For those who have seen the movie, this is the story of my very own “Chalo Dilli” experience. For those who haven’t, this is the story of how it took me 11 hours to reach from Pune to Lonavla (a distance of ~60kms).
Last Sunday I was to travel from Pune to Lonavala by the 6am Sinhagad express. Don’t ask me how but at 6:05 am I found myself on the Pune-Secunderabad Shatabdi express. Not only does it go in opposite direction, it has very limited stops. The next stoppage was only at Sholapur 3 hours later. Within the first 10 minutes, all passengers in the two cabins and all of railway staff (except the TT) knew my misfortune and everyone were forthcoming with questions and free advice. I also tried pulling the chain but the train would just not stop. One passenger suggested I should request the driver directly to stop the train momentarily on an intermediate station. Since there was nothing left to do, I thought why not give that a try. So I started towards the driver’s cabin. Before the driver’s cabin was the generator cabin where I was told that the driver’s cabin is inaccessible and that I could not go beyond that room. I resigned to my fate. Thought it’s no use fighting so let’s just go and sit in the cabin and pay the fine and figure out at Sholapur.
The AC attendant, Anupam bhaiya, then asked me to sit on the attendant’s berth, I didn’t question. The AC engineer came later and told me that the TT has done his round and has gone back. I should just stay here and not go inside the cabin else the TT will fine. I made myself comfortable, removed my shoes, sat cross-legged, opened a book and started reading. Anupam bhaiya got me the day’s newspaper and morning chai. At regular intervals someone or the other would come and strike a conversation. Later on Anupam bhaiya gave me proper Shatabdi breakfast tray. About 30 mins before Sholapur, the train stopped in the middle of nowhere. On the opposite track another train (Bangalore-Delhi express) stopped at the same time. Anupam bhaiya and the AC engineer quickly helped me switch the train and told me go up till Daund in the train and switch from there.
The coach I boarded was ladies general. While there was no seat, it wasn’t very crowded. It was a small coach of only 16 sitting seats and in all there were 24 people. Everyone sort of knew each other by that time and I was the newcomer, who boarded in the middle of nowhere. So I narrated my story again. After some time I learnt about a lady’s recent stomach operation; another lady’s troubles with teaching his son English; another one who was going to attend a wedding and her husband is posted in Sikkim and many more. There was Aparajita (~3-4 yreas old) who refused to talk to me but once I took out a biscuit packet she was all the more friendly!
Everytime the train stopped I would look out to see if Daund has come because i didn’t want to miss this stop and go in a third direction. Aparajita’s mother told me “Relax, we will tell you when Dound comes!”.
From Daund onwards there was not much adventure, I took a passenger train to Pune and then a local from Pune to Lonavla and finally reached Lonavla at 5:10pm. As if to mock me the announcement at that time was: “Sinhagad express from Mumbai to Pune is arriving shortly at platform no. 2”.
Till Daund the journey was quite exciting. I was amazed at how everyone helped in their own capacity and how easy it was to converse and be part of people’s lives in the general compartment. I usually travel 3rd or 2nd AC, where it is most difficult to strike a conversation with even your neighbour. Rarely does one get fortunate enough to receive random acts of kindness. And when it happens it leaves us so happy from within. I was humbled by the troubles the railway staff and the ladies in the Bangalore-Delhi express took for me. It strengthened my belief in the inherent goodness of people and somehow I feel this could happen only in India (I know it’s clichéd, but it’s true). If I ask myself, ‘Do I regret it?’ – No; but ‘Do I want to repeat it?’ – No!. Despite all the discomforts, I will always remember this 11 hour journey with a smile.