Wednesday, June 25, 2008

3 Mistakes of my Train Travels

I was headed from Pune to Mumbai after a weekend visit to meet my friends in Pune (many of whom cribbed that this blog has not been updated since long). Anyways I was glad I met them as I was not sure when I would be able to meet up with them again. I am done with my master's and will be shifting from the heavenly IIT Bombay campus somewhere else in a less than a week's time. Sadly, like all bad times all good times come to an end too. The last two years for sure would be the most memorable ones of my life...and it's going to be a very interesting ride ahead now..oh! the one with cream top is really CUTE!.. with all these and a dozen other thoughts in mind I boarded the Intercity Express and was looking for my reserved seat. I cross checked as I saw an elderly looking person already occupying S2-54 and busy with his evening snacks. He asked me. "What's your number?"
I said "54".
"54 is mine." He said without even a least amount of bother that there would be any issue. I took out the print out of the ticket which I had booked on the renewed but still pathetic IRCTC website.[ I only resort to using it because the other options of getting a ticket for Indian Railways are more pathetic.] (Read Other Experiences.)
I held the ticket such that my two fingers were pointing out my seat number 'S2-54' & the word 'Confirmed' on it. He stopped eating and took out his ticket from his pocket. It had S2-54 written with hand with a blue ball pen! I looked at him and he said the TC gave him that. WTF? My first hunch was that the railways had a highly mismanaged way of keeping track of tickets booked on the internet. But it could have been that the poor old man was cheated by whom he called the TC. I looked skeptically at the old man, could have been in late 60s or early 70s , not well dressed but seemed educated for he spoke in fluent English. His clothes were the only give away but he could have opted those because of the monsoons I was noticing he had resumed his eating without any botherations. It stuck me with the third probability that the old man himself had written the number and was going to take the advantage of the fact that the TCs hardly come to check tickets on Mumbai-Pune trains. He surely had the benefit of age should there be a scene. Man he was smart!
I thought of calling the TC but it was not going to be much helpful unless I catch the same one who had written S2-54 on the old man's ticket..if at all he existed. Other options ran through my mind..the best was to share the 3 seats amongst 4 of us or if I am lucky S2-52 or 53 might not turn up or miss the train! In spite of all my thoughts it could have been that someone had thugged the old I was not intending him to trouble him much. Later I realised that my earlier experience narrated ahead was responsible for my biased thought process..

So I sat next to the old man on S2-53 and took out from my bag "3 mistakes of my life" which had hit the stands recently. Earlier,in Pune at Crossword bookstore, waiting for my friend, I had read the prologue of this Chetan Bhagat's third book and it intrigued me enough that I bought it. I had read his 'Five Point Someone' when I had got admit into the IIT and it is amongst one of my favorites. I didn't get time for 'One night at call center' and after the reviews I decided to pass for the time being. So there was I, sitting on the next seat for which I had reservations and planning to finish '3 mistakes' as much as possible during the journey which was about to start in 10 minutes. The railway compartment was not even half full yet. A couple of middle aged ladies came to sit just opposite to us. After settling down, one of them noticed the book in my hand and murmured something in the other's ear. I couldn't resist but ask. She said she saw it with many people lately and asked me what is it? So I told her all that I knew about it. This I think is the most fascinating part of traveling in can start talking to strangers as if you know them from long.

Anyways by now all the seats were filled and a young guy in mid 20s came to sit just in front of me and the middle aged ladies shifted. He too took out the same book! The ladies chuckled and looked at me.

I could not share the amusement with them because with 2 minutes left for the departure my mind was set on who was going to come for S2-52 & S2-53. Just then a Gujju [an Indian slang for the natives of the state of Gujrat] family arrived. A middle aged son with his mother and her equally old sister and their middle aged servant. Since they had entered just in time they were in a rush. The son was helping make the seating arrangements. He looked at me and I said pointing towards me and the old man in my seat "We both have 54". He looked perplexed and a little irritated. I showed him my ticket. The train had started. The old Gujju ladies were sitting comfortably but not very happy that their son and servant were still standing. One of them gave me an eye and said something of the order of why enter when you don't have ticket and trouble others. I neglected her as she was not aware of the situation. Her son asked the old man in my seat to show his ticket..and the old man replied "Why should I show you my ticket? Are you TC?" The Gujju lost his cool. I immediately stood up and allowed him and the servant to sit. I tried to explain him the case and that I was just being considerate about the old man's age and being silent. We will sort it out when the TC comes. He said in an irritated tone that TC won't be coming, no one had showed up during there journey from Mumbai to Pune same morning and also stressed that he had a hard day and it would be difficult for him to adjust on the seat. He also said that he doubted the old man as no TC writes on any ticket like that. During our conversation, I don't know what happened to his mother. She started shouting at me for being irresponsible and blah blah...Her son tried to explain that it was not my mistake but she was not ready to listen..she was old but more importantly she was a WOMAN..she continued and I stood there, holding '3 mistakes' in my hand wondering if I had made one myself. It sure was a mistake and I had learnt my lesson "Don't be a jerk and give away your seat to a doubtful stranger."

I was just hoping that the situation should not trigger more dramatic and drastic events. After a while the old lady started to cool down as I was not reacting and no one else was supporting her (something very unusual for Indian crowds)..phew! I was lucky..but still standing despite having a reserved sit...analysing how big a mistake was this..and it instantly clicked that it was not by first/biggest mistake..

It had happened almost around two years ago..I was traveling from Mumbai to Pune then..I was working in Pune and had gone to Mumbai for an interview for my master's application. Intercity Express is the earliest and the fastest train of the day for Mumbai-Pune Journey. So it was a preferred choice and I had to reach Pune by office start so I reached the station quite early...5:20 am I guess. I remember I was the first to board the compartment. I found my seat and decided to catch up on my remaining sleep. Monsoons had recently begun and it started pouring. I noticed that just in the opposite section of seats, one of the windows was open and the rain water was making the seat wet. I looked around..there were not many people around and no one nearby. I thought I should close the window so that the person who will be sitting there will not face trouble. But I was feeling lazy. Meanwhile I also noticed that the window panel was tilted. I made an excuse to myself that probably it is broken and my effort will anyways go in vain or worse I might hurt my hand. I shamelessly dozed off amongst those mean thoughts. The bogie filled in the next few minutes..I was awakened by sound of many people around..the first thing I noticed that the seat was still vacant though all the other 5 seats in that section of 6 were now occupied. 4 seats in my section were still unoccupied..there was a old gentle man opposite to me. He smiled as he noticed that I was awake. I smiled back. Just 3-4 minutes for the departure and a family boarded. Middle aged couple with two daughters and a son. The eldest daughter would be 20ish, good looking and most active amongst the lot. She saw there seating arrangements, glanced at the old gentleman opposite to me and then towards me. She had an amazing twinkle in her eye..we looked at each other for a fleeting moment and it felt as if she made a decision in that split second. She smiled at me and asked "Are you alone?"
"YES!" was my instantaneous was that?..I was taken aback..a charming, young, totally strange girl saying that in front of all her family! Its not a common least not for me. But I was more ashamed about excitement in my response. What was I thinking? Duh! Obviously I was not thinking..who thinks when a pretty lady asks you something? You can never say no...whatever the question be. But there are so many people around! Why did she ask that? to me? and why was that her first question without even a formal introduction? My brain was generating crap questions faster than ever before..She continued...explaining in her sweet voice.."Actually we have five reservations, four here, in this section and one somewhere else..but we would like to sit together..if you don't mind would you exchange your sit with our other one?"
"YES! No problem." Even after so much of churning in the head..I could not resist the excitement in my voice..the can't-say- no-to-pretty-ladies rule had been proved true again. Anyways I had mixed feelings about getting a chance to help her but not being
able to sit near her. I thought of asking the old man in front of me but I had already said yes to I asked "Where is the other seat?"
She looked into the ticket, glanced around and pointed at the seat near the window which I had chose not to close! The seat by now was nicely soaked in water..I hesitated and decided to complain that the seat is wet..maybe sight it as a reason not to shift..and turned towards her. Damn! that twinkle in her eye..I forgot what I was going to say..she noticed me looking awkwardly at her but smiled beautifully and said "Thank you!". I couldn't help but smile back and say "No mention."
You might think it is stupid but on some level I was glad that I had uttered a "No".
I cleaned up the seat and sulked in it. I realised that actions are not always the triggers...sometimes not doing something also act as triggers. Why didn't I close the window? If I had, I could have asked the old gentleman to shift..atleast I had a chance..I couldn't have asked him to shift in a wet seat..No one knew but it was wet because of me! I don't know when I dozed off during all the thoughts that followed..I woke up at Pune but the family had already got down on some station before..Talegaon or something..I didn't even get to ask her name. Another lesson learnt "Don't be a jerk and lazy to close a window". No wait...or would it be "Don't be a jerk and miss a chance to ask a pretty girl her name & contact especially when she cannot refuse.."

That memory brought a brief smile on my face and I realised that the Gujju man in S2-53 noticed that. He also noticed the book in my hand and pointed at an empty seat in the next section. He said "Sit there till someone claims that..if you are lucky maybe no one will. And if somebody does...don't worry we will adjust."

I went and sat and continued reading where I had left but couldn't help remembering my another mistake on a train. It was in Korea earlier this year. Though I was there since January I couldn't travel much because it was winter there. And by the time spring arrived I was left with very less time. Seoul cannot easily be covered in a couple of days if you want to do a lot of sight seeing, also do culture shopping and shopping for mementos before returning from Korea. I had planned to do all these in less than 36 hours! Shopping in Seoul was open till as late as 4 am..but still I was on a very very very tight schedule. The cheapest way to travel in Seoul is the subway which not only runs on 8 different lines compared to 3 in Mumbai but also these lines cross each other a lot and you need to change lines often especially during long travels. So you always have to be on your toes whether you are new to the system or not. And if you are not accustomed to the system then you need to be very alert. And I was taking all the care that I should be taking. I was planning to do a cruise on the Han river in the evening. The cruise had fixed timings and fixed routes. I had chosen a very specific timing [6:15pm-7:30pm] so that I can enjoy both in light and dark and a very specific route so that it is easier for me to plan my other activities before and after the cruise. So I was finishing shopping in Yongsan Electronics market by 5:30 and had exactly 45 mins to reach the starting point of cruise near Sincheon Station on Green Line which usually takes around 40-45 mins if everything goes fine. As shown I had to change lines two times during the journey at Ichon and Sadang Stations.

Click on the image to view my route details marked with Red. Starts with Yongsan Station on Line 1 [Navy Blue].

Everything was fine till I reached Sadang. There I got down and as I approached the other line on the station I heard a train coming on the line. I hurried as I realized I won't get another for 5-10 mins if I miss this one. I ran though I was not sure if it was in the same direction that I wanted to go on the line. I noticed on the signage board that in the direction it was headed there was a station named Seoul National University. And I remembered it was also in my route so I ran faster and managed to catch the train. I was heaving a sigh of relief when there was an announcement for the next station. I was alarmed to hear Nakseongdae which was not on my route. I took out my reference map. and I noticed that the next station was Seoul National University. But it was in opposite direction from Sadang station? I traced the route I was intending to follow and was amazed to find a station called Seoul National University of Education! oh crap! what kind of nomenclature is this? In all the confusion I could not get down at Nakseongdae and had to get down at Seoul National University to catch a train in opposite direction..towards Seoul National University of Education. I don't know if I ever get to be in Seoul in my life again..and that too this period of the year to get a cruise on Han river. Will I reach in time? Why are Koreans so strict about their timings? Can't they idealize us Indians for some things? I hope the cruise starts 15 mins late...again my brain was generating crap at an alarming rate as I waited on the Seoul National University station. I lost around 10-15 mins in this which was more than what I would have wasted on Sadang station had I not hurried. I ran my way of around half a kilometer after getting down at Sincheon...and thank God...I was lucky to reach for the cruise in time..It was an amazing weather for a cruise..evening zephyrs invited you to enjoy the spring...I had nearly missed a once in a lifetime experience because of a stupid nomenclature..But anyways I had learnt my lesson "Don't be a jerk and make mistake in station names however dumbly named they are."

No one arrived later to claim the seat I was sitting in and I could read peacefully till we reached Mumbai..but surely I could not finish even half of what I had intended to. My mistakes were not as imposing as Govind's [the protagonist of the book] and none of them triggered into avalanches that will push me towards a suicide but I sure had suffered and learnt my lessons the hard way.

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