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Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Connecting Train!


I was supremely confident that the connecting train would wait for us. Our first train was running five hours late, and the onward connecting train was to leave from the big junction at about three hours after the scheduled arrival of our train. Most of the passengers booked for that train gave up hope. I tried my best to infuse confidence in them by pointing out the obvious fact that our reservation tickets showed confirmed births on the connecting train, and therefore, it was a sacred obligation on the part of the Indian Railways to make the train wait for us. Some of the depressed co-passengers believed in me. I was not only mistaken but was colossally being naive.

Yes, the connecting train left on the scheduled departure time, more than two hours before our final arrival, leaving us stranded for the night at the station waiting room. Of course, the ticket was valid and it was adjusted in the train leaving early morning next day for our destination. This was the first case of missing the connecting train, and it was by a huge margin.

The next time, we boarded the same train to connect the same train at the big junction for our onward journey; we were much closer to catching it—missing it by just an hour. And the same routine followed at the station for the early morning train. It happened for the third time in a row, and the third time was a real big chase of sorts.

That third time our train was running two hours late, and so we were very hopeful of catching the connecting train, because the time difference was three hours. The nail-biting chase began when we reached a small station about 30 kilometres from the big junction. The train was a little less than two hours late now, and it needed only half an hour more to complete the journey so as to yield us enough time to board the connecting train. We got busy packing up, feeling elated that finally we were going to make it on our third attempt.

However, the rail gods had some other plans for us hapless souls. The train, a superfast one, continued to wait at the nondescript station...for minutes...half hour...and more. We were getting really worried as the buffer time we had was drying out fast and furious. Now we started debating loud, and louder with ire and great irritation. Some experienced souls opined that the platform clearance was not given perhaps due to heavy local train traffic or maybe some other issues like goods train movement or derailment. Nothing helped though as our irritation gave way to plain simple anger.

Finally, our train started moving with less than half an hour time margin for the connecting train as far as we were concerned. It made good progress picking up great speed, giving us a renewed lease of hope. We were sure of making it when it reached the multi-track entry point of the big junction. And then, it stopped again for the final clearance.

We started praying, ‘Please let the connecting train leave a few minutes late...please... dear rail god!’ Perhaps as an answer to our prayers the train moved again on its final leg. We rushed to the doorway with our luggage anticipating which way the platform would come. We discussed our plan of action: two or three passengers would run immediately for the platform of the connecting, board it and pull the chain while the rest of us would come in the rear with the combined luggage. I was part of the more responsible ‘luggage’ team.

As we entered the platform we watched in horror the train leaving the platform, maybe about 7 minutes from its scheduled departure time. However, we saw two passengers of our advance team managing to hop into a coach. So, we kept moving hoping the train to stop any moment now. Unfortunately, nothing happened. The connecting train just disappeared in front of our disbelieving eyes. We were left stranded there with more baggage for comfort.

We took good care of the luggage, taking turns for sleep in the waiting room floor. Early morning we boarded the other train as on earlier occasions. At the junction midway on the route the two passengers without luggage getting no benefit by making it to the connecting train, having to spend hours at the new station floor joined us. I immediately asked them, ‘Why didn’t you pull the chain?’ They said they pulled all the chains available inside the coach, but none of these worked or perhaps their action was ignored by the railway authorities.

We took a solemn pledge, never ever to try that particular pair of trains again. And we did stick to our pledge to this very day. We learnt to be shrewd, reasonable and wise—go for any connecting train when the time gap between the pair is at least 10 hours or more.

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