I walked out of my house, feeling tense. Pre-travel anxiety was an emotion not new to me; I dreaded the prospect of missing the train. I dragged a huge trolley bag behind me clumsily as I still tried to hold my beige and teal straw bag in one hand with some grace. This time I had chosen to move out of my haven of cabs; I was going to take the local bus to Secundrabad where I would board my train to Bombay. I had been on a bus in Hyderabad just once before. What a shame, I thought to myself. Shruti was coming to the bus stand to put me on the right bus. Prima facie, it might cause one to assume that I must be a spoilt brat; au contraire, I was the kid dad used to rebuke for traveling while sitting at the door step in the general coach of the trains in Tamil Nadu. Strangely, I still feel new in Hyderabad; being naturally quite uncool and weird before traveling, the unfamiliarity certainly did not help. I must’ve ticked Shruti off quite a bit with my many calls to her that day in spite of her assurances that there was sufficient time left. After a lot of pointless worrying I got on the bus and reached Secundrabad with 45 minutes to go. I yanked my bag up the stairs as I made my way through throngs of people to platform 9 where Duronto Express was to arrive.
Just as I saw a train approaching far away, I realized I had no clue which seat or coach I was to board. But it wasn’t going to be a big deal finding my seat out of three 3AC coaches; I waited. The train arrived sporting a radiant shade of yellow-green and other garish colors painted in erratic designs. I watched the train trot past, as I looked for the 3AC coaches. Oddly, they were all AC coaches. I freaked; a couple of calls I made to friends got me nowhere as IRCTC had decided to show its nasty self that evening. I scampered from coach to coach with my big bag, looking for my name on the lists. Half an hour later, I found my name on the last coach, just five minutes before the train was to depart. I heaved a huge sigh of relief as I got on. I made a mental note to find out the SMS way to obtain one’s PNR status.
I clambered on to my side upper berth – where I’d get my privacy and space. I laid back and drowned myself into a book I had been reading. The train attendants arrived repeatedly to hand me a blanket, a pillow, a TetraPak of Frooti and a bottle of mineral water. The service was impressive and welcoming especially a persom traveling by train after ages. I dozed off after a couple of hours that I spent sipping Frooti while engrossed in my book.
I chose to sleep a little longer ignoring the typical sounds of “chai” and “breadomlette”. As I curled under the blanket and dug my head into the pillow, my breakfast arrived. I sat up, drew out the curtains and sat cross-legged facing a little boy and his sister quarreling over a gameboy. It was fun to watch them, it reminded me of my brother and the days when we fought to play some tetris type game. I hoped the kids didn’t think of me as a creepy staring lady. In an hour, I got off the train, on to the most packed platform I’ve ever seen. I was at the Lokmanya Tilak Station of Mumbai.
Auto drivers surrounded me as I exited the station, each quoting a different fare – most of them at least twice the fare Chandhana (the friend I was visiting; I call her Chandna) had estimated. I must have looked lost and ignorant. After a bit of bargaining, I gave up and got on one of the autos. My phone died; how typical I thought. I had to call Chandna from the auto driver’s phone for directions. I reached; there was Pranav waiting, fuming after Chandna told him about the auto fare. An aggressive argument followed; I watched meekly and paid the meter fare. It was done; I apologized profusely and Chandna gestured telling me it was alright, as we went up the elevator. I walked into a neatly furnished, lovely little apartment.