I Shall Get the Sweets Myself!

by Aswin Kumar


9 November, 2012

I press my index finger on those two squared dates in my college calendar, my uncut nail making an impression on the printed paper. A holiday on Monday and Tuesday would make any college goer drool at the thought of wrapping himself under the covers for the next four days, but not this time. Diwali, though printed small is beaming at me mercilessly. ‘Bhai… Mein ghar ja raha hoon! Happy Diwali…!’ voices echo and trolleys rumble across the hostel corridors. This was getting subliminal. I want to go home which is 2400 kilometres away just to celebrate this day, being my first Diwali away. The clock shows 20:47. I turn to Vinay, my roomie who is busy watching a Marathi news channel as usual in his laptop - ‘Aren’t you going home?’

‘Nah! As long as they courier me the sweets.’

‘I wish I can be home for Diwali.’

‘You only plan, but never execute them when it comes to trips,’ Vinay is quick to allege. He removes his headphones and hangs them on his chair’s backrest and prepares to leave for a round of gossips across the floor.

My eyes remain glued to the clock while more trolleys roll across the corridors. It is 21:10. I quickly jump before my laptop and try searching for options to reach Chennai from Delhi. The Grand Trunk and Tamilnadu are a day away, which means I would reach Chennai a day later – the Diwali morning to be precise. Other morning and afternoon departures too show a dismal GNWL of 400 and odd. No REGRET yet? The Tatkal should have been done in the morning, I regret again. Getting a confirmed ticket for Diwali reminds me of the banned Diwali bumper lotteries of K.A.S.Sekar in Tamilnadu of the yore. Anyway, I give myself a ‘proceed’ and begin dumping couple of clothes and a handful of travel essentials into my backpack.

The luggage is zipped in the next ten minutes since I got to make a quick dash to the bus stand a kilometre away to board the 21:45 to Dilli. I knock the door of my wingie where Vinay is still gossiping.

‘I’m going home.’

‘What! You are seriously going?’ Vinay’s voice goes up in a surprised and an equally breaking tone.

‘Yes, and I’m doing my trip this time. Just thought I should let you know before I leave. Happy Diwali!’, I give him a hug and wish the wingie as well.

‘So how are you going? You have confirmed tickets?’

‘You will know that from my FB status tomorrow! See you.’

10 November, 2012

The bus from Churu drops me at Sarai Kale Khan at 03:25 and I enter Hazrat Nizamuddin with my eyelids ready to shut any moment. The bumpy ride through the night has ensured me a backache, thanks to the condition of the Haryana state highways plus some rash driving. With yawns forcing me gape my jaws every now and then, I sit on one of the piled up parcels in the southern end of the PF 5. I look totally out of place just wearing a tee and a jean with nothing else to protect me earning the stares from the crowd around which is fully geared up in their winter attire and ready to barge into their respective homebound trains. I lie backwards on my backpack looking at the purple early morning sky while my mouth smokes away.

The Karnataka Sampark Kranti is brought in on the same platform at 06:20 for a departure 25 minutes later. Half the crowd embark their coaches with happiness much visible through their eyes. And there’s the Tamilnadu bound happy crowd as well, the one I proudly belong to, awaiting its temporary home for the next forty nine hours. Belonging to Chennai, Villupuram, Trichy, Madurai, Tirunelveli, Nagercoil and Kanniyakumari – they all would be home by Deebawali’s eve or the morning, reuniting with their families, their friends and relatives to grace the festivity. The Sampark Kranti leaves five minutes behind schedule and the rake of the Thirukkural Express is brought in by RPM 22071 at 07:00 to make the platform go mayhem, once again. Move your finger through an ant trail and you know what it looks like. There’s a sense of urgency among everyone in finding their coach and seats even though the departure is a good 20 minutes away and their home a tremendous thirty six hours away at least. I find my seat – a front facing one on the action end of the train. The old workhorse was just five coaches away, well under vicinity.

The 3900 horses ahead begin pulling us forward at 07:24 and we kick start our Diwali homecoming. The suburbs are rocketed through the mild fog and we slow down after Palwal when the gentleman opposite me takes out his bag from under his legs, a huge bag I should say. He unpacks one of the food packets – a neatly silver foil rolled set of Rotis and Aloo Sabzi to serve as the ‘touchings’. There is also a big family in the bay opposite and they have unpacked their breakfast too. The family has the Mom, Dad, a Grandma and three noisy kids, and there is food for all. So much food that they suggest me ‘Eduthukonga thambi’ (Have it, brother) and I politely decline their offer. I have always followed the ‘You eat yours, I eat mine’ policy when it came to train journeys. There have been moments I have had some really tasty food only for myself without even asking my co-passengers despite having long and engaging talks with them. Probably they might have even thought that I was a mean fellow or a selfish one. Never mind, they aren’t gonna come along my life anyway. The family does have some lip smacking Dosas and Tomato Chutney neatly packed up. But seriously, who gets so many Dosas cooked at home and packed for a big family for an early morning departure? The answer comes after a casual chat with them when they reveal that they run an Idly/Dosa shop in Delhi having come from Tirunelveli and settled here.

We continue hurtling towards Agra after letting Taj to proceed ahead of us while the gentleman before me asks – ‘You don’t having anything to eat? You didn’t get packed food like us?’

‘I planned the trip during the last minute. I didn’t get anything packed except for the biscuit packets I bought from the platform’ – I unzip my bag and pull out a packet to eat.

‘My decision was also a last minute one, but see, I have packed them all to manage till Chennai. I’ve got a lot of sweets and other goodies packed for my kids and family as well’ he smiles, going back to his home in Nagercoil. Now that’s a tight slap on my face. What am I doing going home for a festival without getting my parents anything? So much for the surprise.

Agra gets respected for five minutes from 10:47 and Gwalior only gets us to see roar through at 12:34. We arrive Jhansi at 14:12 and I get down for purchasing my lunch – another couple of biscuit packets and a samosa to act as starters. My lunch is done and we depart yet again at 14:33. I sink into my afternoon nap to wake up before Bhopal. We have now accumulated a delay of 2 hours and are received on the customary PF 1 at Bhopal. A huge group proceeding for a wedding in Betul invades our coach, placing (read tossing) their baggage anywhere and everywhere as if they own every bit of the unoccupied space. In short – another big UR crowd. Hope the wedding wasn’t planned at the last moment. It’s getting colder now, I skip my dinner (no biscuit packets left with me now!) and decide to curl myself and hit the sack as we rattle through the Budni ghats enroute Itarsi. The run through the ghat section pulls the plunger back in the syringe and injects sleep in me. An early end to the day…

11 November, 2012

I wake up, just in time to witness Ramagundam a curve away waiting like ten-pins to go down as we boisterously proceed at a-hundred-and-ten clicks. . My biological clock seems to be foolproof when it comes to experiencing Ramagundam being dealt at MPS irrespective of the hour of the day during all my trips. With a string of greens welcoming us, our loco only seemed eager to swallow them all in greed. The thermal power town is gunned down at 06:38 and we scurry towards Warangal to make up lost time, though we have already made up a considerable loss. My coach sports a heavily overcrowded look now and I get up to negotiate the people sitting on the floor to make my way to the washbasin area. My phone’s battery had died and I see this chap, standing near the door swapping sim cards from his phone to another co-passenger’s. He is frantically making calls to his family and friends announcing his sudden plan to come home for Diwali. I watch him with all amusement and I see myself in him – the only difference being that I haven’t let my family know my homecoming for Diwali yet.

He sees me noticing and manages to smile. I grin back at him, with all the froth the toothpaste has generated in my mouth. Soon after spitting them into the washbasin…

‘Where are you heading to?’

‘Trichy, you?’

‘Chennai… No charge in your phone too is it?’

‘Yeah! Thought of going home at the last moment and arrived the station directly from office. I don’t wanna miss Diwali this time. We have a big movie releasing too. Wanna catch it with all my buddies back home.’ he chuckles with happiness and excitement brimming in his eyes. Suresh had boarded at Nagpur midnight and was heading to Trichy almost after a year.

‘My colleagues are in S2, let’s move there to charge our mobiles,’ he suggests and I agree. Our train pulls into the PF 1 of Warangal at 08:00 and begin hauling ourselves on the platform towards S2. We give up the idea of going through the vestibules looking at the crowd sitting all along the way. Well, what can you expect when a train is running with a GNWL of 400 plus and a CKWL of 100 plus arriving its destination on Diwali! You have a PRS ticket - you don’t get auto-refunded - you have the license to board the train. Quite simple isn’t it?

Suresh and I board S2 after a good sprint with our backpacks. His colleagues welcome us with couple of news – one bad and one good – the bad one being that the coach does not have charging points and the good one being that they (the entire bay) will get down at Vijayawada though they had booked their tickets till Madras Egmore and we can take over the entire bay, just for both of us. We set out on a quest to find the nearest charging point. It doesn’t seem that easy when there are scores of people squatting on the way and Army men who probably weren’t successful in getting their tickets confirmed sleeping with their trunks near the doorway. None of the coaches from S1 to S6 seem to have chargers. Handpicked sleeper coaches to form a rake probably? We continue our exploration without giving up and cross the Pantry Car which looks haunted with very few utensils, and just 4 men running the show. Forget food getting delivered at your seat. Cutlets are on the way, by the way. We reach S7 which finally has a pair of charging points, but wait, I see two extension boxes plugged and 12 mobiles charging in it – all occupied in the side-upper-berth of seat no.72! ‘This is the only coach having charging points in this entire train apart from the AC coaches, so we made this arrangement,’ the tall chap resting his arms on the side-upper-berth laughs widely.

The run from Warangal has been a disaster so far now, and sprinkling salt all over the wound we brake again to a halt at Rayanapadu. I hand over my mobile to Suresh who is charging his and decide to go for a walk on the platform where half the (over)crowd had already detrained wanting for some fresh air from the dungeon-ed coaches. 25 minutes into the halt and finally the amber is given. We unplug our chargers and decide to get back to S2 where his colleagues are presumably waiting to hand over their bay to us. Our train pulls into PF 1 of Vijayawada at 11:25 and the bay is all ours. Majority of the crowd in our coach is getting down here for good and the dusty sleeper coach heaves a sigh of relief. We get down and head straight into Comesum to purchase our Chicken Biriyani priced-but-not-worth at INR 150 and a Thums Up while the milk tankers in the rear end of the rake are getting detached. The latrines are getting a much needed wash and the taps on the other side of the platform are busy filling water into the coach. We depart at 11:45 and the crew decides to crank it crazy through the Krishna while we relish (not really!) our Biriyani.

Just as I nestle in the berth after throwing away my emptied Biriyani packet I receive a call from my Mom. ‘Why is it very noisy there? What are you doing in your college now?’

I try closing the mic with my other hand so that she doesn’t hear the ‘dhadak-dhadak’ which suddenly sounds all the more amplified. ‘Nothing maa, just came out to the market area to have lunch. We guys just thought of having an early lunch today. That’s why!’ – I’m quick enough to realize that the time isn’t even 12:00, and I’m already done with my meal.

‘So tell me, what sweets shall I make for Diwali? I wish you were here. I will send them all through courier anyway.’

The phone goes dead after I ‘order’ my Diwali recipes. I’m sure she didn’t find out that I’m on board a train. With less than 7 hours to surprise my family, I slip into slumber moments after we crack through Tenali.

After hours of consistent barrelling we branch off the main line at Korukkupet and begin cruising through the stretch along the slum towards Chennai Egmore, non-stop. The aroma of Chicken Curry getting ready in one of those matchbox sized dwellings wafts through the air and gets me back to my ‘southern’ senses. Slums aren’t just about stinking. The festive mood is evident through the grilled windows for the dawn is gonna be the biggest and the most celebrated festival across the country. The Seths of Sowcarpet and the Pisthas of Periyamet have already begun their aerial display. Nothing better than the city you love the most welcoming you in such a fashion. Such little pleasures… I unchain my backpack and try getting near the door so that when the train (if at all) halts at Egmore Home, it would be a piece of cake to jump off onto the platforms of Park and walk my way to Central where I will board my Local to home. Just as I near the door, I see two amused men engaged in a conversation…

A: ‘Ennama adichi otinaan pa driver Vijayawada thaandi... Gudur ku 4 mani naeram kooda agala!’ (What an aggressive driving by the driver after Vijayawada! It hardly took 4 hours to reach Gudur)

B: ‘Naan nenaikiren Tamilnadu otra adhey driver dhan inniki idha oturaan nu...’ (I guess the same driver who handles the Tamilnadu did the honors today)

A: ‘Paavam, avanum Deepavali ku ooruku poganum la... Adhan adichi thallikitu vandhuruppan!’ (Poor fellow, even he needs to get back home for Diwali right? May be that’s why he blasted all the way)

Our rail journeys will remain incomplete without such interesting laymen exchanges where it is the ‘driver’ who turns hero one fine day and a villain for most of the occasions. Controllers never exist in their rail-world which makes it all the more enjoyable for folks like us to overhear their conversations. Things look so simple when you have little knowledge about it, rightly said as ignorance is bliss. And as expected, my train comes to a halt at Egmore Home and I force myself through the gentlemen and jump onto Park’s platform. I bid goodbye to Suresh wishing him a very happy Diwali and proceed to Madras Central while its illuminated clock dial shows 18:05.

I ring the doorbell at 18:50 to find my Dad screaming an ‘Adappavi!’ (Oh my God!). Hugging him, I wink at my Mom who is holding both of us together.

‘How did you come? Is there an evening arrival from Delhi?’ Dad is still surprised how I made it. ‘Came by Thirukkural, pa. Bi-weekly it is.’

‘How did you manage to get tickets at the last moment?’

‘Who said I got tickets? I came by Unreserved till Vijayawada and managed a berth thereafter!’

‘You came in the general compartment all the way from Delhi?!’ Dad is taken aback, furthermore. I return him a smug and switch on the heater to have a much needed bath.

‘See, I have made your sweets just in time of your arrival!’ Mom brings the Diwali sweet hot from the oven and places it on the teapoy under the fan to dry away so that it can be sliced.

You speak as if you knew I’m coming.’

‘Do you think I can’t differentiate the noise between a marketplace and a train? I’m your Mom – obviously smarter than you!’ Mom chuckles.

You don’t go home for festivals. It is a festival whenever you go home!

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