...atleast so far.
The story goes that I normally travel between Baroda and Bombay by jumping into a particular early morning train bound for Mumbai or returning by another particular late evening train from Mumbai.
Now, it so happens that most of my trips are decided a day or two in advance, some maybe confirmed on the previous evening, so putting fight for reservations is almost a no-go. The other alternative is that I purchase a general ticket and get into the train; and then request the Ticket Examiner to charge the differential fare and provide me with a confirmed seat for the 5 hour journey. This invariably works because there are usually one or two no-shows in the train and now that I am a Platinum club member of Indian Railways' Frequent Traveller Club (I am joking since there really is no such club!).
Yesterday was one such day when I was returning from Mumbai to Baroda and it just so happened that yesterday was also two days before Diwali. Diwali also is the time when all of India travels to their home town and this part conveniently slipped out of my mind till I reached the station. Nonetheless, here I am at the platform waiting for the train, and suddenly the mainline platform seems almost like Churchgate at 5pm on a normal work-day. Choc-a-bloc full!
Well, so much for the crowd. Caught hold of the usual (and ubiquitous) coach attendant in one of the coaches and told him in slightly different words (and tone) that I was obliging him by travelling to Baroda in the coach. Got on to realise that there already were a lot like me, though most going to the last stop of the train (about 15 hours further). Nonetheless, secured my bag, got a bottle of water (and yes, lo and behold, a major kick to my ego, got hit upon by a group of young girls, yes!! and am not talking out of my hat here. Nonetheless, they were a bit too young) and readied myself for the journey to Baroda.
The train between Bombay and Baroda stops at Borivilli (a suburb in Bombay, 30 minutes from Bombay central) and Surat (90 minutes short of Baroda). So, by the time we reached Borivilli, I had befriended a couple of last minute travellers and were sitting comfortably on the attendant seat. This much ado about comfort lasted till a lot more such travellers entered at Borivilli. The coach soon seemed more like an air-conditioned 5pm Virar Fast rather than a reserved bogey. Each confirmed passenger probably had 2 unconfirmed or wait listed passenger travelling with him and add to that some others like us.
So here I was standing with some 7-8 other travellers sharing the Attendant's seat and the Attendant's berth - a make-believe local train environment to Baroda. The only difference between me and the other standing passengers being that I was going to a place only
400kms away, while the rest were planning to spend the night on the train going to places 1,000-1,500 kms away and spend Diwali with their near ones. Here was my first experience of travelling on the coach attendant's berth.
Some small talk happened with my co-travellers, the TTE came around (didn't bother to check any tickets for the sheer number of passengers travelling on waitlisted tickets), and before we knew the attendant on the coach came around asking us if we wanted to celebrate Diwali. I somehow managed to catch on and agreed to buy from him a quarter of vodka, emptied into a half-empty bottle of Pepsi. A couple of blokes from Mumbai joined into the party and here was my second first experience of purchasing liquor on train. (Yes, I had once, during b-school days travelled second class with a few mates and enjoyed Old Monk all the way from Calcutta to Siliguri).
The vodka, did help reduce the strain of standing and travelling but also helped whet the appetite (it was almost dinner time). With the number of people around me, I was sure, eating from the casserole provided by the pantry would be a daunting task, and so I, along with the two new buddies decided to go to the pantry car and sit in the waiters' cabin for dinner. Here was my third first experience of eating in the waiters' cabin of a train's pantry car.
By the time we got through all this, it was 10pm (about 3 hours into the journey), and people were slowly beginning to switch off their lights and go off to sleep. So, with my buddies in tow, we tried finding them some place where they could lie and spend the rest of the night (which we were fairly successfull in doing). I also managed to sit on a berth where a young boy was sleeping and finally rest the aching muscles. Spent some time exchanging notes with one of my new-found friends on the train (he was going to spend his young born daughter's first Diwali) and before I knew the train was at Baroda. Suddenly, what was to have been an ardous 5 hour journey, where I thought I would have to count every minute to Baroda, had suddenly become a wonderful evening to remember.
...such is the charm of travelling Indian Railways and warmth of making new friends.