By Ravindra Bhalerao, 2018
1978..... I was travelling from Delhi Junction to Guwahati by the Tinsukia Mail. Superfast train it is, and yet the food served was poor, I would rather go hungry than buy that stupid thaali. Or I would step down at a station and treat myself to puri -- aloo subzi sold by a vendor. Food is always a big problem during train travel, and so you will find pantry car men carrying a stack of thaalis and almost everyone in 3 tier opts for it. I chose not to do this.
The train drew into Patna station at around 11am. Nice big station. A few miles before the station, the line runs parallel to the aerodrome, so while approaching Patna, you may be lucky to find an Indian Airlines aircraft taking off with a mighty blast while the train quietly rumbles along the tracks. Yes, with the aircraft taking off close by, the sound of your train is but a feeble rumble!
So here we were at Patna station, and I was getting desperate for a drink. The halt was only 10 minutes and time was urgent. The water tap would be far away, and so at times I would get off the train from the off-side, cross a track, and fill up my bottle from a nearby water column. Steam engines were still much in service, and a leaky water column where the engine is filled is sometimes the thirsty travellers' best companion. You see, at many times I have drank from such a column, and taken in water meant for the tummy of a steam engine. How grateful I am that that water column at Patna Junction was a leaky old thing!
And so with my bottle full and my thirst quenched I returned to my seat to deposit the bottle. I wanted to get off at the platform, but found that a heap of luggage had been deposited against the door. Passengers eager to step out on the platform for a chai were bypassing the door, and making their way to the vestibule connection. The canvas of the vestibule was tattered, and you could easily walk through it, and reach the platform by stepping on to the buffer. Others were doing it, so I too went the same way. I emerged from the vestibule, and placed on a foot on the buffer thing. It was quite greasy, and I hesitated. A man was standing at the platform nearby, and seeing my hesitation he offered to steady me with his hand. I was grateful to the man, and calmly stepped onto the platform.
So I was there on Patna platform. It is quite a big station, and the yard is also quite impressive. You have lines and lines and rows of rows of red carriages in the yard. Very often when your train halts at Patna, you will find another train on a nearby platform getting ready for departure -- some local train perhaps, with a steam engine ready for duty. You see smoke curling up lazily from the chimney, and you see locals in colourful dresses seated in the coaches, others milling around on the platform. It's a nice sight to watch.
So here I was on the platform, strolling around. Then after I had stretched out my legs, and had a cup of chai, I was back in the train on my seat, which was a window seat. The train whistled, and we slowly began to pull out of the station. As I gazed out of the window I saw the local train at the next platform still stood motionless. Perhaps an hour after we had left, this colourful train would steam out of the junction making a big noise. Goodbye colourful steam train, and goodbye Patna...
Now, about 5 or- 6 minutes later, as the train was still picking up speed and we were passing through the suburbs, I heard a commotion beside me. I was looking out of the window, so did not see what was going on, but I could hear what the trouble was. A man had come along the corridor and was demanding to be allowed to sit. My co-passengers sitting next to me, all had reservations, and refused flatly. And a big fight was brewing. The man was getting wild, demanding a seat, and my partners were growing equally rude.
All the while, I was calmly looking out of the window, as I did not want to be a part of the argument. Personally, I wouldn't mind letting a short distance traveller sit next to me, as a sleeper berth can easily take 4 people. After a while, as the argument was getting worse, I casually looked up, and to my great surprise I found that the man demanding a seat was the same person who had given me a hand as I stepped out of the train at the station. It was incredible.
At the station, I did not know who this fellow was, for he looked like just any ordinary passenger, or maybe someone who has come to see his friend off. But he was very much a traveller, I could now see. He was going to a place a short distance away, and after offering to help me as I stepped over the buffer, he carefully studied my movements and noted where I went and sat. And when the train started he jumped in, and came to the precise spot where I was sitting to demand a seat ......
So as I said, after a while I looked up, and found that the man fighting for a seat was the same man who had helped me earlier. As soon as I looked up, the man began telling the others -- "Now look, a short while ago, this bhai-sahab (meaning me) was in need, and when I saw he was in need, I offered to help him while he was getting down......."
Well, he had indeed helped me, so there was no way I could fight back saying get moving, we won't let you sit with us. I would rather offer him a place to sit but my partners were adamant, and refused to give him a seat. Finally a man sitting close by, who from the uniform he wore looked like an armyman, rose and began to shout, so our man had to leave and find a place for himself elsewhere.
Where he went, and where he was bound for I have not the slightest idea. It hurts when you are unable to be of any service to a man who's done you a good turn, doesn't it?