So, Venkatesh, my friend and owner of Krishna Travels in the Hampi Bazaar, suggested that I hire a motorbike instead. I readily agreed and a motorbike appeared in a matter of minutes.
I must say that I had dressed carefully for the occasion. Don’t quite know what Gurgaon HQ would have said though about my clothes. My (Speedo) swimming trunks doubled up as shorts, T-shirt, anorak, camera bag with some cash, my driver’s licence and special Nokia mobile was all I carried with me. I was immune to whatever the rain gods might send down.
And, guess what bike came my way? A 100 CC Suzuki, which looked quite familiar. Was I seeing things? Not quite. It was the same bike as I had used in Delhi for 10 years – my Ind Suzuki. Let me tell you it wasn’t easy to buy in those days – you had to book and then wait. I think I waited for more than a year for mine to arrive.
After meandering through Hampi and getting to grips with the gears (all four down!!), I was off. It was exhilarating. Just to be on the bike and drive around. For some reason, I took off on the road from Kamalapur to Kampili.
The Ind Suzuki had lost the Ind. Rest of it was just the same; the gears the speedometer panel. Nothing had changed. It was reassuring. Don’t know why, but I like some things to remain the same.
The weather was simply super. So were the rice fields irrigated by the Tungabhadra dam. Stopped and chatted with Lingaraj driving a tractor (he said he was testing it) and had tea just short of Bukkasagar.
I asked Ganesh, who was standing at the tea shop, the name of the village. He smiled and said the row of 10 houses had no name – it was opposite a government nursery that’s all.
Along the way, I saw India that evening – sitting around the village chabutra, cutting vegetables for the evening, doing nothing waiting for another day to go by.
It takes a little more than 24 hours to travel by this train from Bhopal to Hubli from where I have to catch another connecting train to
Hospet and then go on to Hampi.
Thanks to Bishakha, I have a confirmed AC three tier berth on the train – although it’s a middle one and I will have trouble
manoeuvring my bulk into the berth.
I have this habit of checking the chart at the station to get to know the people around me, but since I was boarding the train from
Bhopal and it having started from Hazrat Nizamuddin, there was little chance of getting to know the age and the sex of the neighbours.
When I enter the B1 coach at 7.20 in the evening, it looks as if it’s after midnight. People are passed out. All sleeping soundly.
All very well for them; but not for me. I have to use all my persuasive powers to get an oldish lady to share the lower berth with me. I also
see that there are a few other youngsters who are in the passed-out mode.
There’s nothing of the confusion of the Tapti-Ganga – none of the tambakoo-chewing, poor India. This, I am soon to learn, is laptop
India (includes me, btw) that surfaces around midnight having slept through the day.
Soon after settling down, I begin staring at a grey-haired man on the side berth in front of me. He’s busy talking to people in his own
compartment of eight.
After staring at him for quite some time, I muster up courage, get up as if to go to the loo, stop near him, and ask, “Are you Madan
Talwar? If not, sorry.”
His response is equally quick: “Amit Baruah!”
Madan and I worked at the news desk in Indian Express back in 1986-87, when I was a trainee.
And, then, of course the journey changes its character. We are gassing and gossiping about just about everybody in journalism. And,
it’s great fun.
He tells me about his kids – the son is a chef running his own restaurant in Delhi and his daughter a journalist. I tell him about THE
WIFE (whom he knows as a striker from Indian Express) and when Minu calls they speak as long-lost friends.
After I sit next to him, he whispers that the other chaps in plainsclothes are policeman and they have arrested a man (clearly a
Muslim) who has open handcuffs on one hand only.
Turns out (the cops tell this reporter) that the man was wanted in a 10 year old robbery case in Kolhapur or Solapur I can’t quite
remember. He was arrested in Delhi because of info posted on the internet. They seem very pleasant with each other and I see the
man-with-the-open cuffs eating and talking amiably with his captors.
I tell Madan I quit my job (and the reasons for doing so!).
He’s going to Pune for work and, later, when he gives me his card near Pune, I find that he’s the President of the All-India Newspaper
I have no card to give him – for the first time in 26 years I am without an institutional identity related to myself.
Then I find that I have some old BBC cards in my bag. I cross out the entire card and write my name and mobile number. That does the
job quite well.
After Madan gets down, I meet Madhav and Zulaila (two separate individuals). Madhav works for Pepsico. He’s a food engineer (at
least that’s what I understand) and lives in DLF Phase-III and shares Bhupinder Singh Hooda as Chief Minister with me.
He’s from Gujarat and can’t bear the food in the North of India. “Why do I get paneer, paneer and more paneer for every meal?” We
all laugh together at his comments.
He shares a place with other Gujju boys and like good Gujju boys they cook Gujju food as often as they can.
(Like Anushka, Antara, Revu, Rishika, Ishana and Ilika, Nirati and Nidhi, all teenagers that I know, Madhav and Zulaila come to life at night.
When I got up groggily to go to the loo at night, both Madhav and Zulaila were busy watching films / serials on their respective laptops
and surfaced well after 12 noon).
Madhav gets off at Miraj junction and I tell him that he should design some healthy and tasty Kurkure-type substances for all the teenage girls and boys that I know. He flashes a smile as he takes off with his samaan.
Our conversation was in full flow by the time we reached Miraj.
I keep up the conversation with Zulaila, who is a young doctor doing her internship in a Belagum medical college. She’s a lovely girl from Delhi, who has learnt Kannada because she has to treat her patients.
This is her sixth year in Belgaum. Zulaila’s now making plans for her future post-grad studies. She tells me that there are people from all
over India in her college.
And, then the oldish lady, whom I had to try hard to share the common lower berth, pipes up when we talk about Goa.
“Aren’t a majority of people Christians in Goa and don’t they show off too much body?”
After endless cups of tea, I decided to eat an apple – turning my face away from the station in the hope that I would escape the flies. That was to be my healthy breakfast.
As I was sitting and waiting after a harrowing few hours in the second class compartment of the Tapti-Ganga Express, where I had at least 25 co-passengers in a compartment meant to seat eight, I saw a missed call from HEADQUARTERS.
I immediately called back. The HQ in Gurgaon was not happy. The younger daughter’s Hindi homework had not been done and I was the guilty party. So, HQ SPOKE and I hummed and hawed.
Anyway, that’s not the story.
Truth be told, I was apprehensive of getting on to the Fast Passenger from Khandwa given my fresh experience on the Tapti-Ganga. But I was pleasantly surprised.
Not a single extra person got on to the reserved second class sleeper on this lovely metre gauge train. Even the unreserved compartment was easily accessible.
My faith in my train travel was immediately restored.
And, the rest of the journey was only music. I don’t think I sat on my seat during the entire journey. I was just hanging out of the train – looking out.
Ajanti, Barwaha, Kalakund, Patalpani….the station names were most musical.
And, then the stop at Kalakund where Kalakand was selling; from Kalakund to Mhow the run is just about 40 minutes.
The old metre-gauge rake is pulled by a single diesel engine. In Kalakund, the train takes on a second engine to help the Fast Passenger accomplish the climb. Its attachment and climb through four tunnels and the two bridges that I could see was simply super.
People were cheering as the train went through the tunnels. It was a slow, beautiful experience to be cherished.
My brother Rajeev and sister-in-law Ritu were at hand to receive me with garlands. I wasn’t embarrassed in the least!
There’s little doubt that this railway needs to be preserved as a heritage line.
But more on that later.