Vantage point

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

I am back after this mini-hiatus forced by my work-related trip to Renukoot in South-Eastern UP. This trip completed all my visits and now I just have to book a 'tatkal' ticket and return to Mumbai to compile the report.

The journey to Renukoot was mostly uneventful. I did not have a reservation, so I bought a general category ticket and stood at the platform, waiting for the train. Now usually when I am at the Lucknow Railway Station (named Charbagh), I am either in a hurry to go to Pune, or to go to the insti. This time though I had time on my hands so I could observe the railway station in more detail. It is a huuuuuge and splendid railway station, definitely one of the biggest in India. It was built during the reign of the Nawabs and its royal origins show. If maintained properly, it can definitely be a tourist attraction.

I was told by my co-travellers that the train, Triveni Express will be mostly empty after Allahabad (9 p.m.), and so I should not have a problem getting a berth for Renukoot (7 a.m.) Based on this assurance I got into a sleeper coach and plonked my bag on an empty berth. The train started off and in a few minutes, the Travelling Ticket Examiner(TTE) made his way to where I was sitting. He seemed like a reasonable chap, 50ish, thin, and definitely must have sons of his own. I showed him my 'general' ticket and expressed my desire to procure a berth.

He looked at the sheets of papers in his hand and said "15 number milega, S6 mein". After I nodded my acceptance, he started writing out a receipt for the differential amount between a general and a sleeper ticket. It came to Rs. 94. I handed the man a 100 rupee note, which he held in his hands for a few minutes. Then he gave me a quizzical look. In turn, I gave him my most quizzical look (as Wooster would say, it was one of those evenings for quizzical looks). I was waiting for the 6 rupees he owed me. He, I later realised, was expecting some monetary gratification for having secured a seat for me. Now as far as the sheets in his hand showed, the supply of berths far exceeded the demand. So I saw no reason to 'grease his palms' so to speak. I continued giving him the quizzical look. Finally, he conceded defeat with a shrug, pocketed the note and left. I thought on the "tu bhi kya yaad karega kis rayees se paala pada tha" lines and did not press for my 6 bucks.

At Renukoot, I enjoyed the warm hospitality of the Agarwals, the family of one of my batchmates at IIML. They helped me go to the Hindalco factory, get a gate pass made, and even dropped me back at the station in the evening.

The return journey was a bit of a drag. On the plus side, the TTE just did not turn up this time, so I snoozed the journey away on a window berth. On the minus side, it was a loooooooooong journey. The train stopped at every station, and once it stopped, it took at least half an hour to muster up enough morale to get going. It arrived a full 4 hours late in Lucknow, and in the way, had been overtaken by a few passenger trains, an expedition of tortoises (looking very lost in Eastern UP) and a marathon of snails.

To add to my delay, Vajpayee had chosen this day to visit his constituency, Lucknow. So there were barricades all over the plus. Plus there was 'Hanuman Jayanti' which is celebrated here as 'Bada Mangal' with food and drink stalls all over the streets. It took me ages to reach the insti, amidst the scorching heat.

After I reached the insti, I immediately showered and headed back to the city, this time to visit Sarika in the Army Base Hospital. All those who frequent her blog must be knowing that she had an accident last week. Well, there is a problem in her knee cap and she has to be operated upon today. She will be in the hospital for at least 2-3 weeks until the plaster comes off, so there will be no blogposts or email correspondence from her side. Let us all wish her a speedy recovery so that she can be back on her feet very soon.