Life stories are always about real life experiences which are collected from real people. Sometimes I do it myself and at other times I get it second hand. Names/places are generally fictitious so that the subject’s identity is not compromised
I was on my way to Mysore which is the place where I hail from and usually it is a three hour ride. I realized I was late as soon as I went to buy the ticket at the station. The ticket vending machine had a long line of optimistic travellers. There was an even bigger queue at the ticket counter but I picked man over machine. You see I had wisdom beyond my years backed up by my knowledge of seeing people struggle with vending machines.
Fortuitously I was proved right as I beat the vending machine devotees by at least twenty minutes. The operator had a laconic look about him which changed to a mocking drawl when I told him of my intended destination. He leant back and said “you are never going to make it”. Well I was the all time luggage dragging, staircase pounding, subway sprinting champion but he obviously had no inkling. I told him “you better give me the ticket right away then”. His lips curled in a smile or was it a sneer? “It's your money”, he said and gave me what I coveted.
It was time to put my renowned abilities to the test. I shruk a lot and if you don’t know what means then assume you are carrying a bunch of bags and shuffling, running and sliding all at the same time! I shrukked a new 500 meter record that day through particularly inhospitable terrain consisting of ramps, old people shuffling backwards, teenagers with phones stuck to their ears, several large families crowding all possible lanes and the proverbial aimless folk who want go in multiple different directions at the same time.
I made it to the platform with two whole minutes to spare accompanied by a self gratified smile acknowledging my latest record. My smile slipped as I surveyed the train which looked more like an ant farm on wheels. It was packed to the gills with people and I could not find a way in. After many wasted explorations to different coaches, I got lucky.
A couple had got onto the wrong train were trying to get out and clearly needed help. I pushed in by literally flinging them out of the doorway and diving into their slipstream.
I was euphorically wedged inside the train between a huge beefy man and a middle aged woman clinging to her purse. I somehow found the courage to wriggle my body sidling sideways until I had a reassuring metallic non human support for my back.
Now I was so far inside that I was reasonably confident that I would not be accidentally kicked out of the train by my fellow passengers. This was my cue to look around, make friends and breathe in the atmosphere. If breathing was optional I would have dropped it like a stone for it was smelly, sweaty and hot!
The sun was doing its part by heating us slowly and I swear I could feel flesh boiling.
I experimentally tried to shuffle my feet more than two inches which earned a glare from the woman opposite. Her husband (Pawing Bull) was built like a boxer constantly flexing his shoulders. A frowning middle aged man (Sour Pug) caught my attention because I clearly had his! He looked at me with disfavour as if I was just a bug that needed fumigating. I swallowed my indignation and looked away straight into the disapproving eyes of a saree clad woman (Prim Rose) of indeterminate age. Her mouth was pursed no doubt thinking that I was a high school dropout.
Right opposite her sleeping against the window was a bearded youth (Tepee Indian) with headphones wrapped around his ears. He was snoring loudly, periodically smearing the glass with little driblets of saliva which did nothing to endear him with his neighbors. Someone jostled me from my back side and I turned around to find my nose pressed against bony ribs.
I looked up to find a swarthy individual (Peeping Ostrich) whose jaw was working on his gum continuously and his eyes staring without pause. I followed his eyes to find a very pretty girl (Secret Robin) who was entirely worthy of his attention. She was dreamily staring outside the window with a knowing curve of her lips doubtless replaying a most satisfactory past romantic encounter. Right alongside Tepee Indian's aisle was a man in a green shirt (Troubled Mouse) leaning away from the crowd with both hands balancing his body at a preposterous angle.
A distant toot signalled our departure and we moved. I kid you not, we really were moving like a single organism! The train shifted itself and hence the people attached to the doors and windows moved, next the people who were sitting and finally all those of us standing.
The train was Gaia!
The wind struggled to find a way past the solid clump of bodies but it was still refreshing. We were all swaying forward and backward like drunken people stuck in a sand storm. After 25 minutes of bliss the train stopped while we shuddered to a halt. A group of people tried to get in but there was just no room at all. But human endeavour must never be underestimated and so it proved as a party of five kicked and rammed themselves into the doorway. But it still left them hanging on for their dear lives with at least three of them completely outside.
One of them was an angry young man (Red Raja) who started cursing all of us inside the train. He yelled “Move inside, can you not see we are dying here. You in the middle, make way otherwise I will come there and cut a space for myself”. That threat galvanized Pawing Bull who for the very first time opened his mouth and said “Why are you telling me? Am I lying down? I am taking less space than all of you. Who are you to tell me?” Red Raja was equal to the task and started shouting obscenities at Pawing Bull.
This was the proverbial straw for Pawing Bull's eyes almost popped out of his head and we could see his breath coming out of his nostrils. It was then that we learned that stinking atmosphere was highly flammable. A chorus of voices joined in from all sides slowly escalating into a pitched battle. Everyone waited expectantly for Red Raja and Pawing Bull to meet for a 10 round heavyweight fight.
This became the first case of the match being called off because neither boxer was able to make it to the ring from ten feet away.
Prim Rose was taking notes so that she could report it to the station master on arrival. Secret Robin had glanced once at the altercation and dismissed us all from her musings. Tepee Indian was trying his very best to completely wash the window pane. Sour Pug meanwhile was glaring at everyone but no one cared to look at him. Peeping Ostrich’s powers of concentration were legend and he took no part in the proceedings.
Suddenly there was a great roar from Red Raja who found a few women sitting on the floor of the coach. The ire of the crowd vented on the women who were made to stand up allowing Red Raja's party to gain a few precious inches. Pawing Bull started shouting at Red Raja “was I at fault? You are nothing but a rascal”. This broadside threatened to set off another uprising but Prim Rose intervened. She stood up and said “Sit down! I will not have all of you behaving like pigs in a pen. I will report you to the police”. Although the command to sit down left all of us scratching our heads, it had the effect of restoring peace discounted by a few grumbles here and there.
Silence spread like a cool wind through the throng and we all drank it in hungrily.
All at once, Troubled Mouse keeled over and fell onto the row of seated passengers book ended by Tepee Indian. Everyone started shouting “watch out, what is that fool doing. How dare he fall on our women?” Tepee Indian removed unmoved even though Troubled Mouse's head was now comfortable resting on his lap. It took us all a while to realize that Troubled Mouse had fainted away and needed help. Someone dug his elbow into Tepee Indian which had no effect at all. Finally I lent a hand and we pulled him to the centre of the crowd where falling was impossible. Someone emptied a bottle of water on his head which succeeded in waking him up. To our utter disgust Tepee Indian was still slobbering over the window.
Sour Pug finally took an active part when he stood up and asked Troubled Mouse “Did you not eat any food? Go and faint somewhere else. We are all respectable people here”. This set off such a wild frenzy that Pawing Bull and Red Raja inadvertently ended up on the same team hurling abuses at Sour Pug. Prim Rose's pen flickered furiously across her book. Sour Pug meanwhile had had his say and sat with a cynical leer that raised the temperature of the crowd again.
There were shouts of “what do you know about respect? Your mother never taught you about it, you would not know respect if it was written on paper and stuffed into your mouth”. The logic was beyond all of us but since Sour Pug was at the receiving end, it made us immensely happy. Every passenger condemned Sour Pug's words and the assembly passed a resolution that he should be asked to leave the train. But that moved Sour Pug not at all for he was a wily veteran of such proceedings.
Oblivious to our problems, the train coursed along with her burden nearing our destination. Secret Robin stretched herself like a cat turning to her side which forced Peeping Ostrich to change his point of view. He twisted his body ten degrees to the left and with an economical shimmy he was back in business. He had never stopped staring nor chewing his gum all this time.
I thought of suggesting to Peeping Ostrich that he could try the Guinness book of records but I doubted if he would have heard me anyway.
A vendor carrying snacks in a bag miraculously appeared next to me. I was completely mystified as all of us had stood for 2 hours without daring to move a single foot. But this guy was a professional. He would bend his head down, twist his body sideways and just slink through bodies lined up before him. But when he met Pawing Bull even he had met his match. So he did the smart thing by setting up shop right there and selling the contents of his bag in 5 minutes flat! Anyone who could sell to this mean a crowd deserved my highest respect. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that he had managed to get Sour Pug's money as well which was no ordinary feat.
Finally the train ground to a juddering halt in Mysore and predictably pandemonium ensued. Everyone wanted to grab their bags and be first out of the doorway. Some choose the door closest to them while others for no logical reason choose doors further away. We found that our rate of motion was inversely proportional to our effort in getting out. In other words, the harder we struggled to get out, the more we stayed in the same place.
Pawing Bull's patience left the station for with a mighty bellow he put his shoulder down and started moving the pile. I found myself being inexorably shoved towards the doorway and eventually thrown clear onto the platform. I stood up dusting myself and turbed back for a one last look inside.
Prim Rose was still sitting at her window with a glacial look in her eyes. Clearly this display of caveman-ship was not to her liking. Sour Pug had gotten himself into trouble by accidentally tripping up a lady who wanted to get off the train. She was screaming at him and cursing his ancestors for all she was worth. No one offered to help either the lady or Sour Pug. Secret Robin was still in her seat and consequently it did not look like Peeping Ostrich was getting off.
It turns out that Troubled Mouse had become a rat disappearing in all this commotion and I heard the words “Thief, my wallet, give me my purse”.
Red Raja was helping Pawing Bull with his bag and it looked they had become great friends. Tepee Indian had woken up and walked away without bothering to clean the window that he had soiled. My legs ached from the constant standing. My entire body had been pressed, squeezed, poked, prodded, punched and pushed. I picked up my bags which had graciously followed me onto the platform and walked away after a nerve racking but incredibly amusing episode. Slowly but surely all of them got off the train and followed me to the exit gates.
Mysore braced itself!