The previous evening I had made arrangements to go to the New Delhi railway station, mistaking the departure station of the Trivandrum Rajdhani Express. Fortunately, I remembered in time that I had disembarked at Hazrat Nizamudin railway station on my inward journey. Anyway, no harm was done for I had enough buffer time on hand for the change. Despite the last minute change I had about an hour at the Hazrat Nizamudin station before departure of the train. The station premises and the platform were quite unclean and covered with flies. I found a group of Mallu servicemen in an interesting conversation blitzing the politics of Kerala and lost myself in that. I would have remained engrossed in that till the rake was backed on the platform had it not been for the pesky shoe shine boy who insisted on cleaning up my sneakers for a bargain of Rs. 20. I gave in after shooing off for a while. He completed a fairly good job and proceeded to offer certain value add to keep the sneakers from creasing. He quietly told me that it would cost Rs. 10 and proceeded to put some studs on the sole of the sneaker. I found it uncomfortable and asked him to take it away. He had by then put in about eight studs and demanded Rs. 80 for them! He said he meant it to be Rs. 10 per stud. I had him take out the entire lot and settled for an extra Rs. 10 for the effort he had put in! Talk about getting conned - there are many ways.
The rake of the Rajdhani Express was brought on the platform about 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time of 11 AM. I located my berth on the chart pasted near the door of the IAC coach; was surprised to be allotted a berth in the coupe. The coupe is more private. I settled on the lower berth awaiting the co-passenger. I spread out what I needed for use during the long journey. I was making a few last minute good byes over the phone when a person opened the door to the coupe and kept alternating between a few sheets of paper in his hand and my face. After a few seconds of this I suspected he was comparing a photograph in his hand with what he saw on the lower berth, it was a bit disconcerting. I shortened the good bye and asked the gentleman if I could be of any help to him. He was quite certain that I had usurped his berth. He also confirmed having checked the chart near the door. I feared I had made a mistake. Both of us checked the chart together. Pointing out the mistake he had made I assumed a very humble demeanor! I wonder how he made peace with his wife who must have been looking forward to a romantic 36 hours in the coupe!! I even mustered enough humility to apologize to her!!!
The train started on time and the water bottle arrived. The IAC travel is quite a luxury. The food served in IAC is much the same as it is in IIAC. The difference is in the manner in which it is served. Crockery, cutlery and a better ambience made for tastier appeasement of the appetite. Lunch and dinner are almost unvarying fares – but then, how much variety can you have on a train. Nutritious food was served hygienically and at regular intervals. However, there was one cause for worry throughout the journey; it was the poor enginemanship possibly combined with loose couplings of the rake. The combination produced so many jhatkas every time the train accelerated and decelerated that I worried for the safety of the train. There was a time when loco drivers used to be charge-sheeted and punished for such shoddy work. Besides, when the jhatkas happen as the food is being had it gets nasty. I had a butter dipped bread stick partially up my nose and hot tea spilt all over my hand. A day and a half of experiencing the jhatkas has placed me in the elite company of the ‘item numbers’. I am ready for the Munnis, the Jalebi Bhais and the Chikni Chamelis after the impromptu training. If people see a difference in my walk after the journey, complete with pelvic thrusts, please understand it can happen to you too when you travel by the Rajdhani Express. I intend to retain my train ticket to prove that is what made the difference.
The time during the journey – between the jhatkas - was primarily to recap the wonderful experiences of the past two weeks and the selfless and helpful people who helped it be that way. Sajeesh, Ashok, Sudhir, Srikant, Prakash, Umesh, Sharma, Gopal – the list is long and no amount of thanksgiving can compensate for the help and assistance they provided. Most acts of human kindness are invaluable and incapable of being assessed in materialistic ways. A journey is incomplete without the people who make a difference to it – be it the journey of life or one where the Rajdhani is involved.