it. Inadvertently, you will always find people wanting a lower berth and I am more than happy to oblige.

I woke up at Vijaywada and doorplated most of the journey from there, except when I had to write this.

The train rolled in ahead of schedule. And my father told me he was waiting at our designated pick point.

“Your hair is disheveled and you look tired. Have you realized that you have been travelling for 50 hours straight?” said my father as I stepped out of the side entrance of Madras Central, with the evening sun bouncing off the clock tower.

“It’s 59 hours and 15 minutes,” I hit back, with a glint of pride, “and I am not tired.”