On the road

| 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.

An inside view of a typical unreserved coach

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.

The 1991 Bombay floodsthe walk in knee deep water was no exaggeration
With Vishy, whose sharp memory enabled
me to recount the details of an unforgettable journey

43 thoughts on “On the road

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  1. Anand, this is a perfect example of ‘experiencing a journey’. Destinations are often the reason for travel but without the travel, the destination is simply a distant, out of reach place. College days are a heady mix of being reckless and responsible. A simple urge to travel home turned into a struggle against man and nature, both of which are highly unpredictable. Though I’ll give nature the benefit of doubt, rain has to fall and the downpour can be beyond one’s expectations. I’m sure at the time, it must have been an uncomfortable experience. But youth is much more open to sudden shifts and changes. And when a friend is along, the journey is always ten times better. Wish you well. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ha ha ha! brilliant. you have a knack for bringing these situations alive. What an adventure! Good that both of you had the pictures and the recollection to write it like a nice short story. Well done! Lovely last line, as always.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Having known you for quite some time I could never imagine that youu could have ever taken such an adventurous journey . But this side of your life have further steeled my view about your wonderful personality. Hats off !!!
    Your story was enthralling & written by an expert as always.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Anand ,you really have a gift of making a situation come alive.Your experience to reach home is so vivid and beautifully portrayed. I feel the previous generations had the gumption to experiment and live frugally .,Handle hardships.Todays generation is cocooned and entitled.

    You journey home to Mumbai , seemed to be really difficult,but you can see how well you both handled it.

    Thanks for sharing ___ your stories always are so poignant and beautifully portrayed.
    Mina

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The journey of life is made up of experiences like these that shape our character and thought process. The minutiae of life, very well captured, as always, Anand.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is one memorable adventure of a journey indeed! It brought back floods of memories of childhood travels in crowded train, the knee deep waters growing up in Mumbai. We didn’t know any different so it was all so normal :))

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “I pick a fight with a soldier” does not sound like a great strategy to avoid toilet side sleeping. But what a great memory from youth!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Very interesting. Reminds me of my trip to Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1972, a memorable journey about which I have been planning to blog for quite sometime but have been postponing due to my foray into stories!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dear Ananda,
    Thank you for the glimpse into your youth. It was a fun ride! I agree; there is never a destination, only this path of endlessly opening to what is.
    I am pleased to see slightly more.
    Kind Regards,
    Kiora

    Like

  10. Well narrated wistful memories, as always. These little trysts are what can bring a smile on the face in this bald world.

    Like

  11. Loved taking this exotic adventure with you Ananda, alive with a certain cavalier courage, “immune to the tug of nervousness”. Nice!

    Like

  12. My Goodness Anand Babu! It was such an exciting narrative , very tedious indeed . So real as if I was living through such an ordeal!

    Certainly all these anecdotes of your growing up years have toughened you Spiritually, Mentally and Emotionally and made you Perfect Gentleman!!!

    Through your Ananda, am able to see your Life’ s Perspective! I wish our Dear Brother and your Dear Brother were around to take pride of your entire Life’s Fabric!!

    Happy that Amma, Shalini and your kids get to read your ANANDA !!

    Love

    Baby Athai

    Like

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