At last, we reached the platform for the last ride, our journey back to Bangalore. It didn’t start well; we waited on the platform for more than half an hour without getting a glimpse of the train. By the time it rolled in, it was already past the time of departure. In the end, we left only 15-20 minutes late. But, by then it was past 9, we were all hungry and the kids were tired too. We gobbled up some snacks that we were carrying and put the kids to bed – still hungry, they claimed – by 10. It was 11 by the time we got dinner, and midnight by the time we turned out the lights.
On this train, we had no problem with the air-conditioning. We, unfortunately, did not get a two-person cabin; but the other couple who should have boarded at Bangalore didn’t, so for a while we dared to dream of having the entire four-person cabin to ourselves. The dream was short-lived; the first night some three-tier passengers, perhaps traveling on the wait list, got bumped up to AC First. Theirs was a short stay: the joined us at 11 p.m. and disembarked (detrained?) at 5 a.m. Later in the morning a woman with two small kids and an ayah joined us, and they stayed all the way to Bangalore. We, smartly, manipulated ourselves into a two-person cabin when one fell vacant that evening, and from then on, things were easier.
That day was very comfortable for me, because Amit finally took pity on me (I’d been busy with the kids the whole day, every single day, for the entire ten days we’d been away) and volunteered to handle all toilet calls for the day. This should have been a good thing, but trusting small girls to their dads in the cramped and generally distasteful public toilets in moving trains is so not a good idea. On the very first toilet excursion with Tara, I heard loud wailing coming down the aisle, followed by Tara’s distraught appearance, followed by Amit holding up one shoe and wearing an expression of disgust and exasperation. It turned out that Tara had managed to send the other shoe down the hole. (It was the Indian style toilet that he’d taken her to… On my advice… Because I’d done it a hundred times without facing any problem.) Bathrooms on Indian trains have bottomless holes; some poor farmer or railway labourer will one day find a single child-size shoe in good condition adorning the railway track in the middle of nowhere. Maybe he will know of a one-legged child who can benefit from it.
Meanwhile I, within seconds, and with an insufferably smug air, pulled out a spare pair of shoes for poor Tara and brought the smile back to her face. And Amit’s. He still had to manage the rest of the toilet calls though – and thankfully he did not allow any more shoes to be sent down the hole, because I had only one spare pair of shoes between the two of them.
We had heard, vaguely, even before we left home, that there had been heavy rain on our route and trains were getting held up. Still, we were surprised to hear that our own train could not go on its proposed route. Between Hyderabad and Bangalore tracks were flooded and even some part of the road had been washed away. Our train had been diverted away towards Vijawada and Chennai. S&S, checking over the phone and internet, told us that night that our train was being declared as running 23 hours late! Twenty three hours!? What would we do for food? And would the gas for the AC last that long??? And wouldn’t the toilets run out of water, as I recall well from long train journeys of yesteryears?
In panic mode, Amit began to work out alternatives. He is wonderful at such operations. Telephone calls flew thick and fast between him and S&S in Bagnalore. Simultaneously, whenever he had coverage, he surfed the Net desperately, trying to find out the latest information. Would we go as far as Secunderabad? Then could we take a bus or flight from there? No, no buses were plying, the road was closed. Flight would set us back a cool 32 k! Then, it turned out we wouldn’t get to Hyderabad-Secunderabad at all. We were going through Vijayawada. Again, Amit considered bus and flight. Then we heard that we might be going through Chennai. Then we could certainly hop off the train and take a flight. Anything, to avoid spending an extra 23 hours in the train, coping with the energetic and frustrated twins.
Meanwhile, I? I was sitting and watching the panic mode in mild amazement. I have an old-school mentality. We’re on the train, right? So we stay on the train at least until we reach Bangalore. Then, we hop off at the most convenient platform and flag down a passing auto. If we get a little late, we get a little late. If we get very late, we go hungry. If we get very, very late… well, we’re in AC First. Surely they will not let us die of hunger. (Not that those in lower classes will die of hunger either – vendors know an opportunity when they see one.) We were not, as far as I could tell, one of the unfortunates stuck in the flood who had to have food air-dropped to them. We were still going to be passing through railway stations like Vijawada – surely they’d load food as required. And gas for the AC.
In the end, it turned out to be much ado about nothing. We got into Bangalore a little over three hours late. Instead of waking up early at 6.30, we slept late, had a leisurely morning, and were home before eleven. There was a slight risk of starvation – we weren’t served any breakfast – but I’d had the sense to keep some slices of bread and jam for the kids, and a couple of bananas. What’s more, the staff did come around at about 9 a.m. with a couple of boxes of upma for the kids – which was very thoughtful and nice of them, considering nobody else was getting any food. And considering they’d already been tipped and couldn’t have been motivated by any such consideration (I’m such a skeptic).
Of course, we heard of other trains that had been stuck in flooded parts for hours on end. Our own train going from Bangalore to Delhi was held up by 23 hours or so. But, well… those are things that happen to other people. We only suffered a minor three-hour-delay and came back poorer by one shoe and hungry for breakfast.
And yesterday evening, Amit booked the train tickets for our next holiday in December. Boy, some people just never learn.