Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Journey In the Dark

Apart from the title, this post has little to do with the Fellowship of the Ring's progress through the Mines of Moria. My tale is in fact not even from Middle Earth, but from the 90s.

I was visiting my relatives settled along the Andhra coast. From Vishakhapatnam I was to go to Nellore and as is the gricer's wont - I chose the train that was the slowest, took the longest route and got overtook the most. So I was to take the now defunct Howrah - Tirupati Express - a slow coach that was said to have so much slack, that it could reach on time even if 24 hrs late!

The sky was an angry purple even at that late hour. Thick clouds were ready to disgorge their contents at a moment's notice, thunderbolts screamed across the sky like school kids in their afternoon recess. The train pulled into the platform and the ritualistic pandemonium to locate coaches and seats broke loose. An oasis of calm however prevailed around the little party that had come to see me off. Being a family where one member or the other is on a train at any given moment in time, we knew exactly where my coach would be.

The coach was the second from the loco, and my berth side lower, trackside. In short everything was perfect - until the rain started. It fell in thick gobs, spraying my face as it bounced off the window sill. Both the windows was jammed rock solid, not just the glass pane, the metal shutter as well. To make matters worse, the lamps in the coach weren't working either - only those in the toilets worked miraculously. Since the train was full and without vestibules, a change of seat was impossible. Hence, I had no option, but to brave it out.

It was a moonless night, so hardly anything could be seen. The only illumination was from the toilet windows forming a perfect square on the ballast of the adjacent track. Our train rumbled through the night stopping as usual at Duvvada, Anakapalle, Ellamanchi and the host of small towns. I kept dozing off, but was frequently woken up the spray of water. After a while, I just gave up. Rajahmundry was at hand, and the prospect of the Godavari crossing was enough to keep me awake.

Even as we were halted at Rajahmundry station, all went dark. Apparently it was a major power failure and that detained the train in the station for quite some time. I dozed off again but woke up as the train started with a jerk. As it pulled out, the entire town was shrouded in darkness - the power outage seemed total. We rolled past Godavari station, a fact ascertained by the lone lamp held by the station master as he led us through.

A rumble began all of a sudden, and soon turned into a roar. We were on the Havelock bridge! A sudden burst of lightening lit up the river for a few seconds - it was in full spate. Another flash, scared the daylights (no I don't think that's the right idiom given the late hour, but what the heck - you got my point, didn't you?) out of me! Now, fully exposed to the elements, out train crawled its way across the 3 km expanse. The odd bolt revealed the menacing stretch of water that was spread out as far as one could make out. The wind was howling; driving the rain through the windows - stinging my face.
They say that when the end is near, your life flashes past you in an instant. Here, it happened in slow motion - each jerk, each creak, each lurch seemed to be the last. Visions of a watery grave churned my stomach. I just held on to the window bars and perhaps for the first time in my life, I wished I was a theist.

And then it was over, the metallic rumble gave way to the reassuring clickety clack of rails on solid ground. The old geezer ahead notched up, filling the coach with thick brumes of unadulterated ALCO smoke. Kovvur station's platform canopy brought some respite from the rain, which trickled into a drizzle as we started up. Nidadavole came and we split towards the branch lines spread between the twin deltas of the Godavari and Krishna.

I think it was at Attili, that we were held up for a long time for a crossing. It was nearing dawn and the urge for a chai or a coffee grew strong. Given the small size of the station, I wasn't expecting much, but was surprised to find a young girl huddled under an umbrella with a steaming kettle on the boil. Drenched and cold, that cup of chai was one of the most refreshing that I have ever had in my life.

Past Bhimavaram, Akividu, Gudivada we sped on towards Vijaywada as the sun finally managed break the clouds' stranglehold and shone brightly. This helped me dry quickly, but the heat and the humidity meant that my shirt was wet and sticky again! It was at Vijaywada station, where I was standing next to my window munching on steaming Idlis, that I noticed that the panes weren't jammed at all. It was just the old fashioned lift and release locks that I failed to notice in the dark!


Anonymous said...

Neat little travelogue...
And Gricer, huh! :? :) :)

- Serendipity

nomad said...

@Serendipity.. Thx :) but do check

arjun said...

nice write.. every month i luv my train travel, though with the advent of Duranto exp, its become faster, but less interesting

Mohammed Shahid said...

Hi Shashanka,

I've been a regular visitor on IRFCA and have admired your photographs and trip reports on that website.

Was seeking your thoughts on this: I was wondering how much does IR get, as interest income, by blocking people's funds over 60-90 days ? esp. if the ticket is waitlisted and will not eventually confirm ?

There's been some regulatory looking-askance on interest from 'waitlisted' funds -- notice SEBI's directive on ASBA for company IPOs. So I was wondering if there's a case to be built (I'm not a lawyer).

If you wouldn't know: is there someone I could ask ?

I agree railfans might squirm, but we'll at least be the wiser.