Monday, January 10, 2005

Days 16, 17 - The Return Journey

I wake up at a leisurely 8 AM! Today is January 1, 2005. A tea is a good enough refreshment.

I am already in a rewind mode. The train route retraces my cycling route backwards, with few exceptions...

Already the train is crossing the huge bridge on the Kendrapara river near Cuttack. I relive the bumpy moments and am narrating the same to some of my co-passengers. They show me another bridge (a new one), which is supposedly beter. Meanwhile, an old man(Dharam's acquaintance) is giving me some publicity in his group.

Me and Dharam are awaiting the arrival of Bhubaneshwar - this will be the time when the group from Kolkata will get down, and we will get back to our right places and be masters of the cabin (or most likely the masters of the bogie!).

After Bhubaneshwar, we are left staring at a more-or-less empty bogie- and yes, we are the masters! Not for long, though - our "kingdom" lasts till the next station where the aam janata decides to enter the reserved cabin. There aren't many of them, but our style has been effectively cramped.

Dharam has given me good company and more. We have talked incessantly for some time - mostly about orissa, bihar and the difference between them. His view is that Orissa is a nice place. The people there don't bother anybody too much. But Bihar is - well... terrible! (Biharis please don't flame me : I am just echoing his views). And he isn't talking after reading newspapers - he is speaking purely from personal experience. He did his XI and XII standard in Bihar, got fed up of the vile language there, and returned to Kolkata for his B.Com. He is currently doing his final year of the B.Com. course.

Dharam is well prepared for the train journey - everything from food, clothes to soap. He has even brought a cap -- he intends to get his head shaven at Tirupati, and the cap is for the return journey!

Dharam is an organised guy for someone his age. He does tutions for primary and high-school students and earns atleast 4000 rupees a month. Of this, some he gives to his father (his father is still working, but this is his way of playing his part), he saves 1000 rupees a month in his bank (now, how many software engineers do you know who save that much?), everything else is for his clothes and other things. He does go around in style! And going by his daily schedule, he is every bit a busybody. To top it off - he is very co-operative too. In short, an ideal companion for a long trip..

Meanwhile, I have had a crappy, insufficient lunch (supplied by railways) and a small nap. I woke up hungry - but help is at hand! It is Dharam offering me bananas. I eat one. I do have a mind to eat more, but I don't want to end his supplies.

As the train is crossing one station after another, I an remembering the wonderful things that happened, the moments, and all these tales I heap on a hapless Dharam - who seems to be enjoying it all!

We have quickly crossed Chattarpur, Berhampur and Icchapuram.

Dharam is worried about the "language problem" that he might face in Andhra Pradesh. I am quick to assure him that I've managed fine in AP. Hindi must work with anybody who has a TV set at home! As a live example, I pose a harmless question in hindi to an educated looking passerby - and get the expected reply.

Our other discussions center around the food differences, languages and places to see. Dharam has a walkman, which is turning out to be useful. I sing a few of my own favourite songs for his pleasure.

Two rural women who were in our cabin have been told to goto the general compartment by the TC. This leads to a discussion between me and Dharam. Our consensus is that it is generally the poor (read:ill dressed) who bear the brunt of such treatment. There were many others also whou ought to be sitting in the general compartment, but were travelling undisturbed in our bogie - and the TC had conveniently overlooked it all!

Our train is generally running on time or ahead of time. At evening, we get off the platform and we get more company - a person working in a courier office in Kolkata who is also going on his yearly piligrimage to Tirupati. He generally refuses to believe my story - till he sees my diary. He even wants to see my visiting card, but I am equally adamant in not showing it!

Meanwhile, my Airtel SIM card has become a useless chip - my balance has become zero mysteriously! Time to revert to Hutch; Hutch covers AP adequately, and as a proof, I get a phone call in the evening. Nice!

After sunset, we spend time staring at the engulfing darkness outside and munching anything that becomes available in the train!

After 7 PM, it becomes increasingly difficult to pass time. The train stops at Vizianagaram; and we are left ot fend ourselves against the mosquitos, with Dharam being successful atleast once.

Dharam has just told me about his terrible experience in Bihar:

They (him+family) were apparently going in a Tata Sumo near Bhojpur(in Bihar). They had over rupees one lakh in cash. A Hero Honda Splendour motorcycle with three rogues overtook and stopped them (the road condition was very bad - so there was not much the Sumo could do). They slapped the driver and demanded the moolah. The driver was a clever chap and well acquainted with Bihar - he had hidden the money under the seat. He told the rogues that there was nothing. Meanwhile, a pistol was slapped onto Dharam's head. Dharam had a gold ring, a gold chain and 2000 rupees in cash - and every mind to give away all that in exchange for his life. Meanwhile, the rogues searched everywhere without luck. They then told Dharam's parents: agar aapke bacche ko kuch ho jaata to hum aapko kya muh dikhate. Wow! The story had a surprise ending with the foiled dacoits leaving with a quiet apology for attacking the wrong vehicle! True gentlemen, Bihar style!

And please don't think that all this happened in an isolated place; it happened in the middle of a bazaar and everyone had downed their shutters and run away in a hurry! They must have been locally well known thugs.

And now I can see why, in the eyes of a bengali, Orissa is so good -- surely in comparison to Bihar -- which, in their eyes, is the greatest evil.

This incident is Dharam's nightmare. And Bihar's reality....

After hearing this incident, we quietly doze off - we are both hungry and hope that we will get something to eat at Vizag; which the train will reach at 11:00 PM.

It is 11:20 PM by time we reach Vizag. I remember Shubhan, but opt no to call him at this late hour. We get a masala dosa parcel each. Very tasty! I am not satisfied with one, so I eat one more. It is bananas after the doas and some idle chat after that. It is 12:30 by the time sleep overtakes us.

When we wake up the next day, it is 8 AM and the train is ready to leave Vijayawada. Time to brush up and get ready to while away time till the evening.

An average tasting coffee signals the beginning of the day. Chowbey (the courier chap from Kolkata) has joined us. So it is time to sing some songs. Some comic relief is provided by a beggar who has come around dressed as Gandhiji. I reward him with a photo and one rupee. Dharam has tried to learn some telugu from a local woman sitting opposite to him - and me and Chowbey are doubling up with laughter most of the time. I give Dharam some telugu sentences to help him along. I buy some doodh-peda to sweeten everyones' mouth and we all fall quiet again.

Post Tenali, and we have all got into wait-for-Tirupati mode. The train finally reaches Tirupati at 4:10 -- just ten minutes late. I give Dharam a hug and bid him goodbye with a heavy heart - when will I meet him again ?

I can see my cycle on the platform - already unloaded. I ask for my cycle at the luggage counter but they say that it will take some time. So, I goto the bus stand and learn that there is a Rajahamsa to Bangalore at 5:00. So I hurry back to the railway station, get the cycle and am back at the bus stand. I get a seat and the bus starts at 5:10!

I am back in Majestic at 11:00 PM. And back home at 11:25 PM. Yay! And my trip has finally ended with that - time to wait till December again for my next one.


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