Unforgettable rail journeys - Nagpur Pune
by Abhijit Lokre
Have you ever felt so helpless in your life that you would give anyhing to let that moment pass? When all your knowledge, all your reasoning fails and you give up all hope? One such moment in my life...
Nagpur-Pune by Maharashtra express
The year was 1996, the month was February. I was in my fourth year architecture in Pune with an equal passion for trains and buildings and was on a short 4 day trip to Nagpur to visit my sister. In 1996, the Azad Hind express was not a daily train and anyway always ran full from Pune. The Maharashtra express had rather inconvenient timings from Pune (late night departure at 2200ish and late afternoon arrival at Nagpur at 1700ish). So the Nagpur-Pune trip was done by one of the numerous luxury buses on that route. ‘Rahul’ transport took me to Nagpur in 17 hours. (Departure time 1600, arrival time 0900 next morning).
Nagpur is my native place with many relatives and the next four days were spent visiting many of them. My departure was on the Maharashtra express (departure time 1100, arrival in Pune next morning at 0600). This kind of journey suited me fine, with a generous day component and an early morning arrival at Pune. To my delight, my waitlist ticket was confirmed on the side lower berth. What more could I ask??!!
The loco was Bhusawal WAM4 and the rake was a middle aged vacuum braked one. We departed right time and trundled along to Wardha. February is a pleasant time of the year to be in a sleeper class, since you can keep the shutters open without many objections from your co-passengers. Maharashtra express is one of the slower trains in IR and is used by day passengers in Vidarbha. You can find many people traveling to stations like Wardha, Badnera, Akola and Bhusawal. Thus, during the day time, one has to keep on ‘adjusting’ for such passengers.
By the time we reached Akola, I had already ‘adjusted’ 4 such passengers on my side berth. As the train rolled into Akola, I saw a vast sea of passengers waiting to board. In fact, ‘vast’ is an understatement!!! It looked as if all of Akola had decided to abandon their city. It was like a mass exodus. As the train ground to a halt, the mob descended on the train. Within minutes, our coach, with a capacity of 72 people was filled with more than 300 people. No exaggeration!! Sleeper class be damned, reservations be damned, this was a ruthless invasion and the reserved passengers were routed!!
For about 5 minutes, there was complete chaos. Tempers rose, fist cuffs broke out and a stampede looked inevitable. In the melee, the reason for the mob became clear. Apparently, the ‘Shetkari Sanghatna’ (Farmer’s Association) had planned a rally in Aurangabad to protest against the government for some anti-farmer decision or other and all these ‘extra’ passengers were farmers on their way to Aurangabad via Manmad to support their leader.
The next six-seven hours were the worst hours of my life. If I thought four people on the side lower berth was uncomfortable before Akola, now I found myself sandwiched between two ladies, who themselves formed part of a gang of about 10-12 people. In total, about 12-15 people now occupied just the lower berth. About 10 sat with their legs dangling from the side upper. Every part of the bogie had taken over. It was like a swarm of locusts had taken over!! After a 15 minute halt, the train slowly crept out. It was if the WAM4 too felt the weight of the train now!!
My emotions ranged from seething rage at IR to apathy to a philosophical resignation to my fate. The smell in the bogie became overpowering. With no cross ventilation, the bogie became stifling and even breathing became a huge task. The loo was out of bounds and all the reserved passengers gave up all hope. The RPF had vanished and the TC most probably must have shifted to the guards van or the loco cab!! I tried to sleep, gave up (the smell was too overpowering), tried counting sheep, ran out of sheep (!!), tried all tricks to take my mind elsewhere and failed!!! In the end, I broke up the time till Manmad into segments of 15 minutes each and started counting each segment. As I mentally crossed out each 15 minute slot, my spirit would rise an inch higher. Thus, the next few hours were spent with my legs tucked up under my chin and a determined expression on my chin that I had to see this phase through!!!
After seven hours of misery, at around 2200 in the night, the train finally rolled into Manmad. The population of Manmad rose by some % (!!) and I started breathing again. The TC sheepishly made his way back to our coach. I finally stretched my legs and went out for a stroll. It felt like heaven. Most of the passengers were taking a walk outside trying to get some circulation back into their limbs and forget the horrible experience inside the train. Back in the train, it still stank and people kept looking at their berths with suspicion!!! Newspapers were procured and laid on the berths before the shawls and mattresses and as the train left Manmad half an hour later, some semblance of order returned.
Pune was reached on time next day and thus ended one of my more unforgettable IR journeys!! Wonder which poor train bore the brunt of the farmers rally from Manmad to Aurangabad???!!!