| 3 MINUTE READ | the raw delight of a random journey
It was our second year at engineering college. On a campus in the remote outskirts of Bangalore. One evening my friend Vishy and I do the 8 km bike ride to the closest STD booth. He speaks to a cousin who had just arrived from the USA. I speak to a friend back for a break from college in Canada. We ride back to campus, homesick. I suggest we make a short trip back home to Bombay. Vishy reminds me that our final exams are a week away.
Two days later, Bangalore University announces the deferment of our finals by a month. That evening we pool together Rs. 540 and ride into town. Drop my bike at a friend’s and then slip into an auto to the railway station to catch the 8 pm train that would arrive in Bombay the following evening.
We stand in the queue for two unreserved tickets, that get one into the coach with no guarantees for a seat. A tout approaches us with the offer of one reserved seat for Rs. 250. We pick it up and a second unreserved ticket for Rs. 50. The tout hands us over to a group of stringers who will lead us to our seat.
As they unlock the doors to the train compartment, we get swallowed into the crush of people squeezing through. Stringers lock onto seats and allocate them around. We set our bags on the floor by the exit door outside the toilets and settle ourselves to wait. The stringers melt away into the melee and we remain outside the toilet as the train pulls out of the station.
At the first stop, I step out to pick up two Vadas for dinner. See some space available in the adjacent coach filled with soldiers and move there with Vishy. At around midnight I pick a fight with one of the soldiers. He asks us to leave the coach at the next stop or he would cut me into two and throw me out. So at 2am, we move back to our spot outside the toilet of the unreserved coach and go to sleep.
The next day is June 10, 1991. Bombay experiences its wettest day in recorded history on that day. By 5pm, our train ends its journey at Loni, a small town about 170 kms short of Bombay. The entire train empties out onto one side of the overcast highway leading towards Bombay. Seeing the crowd and desperate for the fresh smell of some space, we decide to wait alone on the other side. We board a bus going in the opposite direction. It heads towards a small town called Uruli Kanchan 30 minutes away, after which it halts for a few hours and then turns to make the return trip back to Pune. As we pass Loni again, all the passengers are still waiting on the right side of the road for a ride. We reach Pune by 9pm, triumphant, tired and famished.
We grab a bite, go to the station and wait. Close to midnight, we manage to catch the last inter-city electric train towards Bombay. That train stalls at Lonavala Station at 1:30 am. We alight from the train. I notice two girls disembark from the adjacent coach and park themselves on a bench. We share our travel adventures with each other. They are aiming for Bombay and look at us with hope. We decide to step outside the station for a recce. I assure them I will return to fetch them with a plan.
All the buses coming from Pune and passing through look like tortured mobile prisons. Vishy decides we must walk further down into the ghat sections and try our luck there. Nobody will stop to give a ride near such a large flock of stranded travelers. He is not interested in saving the girls as much as I am. We decide to ditch the girls and pitch ahead along the deserted slopes of the highway.
We spend the next two hours walking and extending out our thumb at every intermittently passing vehicle. At 3am, we hand over our last few rupees in exchange for a ride on a truck loaded with meat. I get off two hours later at Sion circle, in the suburbs of Bombay. Vishy carries on as the truck’s final destination is close to home.
I get a ride on the back seat of a Jeep. The owner is driving and smoking pot. The odour fills my head and mingles with my sleep deprived disorientation. His driver sits beside him staring into a flood ravaged city. The Jeep bumps over a divider in the middle of the road and the owner laughs raucously. I am immune to the tug of my own nervousness. They drop me off at Byculla. I walk the last 5 kms in knee deep water, with my bag as an umbrella, until I reach home.
Three days later both of us are on a bus back to Bangalore. We pick up my bike and ride to campus. I lose control of the bike because of a flat tire and we crash. I suffer a bad gash on my leg. We walk with the bike to a friend’s house enroute, leave it there and take an auto to college.
No real journey is ever about a destination.