Suits on the Shatabdi
by Mohan Bhuyan
It's taken me more than 10 days to file this report, but better late than never! Last to last week, an office colleague and I had to make a day trip to Chandigarh. So 7:20 am on that cold Thursday morning found me in a crowd of other "suits" contemplating the Chandigarh Shatabdi on Platform No 1, New Delhi. A quick check in our AC Chair Car to ensure that my colleague had arrived safely with office laptop in hand, and after dumping my bag on the overhead rack, I set off to the front to see which locomotive was doing the honours this morning.
Was pleasantly surprised to see a WAP 5 because it would be the first time I was going to be pulled by one. (For those interested, the no. was 30007). A quick look into the cab (much more comfy looking than the older WAPs) was followed by a desperate search for an appropriately knowledgeable question to be thrown at the driver. I had just about decided on "what is the booked speed between here and Ambala", when said driver turned around and gave me the "don't even think about asking any silly questions" look. So I beat a hasty retreat and proceeded to explain to a politely disinterested colleague what WAP meant.
The Chd Shatabdi pulled out bang on time (7.40) and in a few minutes we were treated to the dismal sights of Northwest Delhi. After Subzi Mandi, the WAP 5 began its sprint, and boy was I impressed. In no time at all we were at Panipat Jn. After which the train slowed somewhat to accommodate what seemed like an infinite number of working gangs.The only consolation was that the WAP 5 didnt need too much time to stop or accelerate. To add to my dismay we stopped at Kurukshetra, a place I do not rate as a Shatabdi halt. Between Kurukshetra & Ambala I finally managed to drag my eyes away from the lush Haryana countryside and towards the laptop to make the finishing touches to our presentation.
I was expecting the train to slow down considerably on the single line stretch beyond Ambala Cantt. but the WAP 5 carried on regardless. One halt for yet another work party later, we glided into Chandigarh about 10 mins late. Seeing the army of suits rushing towards the single exit in an otherwise faultless station made me revise my opinion about Chandigarh and its importance.
Back to the tidy station at 5.30 pm to catch the returning Himalayan Queen from Kalka. Seeing many familiar faces among the suits (now with loosened ties) made me think that NR had got its Shatabdi timings all wrong ( returns to Delhi at 12.15, helping no one). After all, we would all gladly have abandoned the Himalayan Queen for the much faster and comfier Shatabdi. ( I think NR read our thoughts because today - Republic Day, there are big ads in the papers saying that the Chandigarh Shatabdi has been extended to Kalka & the returning train leaves Kalka at a very appropriate 5.30 pm).
The Himalayan Queen arrived behind a mud streaked WAP1. Our AC Chair Car looked very old too. By this time we were ravenous, and I told my colleague not to worry as there would be a stream of railway hawkers bearing all kinds of food. But one oily veg cutlet later I decided to try and see what would be on offer at busy, bustling Ambala Cantt.
At Ambala I found 5 vendors all selling exactly the same deadly looking Chola with stone cold Kulchas, and nothing else. What's happening to railway station food nowadays? Where is the variety let alone the taste? I think even North India is going the way of the culinarily bereft South Indian railway platforms!
Anyway, the darkness combined with layers of dirt on an already smoked window pane to make the rest of the journey quite monotonous. The old Himalayan Queen struggled valiantly between its numerous stops and we reached Subzi Mandi well in time at about 9:30. On an impulse, I got off there and after a brisk walk through a dark alley, a 2 minute bus ride and 15 minutes in an ancient auto, I reached home at exactly 10.10 pm. Which was just as well, because my abandoned colleague told me the next day that the poor old Himalyan Queen stopped in no man's land for a long time and only made it to NDLS at 10.40 pm - half an hour late!