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February 12, 2017

Celebrating 22 years of an incredible voyage ...

While celebrating my 22nd work anniversary ,one episode comes to my mind, it was around August in 1995, I had settled in my role as service supervisor at Voltas in Ahmedabad and needed to travel to our manufacturing plant for some urgent meeting to discuss recurring failure in the compressor of our refrigerators. Voltas manufacturing plant was located near a small town of Warora , literally in middle of nowhere, the nearest large town was Nagpur about 107 km / 65 miles away. While I reached Warora through Nagpur , on return journey , I decided to take a chance by catching one of the few long distance trains that make an halt at Warora, The Navjeevan express, which runs twice a week from Chennai all the way to Ahmedabad. The train’s scheduled arrival time in Warora is after mid-night , however as I still needed to find local transport from the plant to the train station , which I was told would be difficult ,after dark so by 6 pm , I packed my one lone suitcase, which also doubled as a briefcase. ( Those days before laptops become common place, everyone had a suitcase or a briefcase, nowadays everyone carries a backpack :-) ). A local bus dropped me at the Warora station around 6:45 pm. I bought the train ticket to Ahmedabad and a long wait for the train awaited me.

Since I had no reservation , I was also mentally preparing myself for the long haul , long haul in terms of traveling in an unreserved coach meant traveling without a seat and potentially without access to food, water or toilet for extended periods of time. And even without any delay, the travel time from Warora to Ahmedabad was 15 hours and Navjeevan express was notorious for being perennially late.

Warora those days was a dusty little town with very few amenities. There were no restaurants around , but thankfully there were a few food hawkers . Since it was unlikely that I would get access to a decent toilet for the next 18 hours I thought of eating something light not to burden my stomach; And something light for a person from Gujarat means only one thing – Bhel ;-). So I had a Bhel and probably a chat for dinner at that stall and strolled back into the eerily empty Warora train station. In the 1990’s people actually read from a book instead of a device :-) , but my mind was too overworked so I could not read the book I was carrying. By the time it was 9 pm , the entire town had gone dark and except for the station manager the station was deserted.
And it was still at least 4 hours for my train to arrive, so I decided to catch a nap on one of the stone benches on the station. Unfortunately while Warora does not count for much in terms of passenger traffic but the train line that runs through the station is one of the busiest for freight, because of the coal mines of Chandrapur located nearby. So every 30 minutes of so , a wagon train carrying coal , would pass through the station , on its way to various coal fired power plants across the country. And every time I heard the train approaching with its thundering roar, I would wake up , thinking it was my train. Station master noticed my trepidation and offered to wake me up before my train arrived. That way I would not have to wake up every time a train passed by. I took his offer and tried to get some deeper sleep, but the anxiety of missing the train was too great, but not to disappoint the station master, I ended up acting as if I was having a deep sleep . hahahhaa
Finally Navjeevan express arrived with all the huffing & puffing of a diesel locomotive and called in at the Worora station around 1:30 am. Each long distance train has usually 2 unreserved coaches , and I scrambled to get in one of them. From the odour inside the coach , I could easily vouch that the train had already been enroute for 12 + hours. Luckily I secured a small space on the upper wooden berth in the compartment. After a short halt, the train gave a joyous whistle ( at least it sounded joyous to me :-) as I was finally on the way home) and pulled out of the station, . The motion of the train with the junk street side food I had eaten the previous evening made for a deadly cocktail and soon I felt the bug in my stomach. For the next 15 hours I sat in that one place trying to make as little motion as possible so as to not antagonize my stomach any further. Finally that ordeal ended next day and it took me another day to recover from the bug.
And even today every time I feel upset waiting for a bus or having to take the middle seat on a flight or overcrowding in a train, I remind myself of that journey from Warora.

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