I sensed it, before I heard it. There I was standing on Platform No. 1 of Nagpur Railway Station. Checking out which newspaper to buy. I glanced sideways. The train was moving! Bloody hell! I had not heard any announcement. Nor the normally loud horn of the diesel engine pulling my train. The superfast Tamil Nadu Express.
I turned and ran. Straight into a man carrying a steel trunk. It hit me on the shin. But, now was not the time to think about the pain. Now, was the time to run. And to catch the train. “Don’t get down from the train, before it reaches Madras” my dad had warned me last night, before the train left New Delhi at 10 PM. And here I was, running after a train that was accelerating out of Nagpur.
Well, now was the time to put all the skills learnt catching those DTC buses to school and back. I had been using the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses for the last 2 years. Initially, I would patiently wait for an opportunity to push others in, or get pushed myself into the narrow doors at the rear of the bus. That was when I was 13. Things had changed in the last one year. Running behind a bus that had started and jumping onto it had become the norm. It was all a matter of timing. Yeah. That and the girls to impress. Were they? I will never know!
Back to the TN express. The Pantry car was going past me now. Run man! Run faster! I heard someone yell “Jaane do!” (Let it go!). Nopes. Not an option. I was now almost at the same speed as the train. As I reached for the handle of the door at the end of the pantry car, I realised that the door was closed. No time to wait. I had to grab the handle and jump on to the top step. Just as my right foot hit the step, I realised I had made a mistake. The step was wet. And I was wearing flip flops. Net result – poor grip. Just as my mind said “Oh oh”, the door was yanked open from inside, a pair of strong arms lifted me in. It was one of the pantry guys.
And then started the tirade. To my good luck, my knowledge of Tamil was not all that great. Otherwise, I might have been tempted to open the door and jump out again. In between the many unmentionable, unprintable words hurled at me, I was told in no uncertain terms of how I was a maniac who deserved to be admitted to the nearest mental hospital. I tried to say thanks. Thanks for saving my life. But it only caused him to flare up even more. Perhaps one of his colleagues felt sorry for me, and pulled him back into one of the resting areas meant for staff.
As my compartment was ahead of the pantry car, my walk across the entire length of it was one of the longest in my life. Silent they may have been, as I was limped past them – the other staff and fellow passengers in the pantry car- but I could feel the collective term they were using in their minds – Irresponsible Idiot.
The pain where my leg had been hit by the steel trunk now hurt badly. I dragged myself back to my seat 3 compartments away. As I collapsed into my seat, I understood how lucky I was. It hit me now. I struggled to keep my emotions in control. Not to cry in front of my fellow passengers. I decided to climb to my top berth in the sleeper II class and lie down for some time. The summer heat made it almost impossible to lie down there. But, I must have been tired. Overwhelmed. Because, the next thing I remember is being woken up by someone shaking my leg. Right where I had been hit earlier! I was ready to curse whoever it was. It was him. We recognised each other. I swallowed the curses. “Saapad” he said. And left the steel tray and it’s cover at one end of the berth.
He had taken the food order earlier this morning while I was still in my berth. Without my prescription glasses on, he was just a blur, from my bunk. I tried to catch his attention to try and thank him again, but he had other customers to attend to. I was hesitant because I did not want him to flare up again.
Later, after the night meal, as we were speeding through Andhra Pradesh, he came to collect the dues. I paid him. As he was collecting from others in my seating area, I hesitantly asked him “Ungal per?” (Your name?). “Muthu” he said. And he smiled at me. “Thanks Muthu” was all I was able to say.
Muthu. Just another Indian Railways employee.