Earlier this year my cousin had flown from Canada to visit her ailing father and my ailing mom. My Uncle now retired from the Armed Forces, always had a bag full of tales to keep us, the kids and grown ups entertained, when all the relatives used to get together in a big family reunion during the vacations. Most often than not, my late Aunt used to wink and let us know which of his tales were reel life. This ritual had continued for a long time till about the time we began to grow up and learnt to fend for our selves and fly away from the nest. So when my Uncle fell ill, I wanted to visit him and be with him for some time, and, with my cousins around, it had to be now though I would have preferred it to happen at a time when my Uncle was more active and my Aunt was around. My other cousin, was flying from Ahmadabad and I joined him on the flight to Kolkata.
Some of the tales I remember most that my Uncle used to tell us were from his travel experiences, of how he missed his train in spite of reaching the station on the date of travel only to realise that the train was scheduled at a very early hour of the day which in plain terms would have been a very unearthly hour for a commoner. We would roll into peels of laughter and would say in our minds never to let it happen with us.
So must have said my maternal uncles too at the end of their hearty laughs, but, how serious they were in their resolve, was revealed when one morning, my late Dad, picked up the phone and was surprised to hear one of my maternal Uncles announcing that they were heading for Delhi and I must pick them up from ISBT. ISBT?? I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I couldn't believe my ears when I heard my father say “They were arriving by Bus..” We knew that they were headed for Nainital and were giving Delhi a slip... But a sudden change in plans and destination Delhi and that too by Bus... I could smell that something was amiss. I let my Father gradually reveal the chain of event.
Apparently, my maternal uncles and their families had planned to go to Kathgodam via Lucknow. They had arrived at Lucknow early in the moring and since their connecting train to Kathgodam was due to leave at 5 minutes past mid night that day, they had plenty of time with them to go around Lucknow. After a quick breakfast, they were out in the streets visiting the City of Audh. After a “Nawabi Dawat” at a local restaurant they packed some food packed for the train journey and trooped into the station a couple of hours before the train was due. Since the platform wore a desolate look one of my Uncles thought of enquiring from the enquiry counter if the train was on time. It was here that they realised that their train to Kathgodam had departed at the right time that day, exactly at 0:05 hrs. Well just after midnight. The train for the following day was on time at 0:05 hrs. My relatives had managed with ease to sleep their departure time out on their train to Lucknow. In simple words, they had missed their early morning train. Now the next best destination was Delhi. Gomti Express leaving early in the morning was out of question because it was fully booked. Without wasting any time They Boarded a Private Bus to Delhi.
This time the laughter was at the cost of my maternal uncles (both very eminent personalities in their respective professions). I announced that since I normally prefer driving to my travel destinations, I am to a great extent, spared from such agonising situations. At least it gave me an assurance that I'll never end up being the butt of jokes in a similar situation. The last time when I faced a similar situation was on my way to Shimla. The Himalayan Queen was late by thirty minutes and the toy train I had booked was due to depart 15 minutes before the anticipated arrival. The train attendant had assured us that the toy train would only depart 15 minutes after the Himalayan Queen reached Kalka. Sure, it was waiting for us. So, I never thought that any thing like missing a train could occur with me. However, I would have never known that there could be any one who thought otherwise, had my families not decided to go on a vacation trip this year.
The planning started well in advance and they roped in my Sister in law and her family for the trip. North East was chosen as the destination and the days were frozen, but, since I would not be able to accompany them it was decided to cut short the trip to just 8 days. Tickets were booked about two months in advance and all that was left now was to plan how to make most out of the eight days. With due respects to all who matter, I knew that since this was almost an all female outing there would be a chaos and lots of it just before the d day and also during the trip, so I was not taking any chances. As I planned, I also started stocking not only for the trip but also for the house hold which would then be under my command. With meticulous detailing, I started with medicines followed by coffee pouches, tea pouches, powdered milk, sugar, maps, travel Info literature, travel gears, clothings, memory cards for the cameras, batteries for the cameras, Cameras, chargers, mobile phones a four way power strip, a multi plug power adaptor, cello tapes, duct tapes, cosmetics etc., etc. Finally with every thing in control, all that was left to do was to prepare a day to day “to-do” list for them and keep waiting for the D-Day.
Finally a day before the D-Day, I sat with my daughters, detailing them with travel plans, dates of travel, times of trains, what they were to carry in their back packs and what they were to carry in the AT strolly. Since NE Express is an early morning train, the only reason we were able to secure reservation when all others were fully booked, we called it an early day but not before I called up our ever dependable Surinder Singh and asked him to drop my family to the station. My Sister in law would reach the station along with her family separately from their South Delhi Abode.
Surinder Singh honked his presence sharp at 5 am. The girls were all ready along with their mom. Since my bedridden mom insisted that I drop them to the station and see them off, we trooped into the waiting cab. We covered the distance to Old Delhi Station which would other wise take at least 40 minutes in barely 15 minutes. It took us another 10 minutes to reach the platform. We now had about 40 minutes with us before the scheduled departure. Well the train will depart only after it had arrived on the platform. Now there was a train on the designated platform and the electronic information board announced it was Brahmaputra Mail. “OMG... Brahmaputra Mail is running so late....” I heard myself tell my wife, in the overwhelming cacophoney of voices, as we found ourselves standing in front of a unreserved compartment on a platform full of people jostling with each other amidst a pall of strange smell of a mixture of body odours mixed with smell of stale sweat and occasional whiffs stale perfumes. I asked a porter where the AC compartment would be and as quickly as possible I moved my family in the direction he had pointed. On the way we found a a spot with an embedded waiting bench which was strangely vacant. Promptly we occupied it and waited patiently for the Brahmaputra Mail to depart.
As we waited patiently my better half ranted on my incorrigible “too early” arrival tendency. There was reason for her rantings. She had left behind her spectacles in the early morn hurry. I tried to pacify her saying that I would courier it and that her spects would certainly reach her before she started for Gangtok from Coochbehar. Once in a while a passenger with a strolly in tow or another with a chain of kids and a wife in tow could be seen scurrying from one end of the platform to the other. I could hear my better half telling the girls that the frequency of such sudden realisational rush would increase as the time for departure came near. My children giggled every time the spectacle repeated its self. Because the departure time of NE Express was nearing and there was no sign of the rake I was beginning to worry if we were on the right platform. Announcements on the PA system confirmed that we were on the right platform, but where on the earth was the rake.
We were still waiting when I spotted a railway official pasting list of passengers on the coaches of Brahmaputra Mail. This looked strange. The lists should have been pasted as soon as the rake entered the platform. I rose from my throne and proceeded to check out what list he was pasting. It was then that I realised that the rake in front of which we had been waiting for the last 30 minutes was not Brahmaputra Mail, but was NE Express. Well the stage had turned upon us. It was time we started scurrying... A man with a extra large strolly behind him and three ladies in tow.... I was smiling in my mind thinking the amusement some other passengers like us were having at our cost. But, all that was not important, we had barely 5 minutes in hand and I was desperately trying to reach the first AC coach, so that my family would be on board the train and could eventually find their coach through the vestibules. Barely two minutes in hand we found the coach. Luckily the destined coach was the very first one we reached and found the seats in the very first coupe.
It was only as I began to unboard the train that we realised that my Sister in law and her family were missing. A flurry of frantic calls and teleconferencing with my sister in law, my wife, my children their son, my spouses brother in law and a brother in law at his home packing for his train to Bhubaneshwar revealed that they had just entered the station. Almost at the same time the coach jerked into motion. With the sound of horns slowly fading away, the train rolled away from me. I followed it till I reached the staircase from the over bridge. At the top of the staircase, I found my spouse's brother in law panting downwards with my nephew and sister in law in tow behind the coolie he had hired. My spouses brother in law rushed past me in hot pursuit of what was now the back of a train that was swiftly moving away from us. The strange look on his face was like as if asking me what prevented me from holding that train a minute longer. Only one more person who was in hot pursuit was the porter he had hired. My Sister in law and my nephew joined me at the foot of the staircase watching in disbelief that this was happening to us.
A minute later, I don't know if it was the end of the platform or it was “happy realisation” that there was no use fighting a lost battle that my spouses brother in law suddenly decided to stop and turn back. With him stopped his man Friday clad in red uniform and a dhoti that didn't give way in the valiant run. With a bag tucked under each of Friday's arms and a strolly that had been taking a happy stroll sitting on his head, slowly returned our soldiers as they panted back to where we stood waiting for them. A onlooker advised us to rush to Ghaziabad, where we could probably intercept this train. Off bolted our man with a shocking red back pack on his back and a red porter following him with two grown ups and a child in tow... it looked like a flick right out of a comedy film.
While we were rushing out of the station, I was conferencing with my better half on the train and a friend off the train. I had shoved in my daughter's back pack copies of the relevant pages of the time table. My wife had asked me what was the need. Now I was slowly complementing myself as she referred to the pages as we zeroed on to Tundla the most safe and nearest station where they could board this train. The next best option was to try and intercept it at Kanpur. But, now the problem was how to reach Tundla. The time table came handy again. We found out that Kalka Mail follows this train for quite some time before overtaking it just before reaching Tundla. This train had a long stop at Tundla, giving them enough time to catch up. But, by the time all this realisation came in my in-laws had almost reached Ghaziabad (20 mins flat incredible speed the cabbie had driven) while I was on my way back home on the Metro.
Just as I was explaining the situation to my spouses brother in-law, I over heard my wife on my other phone say “we just passed by them... they are standing on the platform....” “Pull the Chain...” was my immediate response because I thought this to be the best inconvenience to save a lot of other inconveniences. On the other phone my spouses brother in law was yelling “pull the chain....pull the chain....” it was only after he had calmed down that I could tell him that I could not do so because I was on board the Delhi Metro headed for home and not on the North East Express he was chasing. All said and done, my in-laws managed to board the Kalka Mail from Ghaziabad and were finally on their way to Gangtok... well not really so till they overtook North East Express. The TT on Kalka Mail was cooperative and had spoken to the TT on NE Express on wireless. Almost the same time I de boarded the Metro train, my better half informed me that the TT had come to inform her that her 'consignment' was safe and on board Kalka Mail and will be delivered at Tundla.
I still can't believe that this happened to me and us..... me.... sitting for minutes in front of the train to board but waiting patiently for it to depart..... and... Us.... we managed to play a role we never thought we would ever play..... five men in a row chasing a missed train...... The comedy of errors didn't end here. On another train My brother in law ( my wife's brother) who had left for Bhubaneshwar with his in laws in Bhubaneshwar Rajdhani the same day, scored the highest by managing to do the ultimate undoable.... Pull the Chain... Privy to our teleconferencing, the idea of pulling the chain in an emergency was in the back of his mind, it errupted when his Father in Law had stepped out for a stroll on a station and the train had decided to leave him behind. He had like a worthy son in law, pulled the chain.... within minutes, all sorts of security personnel train staff, station staff, engineers and every one one can think of came down breathing on his neck with all kinds of nasty expressions.... cooolllll.... so folks except for the one in the Lavatory, please don't pull any chains, particularly when traveling on Rajdhanis.
All who have been with me so long, please do not disclose this to my cousins.... my over 45 years of unblemished travel history is now in your hands.