“Let me recommend the best medicine in the world: a long journey, at a mild season, through a pleasant country, in easy stages.” #James Madison
“So”, my father asked, “you’ll be missing the Durga Puja, this time, isn’t it?”
“Don’t say that yet”, I said, “I’m yearning for the tickets. I’m trying every route possible, and I’ve got a few more left. Give me another couple of days, and I’ll let you know.”
“Ok”, he said, “but as you won’t be able to manage more than a week, make sure the journey is short. Otherwise, there is no point coming back.”
“What are you saying? I will come back at any cost. I’ve never missed a single Durga Puja till date. Why this time?”
It was around the end of August. There were less than 50 days left, and almost all possible trains which could take me to Kolkata, were booked more than a month ago. The amendment to the Railway booking service came a few months later, which allowed the passengers to book the tickets at most 2 months prior to their journey. At that point of time, as I was searching more and more trains, my hopes were getting more and more diminutive.
I am someone who always likes to follow the rules, wherever feasible. I was desperate when it was September. I decided to break a few rules. After another exhausting day of searching, I finally booked the tickets!
“Are you completely out of your mind? 3days!!” my mother exclaimed, “Have you ever thought how much patience will you need throughout the journey? Besides, half of the Puja days will be gone, and you’ll have to stay only for 5 days! That’s crazy. Please think about it again.”
“Do you want me to come back or not? Forget about the days, days will pass, even if I come for a month. I won’t miss Durga Puja, I won’t miss you. I will come.”
“You’ll be all alone. Please take care of yourself while you come. We will be utterly tensed!”
“Don’t worry about that!! I am not a CHILD!”
Mangalore, a small city in the west coast of India, is around 2500 Km. far from my abode, Kolkata. It usually takes around 44-48 hours to reach, by train.
As the days approached, I was getting more and more excited. I had never cared about the length of the journey. All I need, is a few novels, especially paperbacks, to pass the time. As my friends started to know my itinerary, they just didn’t seem to believe it. They were sure that I won’t make it. But I ensured that, I will.
Finally, it was the time. I carried a trolley and a backpack. The first train, which was supposed to take me from Mangalore Central station to Chennai Egmore station, had the departure time of 5.30 am. I was awake all night, excited, watching a few “The Big Bang Theory” episodes with Ujan. As I was ready to go, Ujan murmured, “God be merciful on this kid!! You don’t have the slightest idea about what this journey is going to be like!”
It started smoothly. Buses were regular, so was I. Contrary to all expectations, I set off very early, and reached the station half-an-hour earlier. I was having a glance on the train timings, where I was quite shocked to discover that my train takes almost 24 hours to reach Chennai, where 16 hours were enough for all the others. I sighed, and slowly started to get an explanation why it would take 72 hours to reach!
People who can remember the India map, will understand when I say if there was a way for traveling through Bangladesh, we could reach most of the North-East states earlier. So was the itinerary of this train, which covers almost the whole South India! Starting from West Coast, it forms a U-shape before reaching Chennai, which can be considered a legit explanation for the extra 8 hours.
I took a 14-hour long sleep in the train – which compensated for my tiredness. When I reached Chennai Egmore, it was dawn – and I was already lethargic. Not because I had only passed 1/3-rd of the journey I had in total, but it was the buffer time in the Chennai Egmore station.
17 hours!! Yes, that was the time I was supposed to wait for the next train that takes me to Bhubaneswar. This was the place where I breached the law – you are not supposed to wait in a free waiting hall for more than 2 hours. I was not in a position to afford fifty rupees per hour for the 15 extra hours.
At first, I tried to remember if there was someone I knew in Chennai. Any friend or relative would have worked. Fortunately, I had a relative living there and a couple of my friends. I decided to go to one of their places, and pass the time, somehow.
Although, I didn’t appear to be as fortunate as Mahendra Singh Dhoni! When I called them, both my friends were back to Kolkata. Now, I had the only option left, who, let me know that, I have to take an auto to reach their house – there isn’t bus route for that.
It was drizzling by then. That was the moment I understood why the auto drivers in Chennai and Bangalore are so famous. No one was ready to go unless I pay Rs. 500, and they were busy in a competition to snatch my bag. I refused all of them. I could see my fortune by then – no other way than spending all those hours in the waiting hall.
I went in there. As I planned to sleep for the first few hours, the hawkers, the newspaper-sellers and the beggars didn’t allow me to do so. It was 6.30 in the morning, and my train was supposed to arrive at 10.30 at night.
I was already impatient. It felt like I have already languished there for hours, and started loitering, keeping an eye on my luggage. I tried reading novels, concentrating on the myriads of hawkers and their stocks. Even, I tried to overhear the conversations among the waiting passengers, and guess the language being spoken. Meanwhile, I had the breakfast from a railway canteen and looked for a few other canteens as well. I didn’t want to show up at a canteen more than once, because I was afraid of getting caught! When I came back with my prodigious luggage, I was tired. Looking here and there, I found an empty bench to sleep.
When I was almost asleep, after tying up both my luggage with a chain, I suddenly heard someone’s voice in Bengali. I almost jumped out of my bed (or, whatever it was!), because all I was looking for, was passing the time, not sleeping. They were also happy when I met them, because that’s what Bengalis look for when they are out of the station – Another Bengali!!
They were supposed to stay till 5 o’clock in the evening. Their train was delayed by 7 hours – and they were going to Kanyakumari. I felt a bit disgusted. Since my childhood, I feel pity for those who travels during Durga Puja and misses the beauty of Kolkata, celebrating its biggest festival. But, I suddenly realized, they are my salvation! Not only because they are Bengalis, but also I had more than half-a-day to spend!
As I explained my situation, one of them, aged around 40 years, wearing a white t-shirt and a jeans, assured me. He told me that you’ll be considered as one of us – and they never ask for the tickets.
Time passed quickly. My parents were calling in a regular interval, and Kolkata had already started celebrating its biggest festival. I got back all my enthusiasm. Just another day and a half – and then I’ll be there, at my home. The acquaintances were asking me about my happiness, and I explained. Although, I wasn’t honest through-out. I was confirmed that they’ll consider me a stupid, had I told them about this 3-day journey. I informed them that I stayed at a friend’s place here, for a day, and then I’m going back. Though the way I said it, wasn’t very convincing, they didn’t ask further. There was a very cute little girl among them. She studied in the second standard. We had a lot of fun together.
Once they were about to go, I felt very sad. I had never passed so much time constantly with someone unknown, as this, and I thought I’ll miss them. As they bid me good-bye, my little girlfriend was crying. I pat her back, and promised her that I’ll visit her home someday once they come back to Kolkata.
I got emotional. Not because I was telling her the lie, but because the way she smiled after hearing that. In the entirety of my PG days, I used to visit my home twice or thrice, at most, in a semester, and had to stay for only a week. This was my first visit after I came to NITK, and didn’t know when I’ll go back next. But, neither the little girl was ready to understand all this, nor I was ready to break her heart.
As I was missing her and tried to concentrate on a novel, time didn’t seem to pass. About 12 hours were over, but the rest of the 5 hours seemed an eternity. You won’t find many Bengalis in the Chennai Egmore station. Neither did I. When I was almost in a state of devastation, my train had arrived.
I took another 12-hour sleep. The day passed without anything memorable, and I reached Bhubaneswar at around 9 o’clock in the night.
Bhubaneswar, one of the most beautiful and largest cities in Odisha, was celebrating Durga Puja as well, being the immediate neighbor of West Bengal. I was restless and couldn’t wait any more. It was just a matter of a few hours. Every second seemed like an hour, and I almost ended all my balance calling my friends and parents. When the train came, I almost ran to it.
“Halt!” someone shouted, “You’re forgetting your backpack, young man!”
I noticed and discovered my stupidity. I had my laptop in it, and a few other valuables. I almost panicked and came back to snatch the back from the old man’s hand. As I thanked him and turned, he smiled and asked,
“You seem to be in a hurry. Are you going home after a long time?”
“Yes, uncle! It’s Durga Puja, and how can I miss it.”
“Well” he said, “Take care son! Be careful with your belongings. Have a safe journey.”
“Sure uncle!” I joined my palms in the pose of a Namaskar, “You made my day. You don’t know what you’ve done today. Had I lost the bag, I would have been mad!”
“Well,” He smiled, “Now you’re getting late. Go and catch your train!! Run!!”
I smiled and ran for the train. I was already feeling the happiest man in the earth, once I read the destination of the train. My abode!! It’s my place!! It’s Durga Puja!!
There were more amazement for me. I had never seen the sleeper class of an Indian rail having power outlets. I was so shocked!! I was overwhelmed with joy, and spent that whole night with my laptop. I kept looking anxiously, out of the window. I can’t forget the moment when I saw the Bengali fonts outside!! It was night, but it was Durga Puja. The entire West Bengal spends sleepless nights on these days, and there were lights everywhere. I reached half-an-hour early, at around 4.30am, and my father came to receive me. I was so happy that I put my luggage down and hugged him, tightly. I was crying, so was he, because I had never stayed without my parents for months till then. We headed straight back to our home.
There was a line in one of the novels I was reading in those days, “The completeness of a journey in hidden in its end!” No one was in a better position to realize it better than me, at that moment, I would bet!!
//All the characters used in this blog are fictitious. Yes, every single one of them, even I am imaginary! If you find any resemblance with anything, its your responsibility!//