We have an amazing habit of linking things up. Right now, as I hear the thunder outside, I am reminded of tea which goes fabulously with rains. And tea always reminds me of the tiny kulhad tea that gets served in trains – The comforting sound of the train on the tracks, the voices of people talking (sometimes a bit too loudly, managing to disrupt the art of hiding behind a book to avoid the people sitting in front staring awkwardly at you, due to the sheer berth arrangement which makes people want to talk to each other) and the sounds of vendors selling tea, bhel and other items which somehow taste better on trains.
This incident goes back to my college days, back when we proclaimed ourselves to be cool. In an attempt to live by the code of coolness, we had to do certain things like not care about reserving our seats and behave indignantly when asked for tickets by the ticket checker. On one such fine day, we decided to buy a general ticket for our travel back home. It was an overnight journey and we thought we would just pay the difference and get a reserved seat, just like we always did.
That day was different. Firstly, the train was jam packed with smart alecs like us, who were also in the race to be proclaimed cool. Secondly, the ticket checker was ……well, I will let you form a judgement on him. We sat on seats hand-picked by us and went gabbing about things of paramount importance – who said what to whom in college….and why….and when….after which we went on to the debate of who was right. Within this time, the bond guy, as we shall refer to the ticket checker, made his way to our kingdom.
The conversation after this went like this:
‘Uncle, can you upgrade our seats?’ my friend said.
Silence…. Bond Guy looked perturbed after which a wave of anger crossed his face. Yep, it was definitely anger, what with all the clenching(of the jaw, silly) and furrowed eyebrows.
‘Uncle?’ he gasped.
My friend giggled. Unfortunately, Bond Guy took more offence. This time he almost spat his response. Swach Bharat, anyone?
‘If I wore Nike shoes and spiked my hair, you would not be calling me uncle,’ he said.
We looked at each other in dismay. This uncle was our only support in the train, the only one who would redeem us of our general class tickets and give us reserved berths, where we would continue our who said what to whom and when game. But he adopted an air of huffiness. We could have buttered him on his looks, but it would mean lying through our teeth(and dentures, if anyone was secretly wearing them). We could have said sorry, but cool people don’t do that, according to the the ‘Worldwide Guide of Being Cool Handbook.’ I just made that handbook name up. Hope you didn’t waste your time searching for it online. I give classes on how to fake coolness, by the way. Wink.
Anyhow, the matter had slipped out of our hands, as we stared at Bond Guy, who stood there devoid of his Nike shoes.
‘Go to the general compartment,’ he ordered, pointing his index(not middle) finger in a particular direction.
Since we were part time rebels as well, we walked in the opposite direction.
‘Hey, the general compartment is this side,’ he reminded us, although not too loudly, because by now the snorers had taken over the compartment.
We started running as fast as we could. He did not run after us…because of his Nike shoes dilemma. Now, because our semester exams had just gotten over, our college mates were spread throughout the train – some who would help us and some who….well , would show us the middle finger, because few things about us rubbed them the wrong way. Actually, all things about us. One of the people from the 1st category(the ones who would help us) was fortunate and well planned enough to be travelling in A.C 2nd tier. AC 2nd tier in India is the compartment in Indian trains, where curtains are used to provide privacy to passengers. As I ran through the 2nd AC compartment, I got pulled into a side lower berth by that well meaning 1st category person.
He hissed in a voice that only villains would take the risk of hissing in.
‘Chup jaa pagal. Warna T.C(Ticket Checker) pakad lega,’ he said. Heaven knows how he found out about the Nike dilemma. My legs were hanging from below the curtains. If there is one thing I know, it is to not get comfortable around any sort of hissing noises. No exceptions. I fled out of there. Meanwhile, my friend came running towards me.
‘You know what happened?’ she said.
‘What?’ I said.
‘This classmate (let’s name him Delusional Dude for reasons that are best undisclosed) whipped out his hand across the aisle out of nowhere,’ she said.
‘And?’ I said.
‘And he had a balm in his hand. He said “Ye lo…Balm lagao” ‘ she said.
‘What? Why?’ I said.
‘I don’t know. I shrieked,’ she said.
For those who don’t know, shrieking is considered a valid…almost expected response in these situations. If you don’t scream, perhaps you are as loony as him.
‘The worst part is he was probably asleep,’ she said.
Oh, the drama of the subconscious mind reveals itself just when you think you have concealed ‘that part of you‘ which no one should ever see.
We kept running until finally we found a bunch of seniors who were travelling in the same train. They were kind enough to provide us with ample inches for our bums to settle in.
Years later, I travelled in a train after Mr. Laloo had ended his reign as the railway minister of India. At that point I was not concerned much about the state of the railways, et al. To me, at a micro level, all that mattered was that I got to my destination without having to witness a guy….umm…how do I put this delicately….well, without having to witness a guy pleasing himself rather apparently under a thin bed sheet, on a berth that was right next to mine.
So, I settled into my side lower berth with rather low expectations and high excitement due to not having to share small talk with people staring at me. When I was about to fall asleep, my subconscious mind woke me up, perhaps sensing some danger. What I witnessed next was the fury of three cockroaches, rubbing their legs(?), arms(?) together on the train wall, while staring at me with eyes that were well bigger than ordinary cockroach eyes. I panicked and slid out of the berth, like a snake, albeit a terrified one. The trio didn’t budge, displaying their confidence and authority over a compartment that they probably considered their own. I begged someone to let me sleep in an empty berth next to theirs. But all night, I kept staring at the train wall, hoping that the trio didn’t follow me there.
Image credits: Unknown