“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the End”
— Ernest Hemingway.
Some journeys are exciting, some are boring; some you look forward to, but others may not be so; some are usual, some are not!!!!
I am not sure as to how I should describe my first journey back from Bomaby (now Mumbai) to Guwahati, via Calcutta (now Kolkata)!! It was more than 25 springs ago; 5th of December , 1992, to be precise!! My colleague and friend Ravi escorted me to Kurla Railway (now Lokmanya Tilak) Terminus (in Bombay) to board the (the then) Bombay-Howrah Express, round about 9 in the evening. Ravi is a Mumbaikar to the core, though born a Tamil. He helped me to my AC-II tier berth, and was generous with some bottles of drinking water, biscuits, snacks, etc. We bid goodbye to each other, as the train chucked off from the station. The Bombay-Howrah Express was not known for punctuality, but it did start on dot on that day. It was Amchi Bombay, after all. And yes, the train was expected to reach Howrah Railway Station (in Calcutta) during the day time on the 3rd day.
I always found difficult to sleep in trains, and so I here I was, reading the latest issue of India Today magazine (it was a fortnightly then), and continued to do so, even after having dinner, served in the train. I was forced to make my bed and lie down on the upper berth, as my co-passengers demanded that the lights be switched-off. It was a hectic day for me as I was continuously on the move earlier in the entire day in Bombay, and my tiredness helped me to sleep a bit at night.
The next day (6th December, 1992) morning hours and day-time hours were uneventful, except usual cups of tea (God knows where they got their water then to make tea inside the train), mufali (peanuts), some readings, small chats with co-passengers, food, etc.
Slowly it was evening, and I noticed that people were slowly becoming serious. In some other berth, some distance away in the same coach, someone was tuning into the radio, unsuccessfully though. There were hushed voices. I heard the coach attendant closing the exit doors of the coach. I tried speaking to my co-passengers in the compartment to inquire if anything was wrong, but they feigned ignorance. It was time to attend to nature’s call, and I went to the toilet to relieve myself. I saw a couple of persons standing outside the compartment. I wanted to open one of the exit doors to suck in some fresh winter air, and that’s when one of the persons standing there prevented me from opening the door saying “mahol achcha nehi hain (the environment is not good)”. Though taken aback a bit by his gesture, I asked him : “kya huwa (what happened)”? The good man said : “Babri Masjid gir gaya (Babri Masjid is broken)”. I did not know what to say but went to my seat inside the compartment without uttering a word. Though I had read about the build up, I did not fathom much about the incident. The night went by with some sleep.
I woke up the next day (7th December 1992) morning about 7 am as I heard the announcement outside saying that the train is in Tatanagar (Jamshedpur) station, and that the train was being terminated, and would not proceed further. It was then the ordeal started for each one of us in the train.
We were forced to get off the train with our heavy luggage. We also came to know that curfew was declared in Tatanagar/Jamshedpur, and were advised not venture outside the railway station. There was no help coming from the railway authorities about our onward travel to Calcutta and other places. The railway authorities were unhelpful to say the least. We were forced to fend for ourselves. Luckily, some food and drinking water was available in the station, which helped us to some extent. Some passengers did venture out of the station to look for alternative arrangements, but I did stay put in the station itself.
The day went by with loads of anxiety, worrying what’s going to happen next, what help do I get, etc. One porter suggested that I force myself into any Calcutta-bound train arriving at the station. But, there was no movement of any train, either way.
It was evening, and it was dark. I was tense. Then, round about 8 pm, there was an announcement that Bombay-Howrah Gitanjali Express would arrive in the station. Without thinking anything, I started to run with my luggage towards the designated platform. Before the train could stop properly, I barged myself into an AC coach. The passengers inside protested, but I was in no mood to listen to them. I forced myself into one of the berths inside, and stay put, as if I got another lease of life.
The train had a stop of a few minutes at Tatanagar station, but there was no movement at all, even after some time had elapsed. There was no announcement too. But, I was in no mood to let go off my berth.
“Red” was the signal ahead. Fortunately, the AC was working. And, the food vendors were doing brisk business. We were told later that Bihar bandh was declared the next day (8th December), and that, there would not be any train movement till the situation improves. So, the train practically became a camp for the passengers. Night came and passed as I tried to catch a few winks. The whole of the next day (8th December), we were stranded in the station. However, peace prevailed inside the station. We’re not knowing what was happening outside. I was resigned to spend another night at the station.
To our pleasant surprise, past midnight, there was an announcement that the train would proceed to Howrah, shortly. The train did start at about 1 am, as I took a few winks.
It was about 5.30 am in the morning (9th December) that we reached Howrah station, only to learn that bandh was declared in Calcutta.
The policemen did ensure order outside the railway station. There was a big queue for pre-paid taxis outside the Howrah station. After an hour or so, I got my turn and got a cab to the Airport.
Fortunately, I had an open flight ticket (it was possible those days to purchase an Indian Airlines (IA) ticket without a date, though the price was fixed) to Guwahati. The only IA flight to Guwahati was scheduled around 11 am , but at the counter, (of course, Indian Airlines), we were told that there was a bandh at Guwahati, and they were unable to say when clearance would be given. The wait so far was so long that, for me, waiting for another day was not a big deal. A couple of hours later, however, our flight departure was announced. I was mighty pleased to board the flight before 2 pm to my home. We landed just after 3 pm at Guwahati (on 9th December), and somehow managed a taxi to the city. On the way we saw burnt tyres, damaged ASTC buses, etc , but reached home without further ordeal.