A Train Journey
The name of the author Irving Wallace, which I saw in one of the shelves in the Central Dooars Club library was enough to take me some twenty-five years back to one such train journey. We were coming back from Trivandrum via Cochin to Delhi after attending my father’s first death anniversary. After spending a few days with all my relations Gowri and myself left for Ernakulam. There Babuji joined us for a day or two. He was on his way to Trivandrum from Delhi to conduct an SRB interview. Babuji along with his brothers came with us to see us off to Madras.
After the usual ‘Tata Bye Bye’, ‘Take care’, ‘You too’ ‘See you soon’ and all such sayings the train finally started moving. Once we settled down with our suitcase and holdall in place I started looking around for any familiar faces. Our opposite berths were occupied by a young couple – newly married by their looks and behaviour. The young bride was holding an Irving Wallace novel in her hand. The book got my attention being the best seller of that period. They were in a world of their own and the outside did not exist for them. In their eyes I was an old woman nearing fifty and Gowri a mere child of ten or twelve. So there was only silence amongst us – unusual in a railway compartment. We had our dinner at Trichur station and got ready to settle for the night. On our way back from the toilet I met one of Babuji’s cousins with his family in the next division and exchanged some formal news and good wishes with them.
After a good undisturbed sleep I got up the next morning to find we were nearing Arkonam. So another two hours and we would be in Madras. I was looking forward to the hot tumbler of good South Indian coffee one usually got at that junction. The train finally entered the station. And to everybody’s surprise the station was very quiet – no porters rushing into the compartment to help the passengers getting down there, no ‘kapi kapi’ in a sonorous voice or no ‘chai chai’ with the cups clanking against the steel bucket they were carried in, no vendor shouting, ‘Hindu, Express, Ananta Vikatan’ and lastly no announcement in the loud speaker. It was very unusual and spooky. On enquiring a passerby told me that there was a lightning strike by all Railway employees.
Actually the strike by the Railway employees all over India was to start from the 8th of May only and our plan was to be back in Delhi by the 6th after spending two days in Madras.
Time passed and there was no indication of the train moving out of the station. By 9 a.m. most of the passengers started getting off the train with their luggage to find out other means of transport to Madras. And soon our compartment was empty but for Gowri and myself.
Babuji’s cousin with his family too got down without even a look at me or a word and I was really saddened. Maybe in such situations every one was responsible for oneself only – what a thought. And I was soon proved wrong.
By that time the train from Bangalore stopped at the next platform and I was told that this train would be leaving for Madras soon. So Gowri and myself moved ourselves across the platform to that train with the suitcase and holdall and got into a compartment which was occupied by only two persons, an elderly one and a youth. We waited for the train to move but no luck. Those two men seemed good people and on asking I was told they were in the army and going home on leave. I felt I could trust them. So I asked them whether they could help us to get to Madras in any other alternate way. The older man sent the younger one to find out about this. We were all feeling hungry and thirsty and poor Gowri started voicing this. I felt so sad and bad for her and for our plight. Luckily a vendor came selling ‘Sambar Chatham’. I promptly bought two at the atrocious price of Rs. 12 per packet. Normally it cost only Rs 2 or so. We all four of us shared those two packets which appeased our hunger to a certain extent.
Now what next was the problem. The elderly man suggested that if I could trust them we could all share a taxi and reach Madras. Taxis were available to Madras at Rs. 50 per head the younger one had found out and I really jumped at the idea and thanked them. So we got out of the station with those two army men who carried our luggage too without even my asking. In one of the compartments I found my nephew sitting and waiting and I asked him whether he too would come with us. He readily agreed and here too the army men helped him out of the compartment as he was physically impaired and helpless, and carried his luggage too which consisted of a chakkai (jackfruit) too.
We all piled into a waiting taxi with all our luggage when the taxi driver asked for an extra Rs. 50 for the chakkai which was refused outright by my nephew and the taxi wallah refused to budge. I offered to pay that extra Rs. 50 but was shut up by others saying it was the principle and not money that mattered. I was vexed and fuming. What was Rs. 50 at such a situation. But no one listened to me. So we all trooped out of the taxi. What next! The elderly man in no time arranged two bullock carts to take us to the bus stand hoping we could catch a bus to Madras. On reaching the bus stand we found it was really crowded as if a temple festival or a political meeting was going on, with so many people and so many vendors and no bus in sight. I was bereft of all emotions, hope, fear, anger, or expectations. Somehow I just trusted those two men. They were kind enough to treat us all to Sambaram – light lassi, which tasted like nectar to me at that moment.
After waiting a long time a bus en route to Madras stopped. It was overcrowded. For the one-two that got out of the bus there were ten-twenty people to get in. Somehow the young army man managed to get into the bus and the older one just picked each one of us bodily and thrust us into the bus through the window into the younger one’s arms. There two men then piled all our luggage also on the roof of the bus and they too got in through the window. They did not stop there. They found seats for the three of us though they were standing throughout the long hot stifling trip of long four hours to Madras. Though the bus was chock full it stopped whenever and wherever anyone waved it to a stop and took them also. It was a wonder we all reached Madras without the bus bursting at the seams.
At Anna Nagar where the bus stopped again it was these two kind men who not only helped us to get down from the bus but also got down our luggage from the top of the bus without a murmur. I really don’t remember how much I thanked them for their help. All I remember was they soon got inside the bus and I did not have enough strength or time to thank them properly. They were the real army men kind hearted and helpful to the needy without expecting anything in return. God bless them and theirs.
From a nearby store my nephew contacted his parents by phone and in no time we reached my brother’s place in Anna Nagar itself. Soon I contacted Raji and an hour later we were all back at her place.
That day is well etched in my mind and memory. I have forgotten most of the details of the bus journey but I cannot, will not forget those two army jawans who were a godsend to me who help in such a situation. I don’t know their names or where they are now alive or dead! What ever may be by this writing I am conveying my heart felt thanks to them. I am grateful to them for ever.