A masters in English Literature, Tillie is a close observer of human nature and enjoys writing flash fiction and short stories.
The night before
The night before, the excitement was infectious. And building up by the minute. We got down to business quickly. A new WhatsApp group was formed. Messages flew fast and furious. Minutes ticked by, then hours. Giggles turned to guffaws while we waded through clouds of confusion, discussing meticulously, item by item, the categories of clothes, stripping down even to nightwear and beyond. What would the weather be like? Sitting in the scorching heat of Delhi, it was difficult to decide what kind of clothes to carry. Memories of December and 16 deg Celsius seemed so far away. Google aunty was searched fervently…..climate in Kathgodam between 14th and 18th May. It would range between 30 and 24 deg C, with a thundershower one day. Oh no, that’s hot! But Jay’s house is at quite a distance from Kathgodam, Gita advised, as she had visited earlier. And at a higher altitude! Oh ok, we sighed with relief. For what fun would be a hill holiday if it was hot…Smart son Rahoul was consulted, and he posted a cooler picture with the Nainital weather app. It promised thundershowers too, Day 3 onwards. But the problem of packing still remained. Summer clothes for the day and light woollens for the evenings? The question continued to loom large. Those, like Manju, who wore trousers, finalised their packing quickly. A couple of pants and a few tops. A light jacket and a shawl. And everything will fit comfortably in a carry-on strolley, while I, who wore voluminous ethnic wear, thought in alarm, but summer suits and thicker winter suits, as well as shawls and sweaters won’t fit in one carry on bag. So another one had to be found. Geeta, with the double e, was comforting. I don’t travel light, she said confidently, with her inherent poise, plus I’ll be carrying the presents. So no way can I stuff everything in the strolley bag. At least there’s someone else with two bags, I thought in relief. We need a light jacket, just in case it gets cold. After all, the weather’s so unpredictable these days. Further confusion, for I couldn’t find the rainproof jacket I wanted. The two that I did find were so thick. I haven’t pulled out my woolens. Now it was Gita’s turn. I need to air them! Why on earth did I pack them in the first place, she bemoaned.
One for the road
But it wasn’t just clothes. Should we carry some food, some snacks? Again messages flew fast and furious. Manju and Geeta, with the double e, being delicate of constitution, would carry poha and sandwiches for the train journey. I needed my chai, but the thought of tea made with hot water served in the discoloured flasks that had seen better days made my stomach turn. For hadn’t some good samaritan aunty sent a WhatsApp forward which actually showed the flasks being washed with water that was not from the pantry? Now, I cannot imagine a time before WhatsApp, I thought gratefully. How our days and nights have changed since the advent of this free messaging service. From entertainment to information – the uncles and the aunties work hard day and night to make everything available on the phone. No wonder most people had stopped subscribing to the newspaper, and news channel TRPs continued to fall, while prominent newscasters threatened to join political parties.
Thus started the hunt for a flask, disposable cups, tea bags and creamer sachets for tea, bowls and spoons for the poha, and a disposable knife for the lemon cake. Oh no, I’ve run out of paper napkins, I realised. Gita came to the rescue with a tissue box. Better take some lemons for my tea, I thought wisely. For in the hills, the vegetable market might be at a distance. A knife, in case I felt like having lemon tea on the train. By now, I had started feeling quite smug that we’d thought of just about everything. Manju ran efficiently to the fruit market and got her favourite fruit packed, while Geeta, with the double e, bought fresh walnut cake with the delightful accompaniment of Pringle chips. Last minute anxiety message as Gita said she couldn’t send for bread. There wasn’t enough bread in the house and there was a fierce storm raging outside by now. But she solved it by dipping into her mother’s fridge and chipped in with fresh and soft cheese sandwiches. Thank God for mothers, I thought gratefully. They, willy nilly, have a knack for solving problems! I ran out to pick up some munchees, for weren’t our hosts from the land of farsan namkeens? It’s only appropriate I thought. Besides, it would go so well with hot steaming cups of tea.
I had booked a taxi from the neighbourhood taxi stand in advance but last minute panic made me call Om Prakash ji again. He reassured me in his thick Haryanvi accented gruff voice, Ji, aap chinta na karein; us samay hamein ek call kar dijiega, koi na koi pahunch jayega (Please don’t worry. Just call us in the morning, someone or the other will surely turn up). But I’ve already booked the taxi, don’t tell me your man needs a wake-up call, I thought impatiently. Didn’t dare voice my thoughts in fear though, what if he doesn’t surface at that hour? Gita gave us wake-up calls just in case we overslept, having stayed up most of the night. Manju and I would take taxis while the two Gs would travel together as they lived in the same neighbourhood.
The morning after
A brief wake-up call and Om prakash ji’s man turned up in the wee hours of the morning as promised. It felt strange racing down Ring Road to Moti Bagh and beyond, to the New Delhi railway station. With no traffic to dodge, no honking, no irate motorists, it felt like a different city in the pale morning light. Before the air sector had been liberalised and the skies had opened up for travellers, we used to be at the railway station ever so often, as frequent passengers on the Rajdhani Express to Howrah. Now, after so many years, the station looked different and new, I wondered if it had something to do with Delhi at dawn. The feeling of déjà vu grew strong as I saw coolies in their red shirts and arm bands scurrying hopefully behind every approaching taxi. And there they were, just as I had remembered them, belligerent and demanding as ever, and threatening to walk away if you didn’t agree to their charges. Thank God, some things haven’t changed, I thought with relief.
Almost jogging behind the coolie lest he disappeared with my belongings, I managed to find the platform, train, compartment and seat. I spotted Gita and kept looking over her shoulder for Geeta, with the double e, but couldn’t spot her for the longest time. Gita explained that Geeta, with the double e, had fallen sick and would not be able to join the trip. Oh no, what timing! Jay and Himanshu emerged mysteriously from within the compartment, having reached before us. Such a relief! But where’s Manju? Found her, here she is! Smart son Rahoul had dropped her, so all was well.
We settled down in our seats as the train finally chugged out of the station. Jay introduced us to her friendly cousin Nanhi and her charming husband Piyush Bhai. The liveried waiters busied themselves with distributing bottled drinking water, newspapers and morning tea with the customary Marie biscuits, while scribbling down our preference for vegetarian or non-veg breakfast options. But we, meanwhile, had gleefully pulled out our sandwiches and tea and even tasted Manju’s poha. Breakfast was the unimaginative bread and eggs or bite sized vegetable cutlets as the waiter had conveniently forgotten to tell us about the aloo paratha option. We had hardly slept the night before so after having exchanged gossip and with food in our bellies, we dozed off even as the train chugged rhythmically on towards Kathgodam.
Reeta Majumdar on August 04, 2020:
Your story evokes pleasant memories of travel associated with feelings of anticipation, excitement and exuberance.
A magical combination of your eloquence and sense of humour engages the reader in a very special way.
Will wait for more....
srabani roy choudhury on July 28, 2020:
what a piece of writing... associate totally with the excitement and the what's app party!!!. It is you who can turn a mundane occurrence into an event of pure joy. Look forward to more
KIRAN BHALLA on July 23, 2020:
A very enjoyable article Mrs Bhalla, would love to see more in future