“My Vishram in the Ashram”
by Sivaram H
This was the time when I was doing my Master's degree in Ahmedabad. The year was 1987 and the month was August. Gujarat was boiling under a torrid drought spell. The drought which started way back in 85, was put to an end by the deluge in 88.
Ahmedabad was sweltering and the temparature was 48. I do not recollect how I got this funny idea of visiting my sister in N.Delhi. Ofcourse, it had been a long time since I had seen her in person. Added to that, I was very eager to see my 2 year old neice, about whom my sister wrote a lot in her letters.
I decided to make this a surprise visit. I immediately rushed to the Ahmedabad station. Some of my friends had recommended me the Ashram express. Still others, the Sarvodaya. On reaching the station, I found that there was no vacancy in either of the trains. Some people there, suggested me to take a train to baroda and then try to get a passage to Delhi from there as there are a lot of trains going to Delhi from Vadodra(Thats how Baroda is called in Gujarathi).
The Ashram Express was scheduled to depart A'bad at 4.00PM and it was already 3.00PM. I had to make my mind. I decided to travel in the un-reserved compartment. I decided to give it a shot as I had a sense of romance with meter guage trains. Also, the Ashram passed through Eastern Rajasthan, the state which I had never been to, but only seen in glossy tabloids of NAMASKAAR magazine of Air India. I had sense of fascination for the state. It reminded me of the days of yore, of Rana-Pratap, Padmini and other great Rajpuths.
The train was scheduled to reach Old-Delhi at 11.00AM , the next day. So I got the ticket and walked a long way on the over-bridge to the meter-guage platform. On Reaching the platform, I was hounded by a group of porters, who were offering me a guaranteed place to sit in the unreserved comp for 10 Rupees. At first I declined, but then had to change my mind seeing the huge crowd that was waiting for the unreserved bogie. No way, was I going to stand for 19 hours. So I gave in to their talk.
When the train arrived on the platform, the crowd roared for the unreserved bogie. I don't know how I got in but I got my seat. Unfortunately it was not near the window. Soon the bogie was bursting at its seams. It was hell waiting for the train to start in that heat. There was not even place to move. Finally the train jerked to a start.
The train moved at a reasonable speed upto Mehsaana, in Northern Gujarat. Mehasaana came after a 2hr run. In spite of the heat and the crowd, I was enjoying. This was the real thrill, the real India, not the India of first-class compartments and chair-cars. I started up a conversation with a Patel farmer from Mehsaana who was nostalgizing over the times when Northern Gujrat used to be a land of greenery. Today, most of it is arid to semi-arid and the desert up North in Rajasthan is now spreading down south. I also started a conversation with a poor Rajasthani peasant and I was struck by his level of aawareness, in spite of not having gone to school. He assured me that the crowd will subside once we reached Ajmer(which was to come at midnight).
Once the empty wastes of the Thar was reached, the train suddenly exploded into a terrific speed. Being meter-guage, it was swaying wildly from side to side. At times I felt that we would derail, but the Ashram was thundering on through the desert. The sound of the train echoed back from the desert was tremendous. A lot of sand was blowing in and the people shut the windows. The sun had already set by this time and I could see nothing. The night passed through fits of conversation over sipped tea(I'll never forget that).
As the peasant had said, the crowd eased after Ajmer and there was more leg-room. I did not sleep that night and was merrily chatting with the farmers. It was great.
The night passed by and soon it began to light up. The train was thundering at top speed and one could hardly see anything outside, because of the blinding cloud of dust and sand generated by the train. However, when the train halted for a signal, the cloud subsided and I could see the orange landscape of the desert(Just like in the Tabloids. It was a dream come true). From a distance, I could see the great warriors like Rana-Pratap riding on his Chetak in my mind's eye.
I finally reached Old-Delhi at the correct time. I cabbed the way home. My sister was stunned. "How the hell" she asked. Seeing the dustand grime on my clothes she asked" where did you roll on". I said that I am coming from the Ashram. Ahram! she says,," What do you mean !!!!!!"