20 Jan 2010 – A day to remember!
My father hails from a small town called Kulpahar (meaning full of mountains), in District Mahoba in Uttar Pradesh (UP) state in India. It is a beautiful small town that is making good progress. As kids we would go there every year to spend summers; or for some wedding in my dad’s family. I hadn’t been there for nearly a decade; didn’t attend the last few weddings of the family due to office, travel at work etc.,
My cousin’s wedding got announced in January of 2010. I was super excited and decided that I could not miss this event for anything. It had been 10 long years since I also saw my loving grandparents and my family in Kulpahar (Kul). Though it would be difficult to get leave, working in an insurance company makes January a very important month, but I was lucky to get a few days off. I decided not to travel many days in advance with my folks, but on the wedding day itself. Given that North Indian weddings happen only in the night, it was a good decision. Also, trains don’t really work for me, so I would take a flight to Delhi and fly to Khajuraho thereafter. My family would pick me up at Khajuraho. Perfect!
Finally the day arrived. In the meanwhile, my little brother Sid also got motivated to travel with me. Considering we would be out only for 3 – 4 days, he managed to get the requisite leave. We were very eager. The flight to Delhi was early morning. We reached the airport on time (though am not a morning person at all, I did pretty well). But! The plane didn’t take off for 2 hours. These two hours seemed to be the longest that I had ever gone through and slowly and gradually the excitement was wearing off. The turbulent weather and bad flying conditions in Delhi caused the delay. We decided not to spoil our mood and remain positive 🙂
We landed in Delhi at 10.15 a.m. and the flight to Khajuraho was at 10.45. Man! Being the eternal optimist that I am, I knew there was still hope. Sid and I made a dash to the Jet airways counter. We ran for our lives!! There was no way we could afford to miss this flight and the wedding. On the other hand, my elder brother Avi, was constantly on the phone giving us positive updates – the flight to Khajuraho hadn’t taken off yet. And then we got the most shocking news! Much to our disappointment, the flight got cancelled. We had long faces and were at a complete loss as to what the next step should be. Both, Sid and I went to the counter multiple times, to enquire; to get the same sad reply. They refunded the money immediately. There was no other flight to Khajuraho. Khajuraho isn’t really a full-fledged normal airport. It is a defence base where two passenger flights landed in a day, those days. And much to our bad luck, that morning, our dear fighter pilots decided to conduct their air drills. What a pity. We were badly stuck!
We had no choice but to call the family in Kulpahar. I was too hesitant to call and speak to dad, because I knew what was in store for me. Unfortunately, they were keeping track of us and dad ordered us to take the next flight to Bombay. Huh? No chance!! Sid and I weren’t going back home. Our mind was made. But what next was a big question mark. It was 12 p.m. already. We hauled our small bags and went to the ticketing counters to look for flights which would take us to some big city in UP. Flight connectivity in UP is pretty bad and we were struggling on two counts, which city to go to and the sky rocketing ticket prices. Nearly 20,000 Rupees 🙁 we were confused and sad. First the stress of how to reach; second, dad didn’t relent. He kept warning us to go back to Bombay and not try stunts. That UP isn’t too safe for travel alone, wasn’t news; but that didn’t help our stubborn heads. I called a dear friend – Umar, who is based out of Delhi. Luck!!! He was traveling and he refused to get a cab booked for us. Being over protective about me, he said there was no way in hell he would allow me to travel from Delhi to Kul alone in a cab, it was too unsafe. I didn’t know how to convince him, but I let it be. He was right and there was no point getting hyper and taking irrational decisions which could land us into further trouble. He was kind enough to suggest that we should take a train. There would be many trains from Delhi to Jhansi (the city closest to Mahoba/ Kul). His wife Neha was at home and she helped us. It was 1.30 p.m. and we were still at Delhi airport. Neha told us about Gondwana Express that would leave Delhi at 3.15 p.m. and would reach Jhansi at 8 – 8.30 p.m. It sounded good. She tried booking tickets but since it was so close to the train’s departure time, online booking wasn’t possible. She told us that tickets were available and we should make a dash to the train station – Hazrat Nizamuddin. We had no clue how to go, how far it was… but without thinking too much Sid and I just ran out of the airport. Luckily while waiting for them to revert, we had had a bite to eat. We found an auto only to realise that it would cost us 750 Rupees. Being credit card people, both of us didn’t carry too much cash. Luckily we managed that much between us. We had paid for food on the flight and the airport, hence the shortage. And all this while we knew we wouldn’t be getting out of the airport until we reached Khajuraho, so smarties that we were, we didn’t bother to withdraw money. Never mind.
We reached the station at 3 p.m. and nervously stood in the queue to buy the tickets. I had never done this in my life, I suspect nor had Sid. OMG! Credit cards weren’t accepted. God! Everything that could possibly go wrong, did! We literally stammered and asked a coolie if there was an ATM and he answered in the affirmative. Sid dropped his bag at my feet and ran outside. It was 3.10 p.m. already and he didn’t return. My heart was sinking. I called on his cell phone, with my cell phone’s battery dying; just to know that during his travels his cell phone was always diverted. I couldn’t even speak to him. But lo, he arrived at that instant with the cash. The guy at the counter was very kind. He had kept everything ready and gave us the tickets immediately. I had never run so much in my life. One sane thought prevailed – while running up the bridge I asked another coolie where B2 (our compartment) would arrive. He said the train was already at the platform and the compartment would be close to the steps. Ufff! Luckily our bags weren’t too heavy and we could carry them ourselves and run as fast as cheetahs. Yes, the compartment was exactly where the coolie had pointed out and we got into the train. We both set foot in the train comfortably and it started. Good lord, were we lucky or what? My head wasn’t working and both Sid and I found our seats and sat quietly for a while. I wanted to cry. I hadn’t listened to my father and look at the troubles we were going through.
The seats were good though. It was an air conditioned (AC) compartment and there were charging points, so we could charge our poor dying cell phones. It’s only after half an hour or so, I realised I was dying of thirst. Actually both of us were! I had changed my purse for the travel, and there was no chocolate or anything else to eat too. Usually my bag has chocolates for sure. “No problem Ms. Chaurasia, it’s just a bad day, cheer up”, I told myself.
Sid went to search for the pantry car, again, to realise there wasn’t any. This was a superfast train and would stop only in Mathura now after a few hours. I decided to keep shut and close my eyes. Poor Sid, kept his head on my lap and slept for a while. In the meantime I spoke to mom and my uncles. My youngest uncle Balle said he would be there to pick us up. What a relief, and lucky us! We would also be just in time to attend the wedding.
The train slowed down because of the fog and I gathered that the hardships of the day weren’t over yet. My family would arrive on time to pick us up and they would be discomforted too. I was really sad. Aha! Just when I was feeling sad, the station arrived. Sid quickly woke up and ran down to get water for us. He took a long time since he had to really walk a lot to find some stall. AC compartments usually stop a bit far from civilisation (read: food and water stalls). I was too worried about his return but knew he was smart enough to get into any compartment should the train start. But arrive he did! With….water!! Just water!! Oh, my obedient little brother. Just got water, nothing to eat: despite rats sprinting in both our tummies! Ok, it’s not over yet, remember? I know he was exhausted too and didn’t think much. The pantry people did arrive in some time and took our order for dinner. But in some time the train stopped at another platform, and Sid also got some snacks.
It was already 10 p.m. and we hadn’t reached yet. The cell phone network was very bad and I couldn’t get through my parents and uncle. In some time, I did get a text from Uncle Balle saying that they had reached Jhansi station. Thank god for small mercies. We somehow killed time – sleeping and chatting, trying to keep our spirits high. Finally at around 11.45 p.m. we were we would be arriving in Jhansi in some time. The smart elder sister in me, ensured I opened the bags and gave Sid the warmers since it would be really cold outside. I wore my pullover, gloves etc too, in anticipation of alighting from the train. We reached Jhansi and as the train entered the platform Uncle Balle called out to us. What a relief it was to see him and my cousin. Finally we were in safe hands and didn’t have to take any more decisions ourselves!
As we got off the train, the chill and the winds hit us really hard and I was cold within minutes. The warmers did help though.
But!!! Guess what! It wasn’t over yet! Yes, there was more… Uncle told us that the Cruiser SUV they came in, got spoilt and refused to start; despite their desperate pleas. Oh no! Good lord, please have some mercy on us! It would be so difficult to be in this biting cold and that too in the middle of the night. It was over 12.30 a.m. already and this was UP! The land of dacoits! The saving grace was that we weren’t alone, so I decided not to make my head work anymore, and to leave it to the family folks. Uncle made us sit in the SUV with gunmen. Yep, we had body guards who were with us, while he went to look for some mode of transport. The whole street was empty with just a couple of men warming their cold hands on a fire they had lit at that unearthly hour. I so wanted to run there, but couldn’t.
Uncle Balle arrived after an hour or so, in an ‘ambulance’. Wow! Isn’t that cool I told myself. First, when I saw the ambulance I got very scared. But he called out and said not to worry, this vehicle would take us safely to the wedding hall. Wedding, my foot! I just wanted to go home and run to mom dad. I didn’t want to see anyone but them. But anyway, we changed the vehicle and started the three hour journey to Maharajpur (the place where the wedding was – pretty close to Mahoba and Kul). I tried my best to sleep. My hands, feet and nose were numb by then, Sid was slightly better off. I knew dad would be waiting anxiously at the gate, and I didn’t even want to picturize how shocked he would be to see an ambulance instead of the Cruiser SUV. I was praying that he would be inside when we would arrive, but luck wasn’t on our side, remember?
Dad was waiting for us outside when we reached the place. The ambulance didn’t halt at the gate and zoomed inside, so he didn’t realise who was in. Thank God! Sid and I ran out of the vehicle. I hugged my mother tight and was in tears. I was too scared to face dad. I didn’t even realise at that very moment someone removed my shoes and socks, and started putting oil and massaging my feet. Some other lady did the same with my hands, and some uncle got pipping hot tea. I just didn’t want to open my eyes. Only after a while did I see that my aunts were trying to warm my cold feet and hands. I felt better in some time, only to feel bad about the fact that all my wedding preps had gone for a complete toss. The tradtional Ms. Chaurasia was attending the wedding (or whatever was left of it) in jeans, tee, her favorite red pull over and sneakers 🙁 instead of a saree! Oh well…
The silver lining was that Sid and I reached safely. The family reunion after a decade was fabulous. We met all our cousins and the smiles and love on the faces of our grandparents made the adventure trip worth it.
Lesson learnt – Listen to dad, he is always right! 🙂