This was the day I almost left.
The ticket had been booked. An RC sleeper class berth had been promised by IRCTC for Rs. 620.
I had rolled a bare minimum number of clothes into my rucksack the previous night. Downloaded travel music into my phone, printed out the ticket and neatly folded it into folds of a book I was to read on the train.
The previous week has been full of such details. Getting drenched in the rain to buy rainproof clothes, trekking shoes and headphones (the cheaper ones were better but you can’t go back once you open a Philips pack. Fuck them for making shitty products and then encasing it so alluringly. It’s unethical but what do you care) before I headed to Sikkim.
I have an adamant way of doing what I want. I do all these things, follow the proper procedure like this – pack my bags, go to office and even be in a relationship knowing in my heart – a meek little voice cheekily telling me – “Do what you want, I’ll have it my way in the end. You know it!”
Right before I set an alarm for 4.30 a.m. today morning, the inner voice jeered – “I don’t think you’ll catch the train tomorrow.” Alarmed, I plunged my head into the pillow and cozying up beneath a chadar, listening to the rhythmic creek of the fan and the pitter patter of the rain (it’s heavy monsoons in Delhi this year), I went off to sleep readying myself for an early rise.
At the station, that feeling of things not being the way they need to be kept hounding me, today morning. We (me and my father) waited at the old Delhi railway station. He’s back from his work in Bikaner for a week and I’m going away on his second day in the capital. I dragged him along in the morning to see me off.
The train was to be at the station at 6.35 in the morning. I was there in time with my rucksack but where was the train? No one knew. No mention of it anywhere. Soon it turned out that the train might reach by eight. It’s running late. However, the chaiwala at the station disagreed with the information desk. He laughed at the mention of 8 a.m. According to him the train will reach no sooner than 10 or maybe even 11!
I’m generally unfazed by crowd, dirt and cold hard stares but like I said, a part of me was elsewhere. And when that happens (increasingly so these days) I am quite close to discomfort. The station seemed to be a collective of penis pinching men who stared at women or rather waited for women to accidentally look at them before they pinched their penises enclosed in greasy purple and black trousers hanging loosely over their frail, underfed and over-worked waists.
Some next to my father started watching a belly dancer without a head swaying her body like a spring. The camera man didn’t think her head was worth screen space. This combined with puffed up patriarchs proudly dragging suitcases leading the way as shy brides and swaying mother-in-laws followed.
It’s not such a good idea to be in two minds on the roads of Delhi for a woman. Her chances of getting elbowed, if not pinched, increases. Such thoughts over-powered me each passing moment.
The grey clouds became darker by the minute and so did the negative thoughts in my head. Father tried his best to keep up a cheerful mood. He shared funny stories from his childhood. Just that I couldn’t focus. I was more worried about the men he sat next to for me.
The previous night, while packing, my father had dialed our long lost relatives who live in Siliguri. I didn’t know of their existence unless I spoke to them. I’ll head to their home from NJP and from there plan out the rest. They had warned me the Mahananda Express would pull such a stunt. “That train is famous for being late. Last time I took that train it was delayed by seven hours.” His far away concerned yet slightly bemused voice warned me. The later emotion had more chances of being true. Here he was, my Tapan jethu, who a couple of minutes back was struggling to map my father out in his memory. “Ajoy? Theek chinte parchhi na to…” (I can’t really recall you), now talking to his ‘neice’. What’s her name again?
It was about to be 9 and the train to New Jalpaiguri was still to be announced. In fact, some other train (to Jalandhar!) was to enter platform 10 around 9.50 a.m. I couldn’t wait any longer. I didn’t want to be there anymore amidst the sea of desperate, yearning, hungry bodies, lying, squatting, walking, standing, staring into space on the grey platform shielded from rain by the grey asbestos on top, as the stench of urine and acidic shit crashed over us all like angry waves.
So I cancelled the train. Period. I walked out of the station, got into an auto and returned home and felt damn good about doing so.