Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Meenakshi Redux Part 1: Of Thunderbolts & Flying Chairs

On a cool September evening, I changed from a shirt, tie, collar into standard railfanning gear; hefted my rucksack and caught an auto to Delhi Cantt. (DEC) station. The mission: to catch the last passenger to Rewari and thence to Jaipur. I reached DEC with plenty of time to spare and that allowed me to stock up on essential supplies and also to catch a quick snack in the form of Poori - Subzi (Bhaji) henceforth referred to as PS.

Pretty soon, the 9RD to Rewari pulled in. Following the closure of the MG line to Rewari (RE), NR introduced several new passenger services to RE on BG to compensate for the extra rush on BG. These new passengers run 23-24 coaches and are easily the longest passenger trains on IR. Surprisingly, the train was near empty - even on a weekday. Normally these trains run as packed as Virar locals, but then who was I to complain. I found myself a nice door in the 3rd coach and planted my butt on the footboard as the WDP3A chugged off in true Alco style.

The 78 odd kilometer run to Rewari has more than a dozen halts and we crossed quite a few trains on the way. At Patli we pulled into the loop line and I got off on the right side. I could see a dipped headlamp of a waiting Alco at the home signal on the Rewari end which went on high beam just as the semaphores dropped to give it a clear run to Delhi. Though the loco was nearly half a mile away, I could hear the V16 roared to life as the driver pulled through the notches and the turbo spun viciously as sparks flew thick from the exhaust. As it entered the station, the chief the whistle rip and the WDM3A from Tughalkabad blasted through the station accelerating rapidly with the Shatabdi from Ajmer in tow. As the train flashed past me, the growling generator van provided a fitting finale to this amazing son et lumière.

Rewari arrival was 40 minutes late and the crowd of tired commuters slowly melted away into the darkness as I sauntered out of the station in search of food and drink. The need for the second item on the list was solved by the discovery of a shop which announced itself as "Govt. Approved compound for the consumption of liquor". In common tongue it translated into a shop that was permitted its customers to consume the booze within the premises unlike most Indian liquor stores.

I bought myself a bottle of Thunderbolt "Super Strong Beer" and went inside only to be greeted by the filthiest dump imaginable. A small room, barely 10' X 12' was littered all over with empty cigarette packs, broken bottles, wrappers and pan stains covering every square inch. In a dark corner sat a few men who had been drinking heavily and the murmurs of an impeding argument were creeping across the room. As I was getting the boy to clean the mess the murmurs grew into heavy cuss words and just as I tipped over the bottle for my first sip, a plastic chair flew across the room and whacked me square on the side of my head!!! I spun around letting loose some choice curses of my own but the culprit was already being held down by his companions who muttered apologies in slurred Haryanvi.

Soon it became clear that the chair was not meant for me, but flung by the poor man out of frustration against his wife who had decamped earlier in the day with her lover. Feeling sorry for the man, I downed my not so cold beer, which was soon succeeded by a super cold one. Reeling from the quick intake of two stiff beers, I staggered out to find all food joints closed as it was way past midnight. Seeing no other option I made my way into the station and found a vendor serving piping hot PS. Accentuated by the beer, my hunger saw me wolf down nearly a dozen pooris as the rake of my onward train the Shekhawati Express to Jaipur was shunted on to the MG platforms.

Clambering aboard the solitary AC coach, a composite 1A/2A sleeper, I found a rotund lady sprawled all over my designated berth. The TTE followed me in, and the lady requested that she be allotted that coupe while I could choose another for myself as the whole coach was empty. As the train departed at 0108, it became clear that Railway staff outnumbered the passengers 1:4 in coach HA1.

Having deposited my luggage a nice cold cabin, I headed to the door and lit up a smoke. The loco up ahead set up a cracking pace as it had to cover the first 50km to Mahendragarh in a scheduled 48 minutes and that too with a 17 coach load!! However, the combined effects of the thunderbolts and the flying chair ensured that I was snoring away contentedly in the confines of my cabin much before that.

The route to Sikar is full of grades but the Owange loco from Phulera made light work of it thanks to the meagre load. The recent spell of heavy rain in North & North West India had ensured that the temperatures stayed on the pleasant side of things. The countryside too wore a verdant cloak of green, and for a change you see a much more than the babul, kikar or cactus. We pulled into Sikar about very much on schedule, and I had a piping hot chai there while we waited for a crossing train.

It was nearly 5 minutes since the freight had come in and 40 minutes past the scheduled departure, but still no one seemed to be in a hurry to get anywhere. A few more minutes later, an elderly gent climbed up this lovely signal box set up on the platform and pulled the designated levers to set the points for our train to the mainline. After this, he picked up the token ring and strolled casually up to the loco and handed it over and soon enough the train started, 52 minutes after it had pulled in. Had a Swiss watchmaker been aboard the train would have had multiple heart attacks by now, but then this was India and this was MG and this was exactly why I was there.

At Ringus, I hopped off to get some breakfast, and the options available were limited
to nothing but good old PS!! Since the stomach was grumbling, I gobbled it up quickly with a chai. The run to Jaipur was pretty uneventful, with a stray crossing or two and the generous slack time allotted meant that we reached Dauhar-Ka-Balaji in the suburbs of Jaipur, with plenty of time to spare.

Entering Jaipur, I was met the platform by Vivek Manvi & Sanyog Deshpande from Mumbai, who had taken different routes to get to Jaipur. Vivek had flown in from
Mumbai, while Sanyog had had an adventure of his own - first on the Shatabdi to Ahmedabad and then on the Ashram to Jaipur. A shower in the retiring room later, we were back on the platform to stock up on supplies for the long haul ahead.


Shirazi said...

Your title is very appealing; Nomad with desk job... It says all.

Sidhusaaheb said...

Might as well have included PS in the title...It seems to merit a mention there!


nomad said...

Shirazi: Thanks for the compliment :)

Sidhusaaheb: Yes may I should have, but then it would have made more impact at the end is what I felt.