Coimbatore railway station. 10.05 pm. Obtained a ticket for general travel on board the Cheran Express. I rushed to platform 2 where the train stood for departure. Found the general compartment coaches. They were full. Still I did not give up hope. Kept searching the coaches one general coach after the other, until I noticed a coach with only women seated inside of it. Oops, wrong coach! Retraced my path to the previous coach; got in. There was hardly space to stand.
I stood beside a woman seated on the floor. She looked all braced for the journey, wearing a scarf over her ears, and all. She kept a small green bag beside her. I was standing beside her in the small space I could afford. Even in this pathetic condition people were trying to move about from one end to the other either checking out if there was place or returning to their seats. I asked another person where he was getting down, and he said Chennai. Damn, all these people must be alighting there…Getting a seat was hopeless.
At the woman seated beside me I lend out my hand and offered to keep her bag on the top rack for the luggage. There was a fellow neatly squeezed up on that rack, but he wasn’t so much of a bother. Just wanted to keep the bag up so that people can pass about. Are you going to sit here? the woman asked. I didn’t reply, but thought to my self: No, but seriously what made you think I’d actually do that…?
Then all of a sudden there was quarrel. Somebody’s luggage landed on somebody’s head. They were quarrelling and quarrelling, until the owner of the bag protested: this is what to expect in the general compartment…I felt like this journey is definitely going to be a sour one. It was not the quarrel, or the lady who was about to offer me a seat on the floor, or the fact that almost everyone on that coach was headed for Chennai. I felt may be if I left, it just be one less trouble for all of them.
So I went and asked the owner who hurled his luggage at a fellow passenger: Can we refund a general ticket? He said that we could, but they’d deduct Rs.20 or so. I was a little happy on hearing this. I turned the other way, grabbed my bag, and made for the exit. The owner noticing my relative absence beside him called out to me and said,
Enna boss, dedinu plan maathithingala?
(Why boss, this sudden change of plan?)
I shrugged. Wanted to say something: God bless India. But I quietly got out of the train.
10.30pm. The moment I stepped out of the train it felt like as if a strange divine relief dawned over me. May be getting out of that coach must have been one of the best services I ever did for the Indian Railways.
Level 4 complete!
Getting back to chennai wasn’t that hard after this point. I went to the Kanthipuram bus stand. (Thats the same bus stand I got down earlier). I had to find a bus that goes to Salem. Instead, on reaching the bus stand I asked around for direct Chennai buses. Fortunately there were private bus services. But they cost a little more. What the hell, I’ve come this close to a direct bus to Chennai, I thought, and took the 1st bus I could find. It was a non-ac semi-sleeper video coach. There was a movie going on when I boarded the bus. Dhoom 2. Looking at Aishwarya Rai on the tv screen I felt a little repulsed; I saw Pink Panter 2 the night before on Star Movies. I had enough of Ms Rai for one whole month already…They played Dhoom 2 half way, and then switched on to one of Surya’s old hits – Kaka Kaka.
Don’t remember anything that happened after the 3rd song in the movie. Then I knew the bus halted somewhere; I woke up and got my self a new bottle of water. Activated the Google Maps app on my phone; it showed Thorapur. Heck haven’t heard of this place before. Who cared anyway. Got back into the bus. The next thing I knew, it was morning 7.30 am, and I was in Chennai.
Perhaps the holidays thought me a valuable lesson. Always book your return tickets. But this ride, though it seems like a crazy thing to do, was enjoyable. I don’t regret not booking the tickets. This was truly an experience – another small step towards celebrating the spirit of life.