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16 October 2012

The train journey....

After a gap of almost 6-7 years, I went to a railway station yesterday. 

Brought back a lot of good old memories.

Before 1998, I used to travel long distances only by train. I was working in Durgapur then and my native place was Kerala. I used to travel from Durgapur to Kerala regularly before my marriage. After marriage, since my wife was from Chennai, I used to travel from Durgapur to Chennai. I used to travel a lot, at least about 4 to 5 times in a year.

Since flight cost was prohibitively expensive and upper classes in trains were also very costly, I used to travel mostly by sleeper class. Travelling from Durgapur back to South was fun. The anticipation of spending time with the family was motivation enough. The return trip was equally melancholic. On the one hand I was leaving the family and on the other hand, I was going towards a place and work that I detested.

I used to travel in all the seasons. In winter, in summer, in spring, in autumn and seasons in between. There were two or three regular trains that I used to travel in. There was Coromandal Express, the queen of the trains running between Chennai and Kolkata. Then there were East Coast Express, Kamrup Express and other trains.

The trains used to take an average of 24 to 30 hours to travel between Chennai and Kolkata, a distance of about 1350 Kilometers. The key stations in the route used to be Chennai, Vijayawada, Rajamundry, Visakhapatanam, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Kharagpur.

The whole of India, especially the east coast used to be very hot during Summer months. Some of the cities like Rajamundry used to touch about 48 degree Celsius in that season. In Andhra Pradesh, they dry the red chillies in that season. As the train chugs along through the state, the hot air laden with Spice of the Chilly will blow all over and for some time your eyes brn like crazy as the hot spicy air touches them.

Then there was that Hindi actress Jayaprada who was from Rajamundry. As the train touches the station, through the tear filled and sore eyes, you are wistfully looking all around the platform

For an off chance that Jayaprada will be present there.

Writing about my train journeys bring back a lot of memories. During one of my trips from Durgapur to Chennai, my co-passenger was a Bengali Gentleman working in Tata Steel in Jamshedpur. This man was travelling with his daughter with the objective of admitting her in a management institute in Manipal. He was carrying some money to manage the expenses in South India.  The train reached Cuttack in the early morning and every one was in a sleepy mood. In that twilight, one thief got into the train and walked away with his cash. He was distraught and stressed out. Being a proud Bengali, he was hesitant to ask for money. In one of the rare moments where I showed some sensitivity, I asked him how much money he wanted and gave him the money without asking for any collateral.

He took down my address and after a few days send me the money with a letter which said that 'very rarely will you will find a person like you (he was mentioning me) who is ready to help another person in trouble without asking any questions.' Needless to say, I was pleased as a punch at that letter.

I also remember a journey when I fell extremely sick and had to be carried out of the train at Visakhapatanam station and had to be admitted in the Railway hospital for three days due to acute attack of Bronchial Asthma.

Then there was a two day trip from Kerala to Durgapur where I had a group of pretty Malayali nurses for company for two days. Boy, wasn't that a pleasant journey !!

Kharagpur was the first major station in West Bengal. As the train entered Kharagpur, I will suddenly become sad. I was reminded that I still was working in Durgapur and that I hated it. Durgapur was like a jail and going back to Durgapur was like going back to jail after a pleasant few days of Parole. Sometimes I used to feel so hopeless and used to wonder if I will ever be able to escape the 'Chakravyuha' that I found myself in.

Those were desperate days. I still have nightmares that I have gone back to work in Durgapur Steel Plant.

Those were the 'Non-internet' days. You have to go to the railway station and stand in line to reserve your tickets. The reservations used to open about 60 days in advance and one used to mark one's calendar the dates when one has to go to the railway station to book the tickets.

I also found that the chances of my getting reservation was higher if I book my tickets from Kolkata. I used to board the 6.00 AM train from Durgapur to Kolkata, just so that I can go and stand in the line for booking my tickets to travel to my home town.

Those were expensive train reservations...

There was also a middle man in Durgapur who used to go to Kolkata to reserve tickets. He used to charge 20 rupees for a reservations. It was worth it.

While each of my train journey was worth a story, I will close the article with one of those incidents which in retrospect showed me who I am.

This was just after I had done my MBA in 1997. I was on my way back to Durgapur. During my MBA, I had done a project on analysis of Power sector in India. Having completed this project, I considered myself to be an expert in Power Sector. Remember, I also used to work in the Power Plant of SAIL.

The previous year, the Government of Orissa had initiated major reforms in Power Sector. They had created a new organization named 'TRANSCO' (Transmission Corporation of Orissa), and the consultant was PwC, which was based in Bhuwaneshwar.

Since I had done an MBA in Finance and was an expert in Power Sector, I thought that this was the perfect job for me.

Coramandal Express stops for just about 5 minutes in Bhuwaneshwar. On an impulse, I got down at Bhuwaneshwar.

Mind you, I had no idea about what I was doing. I did not know where was PwC based out of. I did not know if  they were going to recruit. I did not know anything about or anyone in the Organization. Still I got down at an unknown place with hardly any clue of what I was going to do.

PwC office turned out to be very near Bhuwaneshwar Railway Station. I reached the office Shabby and Dishevelled.

My objective was to meet Mr.Lakshmi Narayan who headed the Power Industry Practice in PwC in Bhuwaneshwar.

Needless to say, I was not even able to go beyond the receptionist. This tall, lanky, fair lady sweetly told me, who looked like a vagrant and did not belong to the posh ambience of PwC, that there is no vacancy in PwC in Bhuwaneshwar. She even refused to give me the contact details of Mr.Lakshmi Narayan.

Fair enough....

I shot my bolt. I felt stupid. I went back to the station, took the next train and returned to Durgapur.

It showed me that I was an impulsive person who is ready for adventure.

You know, for about 12 years, my life revolved around train journey. Train was the constant theme of my life. The Sun of my personal solar system and the nucleus around which the electrons of my life revolved.

Visit to the railway station brought back so many memories, so many experiences...

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