Traveling in a second class compartment of Indian railways has it's own typical charm. I got this opportunity by missing out on the other one. A two day small trip from Mumbai had suddenly got extended to a full week working at the factory at Nashik. And I was not prepared. I believe vagabonds are usually not prepared. Though I had my bare essentials for survival, I had to shop in for some more essentials. Not being able to get an AC chair car ticket, I got this second class sitting compartment ticket.
And here I was waiting in the platform number 3 for my Tapovan Express to arrive at 6 pm. The platform was otherwise not very crowded till then. A few people walking and gossiping. A few trains passing by and out of which most of them brought in localities home for Diwali vacations. One passed without stopping by. I could smell the local dish vada-pao from a nearby railway catering stall. I picked up a samosa. And packed a few biscuits for journey.
About 5 minutes before 6 pm after the "Ting Tong announcement" made by the railway staff about the arrival of the train, the platform was swarmed in by herd of people. The train arrived in another ten minutes. And people again proved that we were all so Indian. Irrespective of being educated or illiterate, the bunch of all ages of men, women, kids and oldies, all of them clogged the entrance / exit of the compartment gate. But suddenly they realised their folly and humbly allowed the people inside to disembark. I strongly felt a need to write to the Oxford Dictionary people to remove the beautiful word QUEUE from all the copies sold in India. It doesn't matter either ways.
I found myself lost in the busy and almost crowded compartment after I got in. The numbers on the seat plate were almost all erased by the passage of time. I managed to find my seat number 19 which was by the window side. Ah. I was happy. And there was a shabby looking man in 30's with a weirded gaze in his hollow eyes and wearing clothes dirty enough that made me assume that he should not belong here. I signed him to move aside. And he dared to reply "aapka reservation hai Kya?" And I nodded with a supportive voice "Haan ji". He moved aside slightly reluctantly. I kept my backpack on the overhead iron shelf. Then comforted myself in the so called my reserved seat. Except for the gentleman who sat in front of me, rest all seemed to be a misfit for the reservation compartment. The seats with their typical blue PVC cover was a trademark of Indian Railways. The fabric had torn off at many places exposing the underlying white yarns and frills. They were now grey with dirt and stains. The side wall suggested that a person whose name initials were D.K was a past traveller on the same seat. He had happily left his eternal presence using some sharp objects as his paint brush. Even animals do leave their mark. He proved to be a closer relative.
Now I was looking out of the window. Horizontal running grills reminded me of that freedom of childhood. Sitting by window in a second class railway compartment was a luxury undefined. It opened that panoramic view of world that otherwise was not available sitting in the aisle side. I was a child again and went back a decade or two in history when father used to take us for long family tours. The sun had already set rendering the evening sky in beautiful shades of red and purple. My hands reached for my phone camera and I had taken a few shots by now from the moving train. My eyes had captured that trail if lights going up the mountains at distance, but my camera failed to do so. It didn't matter as long as the feeling of capturing the dusk from train window gave me that little happiness long forgotten. I will share the photo but this one is nowhere close to any of my decent photos.
My thought were broken by a strong and typical voice that pierced in through the crowded gossiping compartment. "Chai - chaaai" "caafeeee chaaaaaiya". The pantry guy with his tea and coffee was here. Hot coffee in left hand and cold breeze brushing at more than 80 kmph in right hand. My hair were not combed for almost a week. Now they were all in natural backstroked manner, thickened by the smoke of the howling Diesel engine. The colours were all natural looking unlike viewed from behind the tinted glass of the air conditioned coach. By closed eyes I could tell when I passed by a rivulet now converted to a stinky nala.
The few hours of travel had passed by smoothly. I had left behind hills of Iggatpuri and Kasara Ghats. The chill in air had transformed into warm gusts of smoky dusty wind. The sense of approaching a metropolitan city was strengthening. Small mud huts to pukka huts to small storey houses to multi floor houses. Then big buildings, some brighter street lights, multi storey skyscrapers, neon lights, billboards and bigger billboards with larger than life celebrities popping out showcasing a million dollar close up smiles. It was very obvious that we had entered the peripheral of Mumbai. People were talking in their local village dialect till now. Suddenly they stared speaking the steely Hindi typical to Mumbai slum dwellers and so called mawali type Hindi. It was rough and respect less. I never realized that we were about to reach Dadar. Time to go.
- Just Vagabond