'It's the season of ripe, juicy sweet mangoes,
Of humid heat, threatening clouds and smell of new earth
So does one need more reason to set sail for Kerala? '
Hence I found myself in Rishikesh railway station at 5:45 am for a tatkal ticket. Trains are the cheapest way to travel in India short, long or medium distance. The fares have been frozen for ever and so tickets especially for long distance travel are very popular. Bookings for overnight trains open 2 months before departure date and on some trains get booked within an hour. Unfortunately the train I wanted to board fell in that category. Once a week to Trivandrum, and the decision to go home was taken just a couple of days back. The Railways brought in the tatkal scheme for people like me who wanted the ticket at short notice but dont mind paying the extra odd 150 or 300/-.Bookings for tatkal start 2 days before the journey and on popular routes finish in minutes. So it was crucial that I be first in the queue when the counters opened at 8 am. I was first in the queue but when the action started the reservation clerk started entering the details of people who were not in the queue at all. I learn later that if you care to pay a baksheesh of 100/- per person your details are entered first in the computer. No standing in queues ! 3 minutes and he was still slamming away on the keyboard. The guys at the back thinking that I was just hanging around even after my ticket was issued started heckling me. The clerk finally got to my ticket but by that time I was on the waiting list. I had to take the ticket anyway and board the train.
Three days on a train is hard enough but without a ticket, well well... I had come prepared mentally so the first day I slept on the bunks whenever one was free. During the night I just rolled out the bedsheet and lay down on the floor. Anyone trying to duplicate this stunt be warned that it can be only done at ordinary 2nd class sleeper class not the air conditioned coaches. They dont let folks without a confirmed ticket anywhere near the AC coach ! To tell the truth, it was not that uncomfortable except when people crushed my head when they were sleepwalking to use the loo. The timing is important, you unroll your 'carpet ' after more or less everyone goes to 'bed'. There were a fair number of people like me sleeping in the corridors lying down, sitting, standing, etc.
You feel the train up close , all the little jerks and movements and also the big jolts. Like knowing a woman intimately for the first time when you see that little balck mole on her hip , that knowledge which makes the relationship so special, if you care to notice it. So my relationship with the railways have taken on a whole new intimate level. Be that it maybe I have gone ahead and booked my next ticket well in advance !