Funny Memories: The Movie Ticket And The Train Token!

I’ve written in these pages about my passion for movies, watching and the making of the fascinating moving images, since my childhood days, and the first of today’s funny memories is related to that kind of passion. The memories, written in a fiction format avoiding actual names of persons involved, belong to the late seventies in the city of Guwahati in North Eastern India. Those good old days the means of communication were very scarce; no phones, no calling booths, not enough transport facilities and almost a total lack of computerized operations. The only means of communication were writing letters and sending telegrams on emergencies, the ‘emergency’ of the latter always depended on how fast the department of Posts and Telegraphs worked. The landlines or the conspicuous black phone instruments were restricted mostly to senior government officers, and the long-distance trunk call services were run by a few post offices where there was no certainty of getting connected and in how many hours.


In one of those days one of my most favorite movies was running in a relatively good cinema hall (there was no concept of multi-screen halls at that time) that was around six miles away from our residence. I decided to go for the matinee show as after the show I would get the city bus to take me home easily, through the changing of the buses though. I informed my mother and left home accordingly after lunch.


Unfortunately, the ‘house full’ signboard greeted me on arrival. Utterly disappointed, I looked out for the operators of the ticket black marketing, a rampant practice at that time; but there was not a single one to be seen. I found the prospect of traveling all the way home without watching the movie a very unwelcome thought. I was determined in a way. So, I decided to wait for the evening show, called the first show, and hoped I would get the last city bus that’d take me at least to a spot nearer home.


I killed the time lag taking teas, snacks, moving around and all that. I queued up early at the box office ‘holes’ and got my ticket. And, I watched the movie, in a delirium of joy.


The movie was quite long and after walking out of the theatre I found no city buses on the streets; taking an auto-rikshaw was out of the question as those were very few and exorbitantly costly. With no other option I started walking home.


That delayed me further and when I reached home finally, I found my father talking agitatedly on the black landline and the rest of my family huddled around him in the sitting room. As I made my hesitant entry all seemed relieved, but showed their justified wrath in full flow. My mother indignantly told me how worried they were and to make matters worse, when my father rang up the police station inquiring about any accidents he was informed, rather tragically, that one young man got killed in a hit and run case and was yet to be identified.


I made an effort to suppress my smile as it was not at all in place, and meekly told them, “You know, I just wanted to watch that movie! I’m sorry. But there was no way of informing you on time, you all know that too!”


At that time the Indian Railways had introduced a token system for reservation of train tickets, aimed at reducing the serpentine queues that used to form since early dawn every day for the booking counters opening only after 8 AM. Apart from that I thought it was a welcome move I didn’t know much about the mechanics of the new system. I further thought that the tokens issued in a day had to be entertained within that day which was only rational, I decided.


Therefore, one morning, after a relaxed breakfast, I left home for the railway station in a city bus that took me directly to station. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were no long queues before the booking counters. I secured a token easily and the number was well above hundred, but, as was my strong belief, it had to be the duty of the Railways to complete the process of booking for all the tokens issued that day.


Then, I waited and waited. The numbers were announced at a snail’s pace; no fault of the clerks as the process was monstrously manual. I asked a few fellow sufferers about the possibility of my token coming soon. Most of them said knowingly that it’d not come up till the evening at least. So, I went out and took my lunch outside, in very a leisurely way, understandably.


I went back to the station and found the numbers announced still less than a hundred. I sat in a corner concrete bench and waited. The hours went by. At 8 o’clock I saw the counters closing down one by one. And horror of horrors! I was informed that the tokens were not valid for the next day. New day, new morning, new tokens, new waiting! What’s the use then, I wondered!


My rational thinking process started ablaze: coming from my distant home next day morning is no guarantee that I can get the booking done, and this can in fact go on endlessly, and I find passing the night in the statin to join the queues early morning loathsome. Then I hit upon the idea! Yes! A maternal uncle of mine was a professor of Geography in a premier college nearby, and the college’s residential colony where he lived was still nearer.


I became his unannounced night guest. No issues at all in those good old days. I was treated to a sumptuous supper by my aunt, and I slept soundly, deciding to join the queues at the station very early. My uncle said it was a wise decision; however, he added, my family would be worried as he had not the black phone instrument.


In the morning, not as early as I planned, I found my uncle in the drawing room, engrossed in the newspapers with a cup of tea. I sat down beside him and my aunt immediately brought my morning tea and biscuits.


“Dad came!” my uncle suddenly announced without even looking up at me and as I took the first sip of the tea. I was taken aback. “Why?” I stammered out, even though I knew very well.


“Well, he was very worried! He wanted to make sure you are here before moving to the police station! He left when I told him about your plans!”


Luckily, I managed to get my reserved train ticket by late evening that day.


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