I scurried, dodged and twisted through milling chaotic crowd at the New Delhi railway station. My entire focus was on the porter bent on doing the disappearing trick with my luggage.
I could have done without the porter but this was the first time I was traveling alone from Delhi to Mumbai (then Bombay) for my summer vacations.
I was about 19 years of age and until now, I had had the privilege of being picked and dropped like the Kohinoor diamond by my father, brother and even uncle on occasion. Being slightly (okay, very) zoned off, I had never really bothered with the nitty-gritties of travel schemes, preferring to focus on the book in my hand.
Besides, nobody listened to me anyways.
When I had first joined college in Delhi, my big brother and I decided to watch a movie that was running at a theater near his office.
“No problem,” I said, “just tell me the bus number and I will come over to your office and we can catch the 6 pm show.”
“Okay.” He agreed. “No.” He immediately backtracked. “I will come and pick you up and then we will go and see the movie.”
“Why? We’ll be late for the movie. Your office gets over by 6 pm and if you come all the way…”
“No I will come.”
“But why?” I stamped my foot.
“Because you will have to cross 3 major roads.”
I tore my hair out but to no avail – we missed most of the first half of the movie. It is of course an entirely different matter that I actually had never crossed such a busy road before but I digress.
So here I was entirely alone in Delhi – my father had recently been transferred to Bombay and my local guardian (big bro) had also legged it to B-town in search of greener pastures.
But did I care? Was I scared?
I was young and confident – what was there in travel? Go to the station and sit in the train. The rest would take care of itself.
But instructions from higher ups demanded that I hire a porter to ensure that I sat in the right train and in the right coach. Thankfully there were no mobile phones those days so I was not constrained to give minute-by-minute updates of my travel progress.
Luckily I got a classmate’s company till the railway station, we split the fare and parted ways after hiring a porter each. Actually I don’t really remember doing anything actively with regard to porter hiring – a red clad man appeared, he muttered, I mumbled, he heaved my luggage and was off before I could blink.
So here I was almost running to keep up with the porter – thankfully I had a bright blue case, which he had placed on his head. I fixed my eyes on the beacon and gave up all pretense of walking. Good thing too, for he made an abrupt turn and vanished inside a train coach.
“Here we are.” The porter stowed my luggage and showed me my seat, collected his dues and disappeared.
Though slightly out of breath, I sank down on my seat feeling victorious. I was early and most seats were still empty. I dug out my book specially arranged for the journey and vanished into an entirely different world.
I emerged a little while later as the train blew its whistle. I looked out of the window. We were off! Excitement curled in the pit of my stomach.
I frowned. Was our train moving or the one on the opposite platform?
Oh it was the other train! I laughed at my foolishness. That was the train going to Kolkata and mine was going to Bombay. I remembered Dad telling me they left within 30 minutes of each other.
A sudden misgiving struck me.
Was the Bombay train supposed to leave first or the Kolkata train?
Was I on the Bombay train or the Kolkata train?
What if the porter had made a mistake?
Despite the AC, I began sweating. I hadn’t even checked the train number. Oh what if I was on the wrong train? What if somebody else claimed my seat? What if I was thrown off the train? What if they put me in jail?
I glanced wildly around hoping for some clue, some indication whether the train was going east or west.
Close to hysteria, I fumbled for my ticket considering my options. Perhaps I could get down and check…
The train lurched and we were off.
I panicked. Images from Bollywood movies flashed. Could I do what they did?
Could I poke my head out of the coach? Would I be able to read the train number?
Or should I ask a co-passenger?
But what could I ask my co-passenger?
“Excuse me, is this train going to Bombay?”
I would rather die.
But would I rather go to jail?
I searched wildly for ways to ask without revealing my utter naivety not to mention idiocy.
Sweating yet cold I sat chewing my nails grappling this tricky issue when the coach attendant came to note our dinner plans.
“Veg or non-veg?”
Nauseated, I mumbled indistinctly.
I had a brainwave.
“Non-veg.” I cleared my throat. “What’s the next stop?” I asked casually, feeling terribly clever.
My heart plummeted to the bottom of my shoes.
Ratlam? Where the hell was that? Did that fall on the Bombay route or the Kolkata route?
I could have cried.
But the coach attendant was still rattling on at top speed and through rising roar in my head, I dimly registered him hurtling past Baroda, Surat, Bombay.
I passed out in sheer relief.
Home sweet home.
Written for the Daily Post’s Weekly Discover Challenge – Finding Your Place
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