Oh, what a night...

The 10.28 Khopoli slow left CSMT on Monday as it had done many a time before -- well after the 10.29 Badlapur fast had departed. It was almost 10.40pm when the familiar double ping was heard and the train set off, with me reluctantly on board, wondering wouldn't I have been better-served by the 10.50 Kasara. But if this was late, how much more late would the fast be, I thought. At least the slow would plod along consistently, I told myself. Which it did, until it crossed Kurla. It then lingered awhile. The time was around 11.17pm, I noted, based on the messages I had been sending my family and colleague.

Then when I saw 10 minutes had passed, I started to get uncomfortable. It was raining but the tracks were visible, what could possibly be the matter, I wondered. Shortly thereafter, the Kasara fast overtook us. It had now been over 20 minutes since our train had moved. At this rate, I told my train friend, who I'd met after months, the last fast too will overtake us. That's exactly what happened, at 11.46pm. At which point, I walked up to the Home Guard and asked him what news did he have and how come no announcements were being made. He said there was waterlogging. I asked how come the fast trains was were zipping by. He said the slow tracks were the worst-hit. My friend and I rued our judgment for having given Kasara a miss. My family too

was upset but who would've anticipated this eventuality, as no announcements of any kind had been made at CSMT or any station. Throughout this period, my messages to my colleague and home were the same: Still here. Here, which for the next few hours, would be between Kurla and Vidyavihar. All this while, the spigot in the sky kept turning on ferociously, then turning off, only to return in a few minutes, fiercer than ever.

A young woman and her older acquaintance, the woman in a peach salwar kameez, thought enough was enough and decided to take the plunge. They used the emergency steps to descend from the train and walk to Vidyavihar from where Ghatkopar, their destination, was close. They, however, came back in a few minutes, soaked to the bone. Rested a bit and then ventured forth again. After their second descent, a sari-clad passenger came running to inform us, one of them had fallen.

It's ‘amavas’, the 'bhoot' which is always looking for a 'bali', she cautioned us. But we didn't see the duo afterwards, so most likely, they had made it. There were several others, mostly men, who were walking to Vidyavihar. But the rest of us, about 17 in number, saw no point in doing so.

In our immediate circle, a young chartered accountant had to go to Kalwa; the other woman had just had a harrowing time returning from Pune earlier in the day because of a goods train debacle and was going home to Vikhroli after visiting her sister at Lower Parel. There was a smiling young mother and her little boy, quite well-behaved so far, going home to Mumbra. His father was in the general compartment. My train friend lives in Thane. Our families and friends were awake, constantly monitoring our situation, which had barely changed.

Then the little boy had to pee. No problem. But around 1.40am, he had to do the big job. Whether the train was moving or not, the kid's bowels were threatening to move. His mother called his father using the CA's smartphone, asking him to please get down from the general ‘dibba’ and help their son out so he could go outside. But the father asked her to handle the situation. Which she did, admirably so. I offered her bath tissue and then hand sanitizer for both mother and son.

Rain had soaked the boy's shirt, so he had to peel it off and wore a top his mother knotted out of a dupatta. He peacefully settled down in his seat, head on his mother's lap. But did not fall asleep although several other women made the most of it. Those of us who had phones had switched off the internet, to save charge. The Vikhrolli-bound woman offered her powerbank to the CA so she could charge her phone for a while. Meanwhile, my dear and determined colleague had kept up a steady line of communication open on Twitter, questioning the railway authorities and keeping us posted on SMS.

The guard was now blaring music loudly, just to lighten the air. 'Phir aapke naseeb mein/ yeh raat ho na ho...,' crooned Lata Mangeshkar. Really, I asked him and all he could do was break into a grin as we all laughed at the irony. If you like, I'll help you get down, you can walk to the station, it's about 400m away, he offered. But no one was buying. Suddenly, a little after 2am, the welcome ping-ping sound of the train setting off was heard, much to our joy.

At 2.09am, the train reached Vidyavihar. It was 2.50pm by the time we got to Vikhroli, then Kanjurmarg at 2.57am. When we saw the startling sight of the stalled Kasara fast, stuck between Kanjur and Bhandup. Two young women got off and boarded our train, as it was moving and theirs had not done so because ahead of it was a long-distance train. Several men also got on board at this point. But they were all quietly anxious as they stood about self-consciously and the women asked them to sit. Finally, I reached Mulund, at 3.26am, promising all my train companions I would text them I had reached safely and they promised to do so too. Now, home was a walk about four bus-stops away. But what was I going to do about the stray dogs on the way, sure to dog my steps, thinking I had food for them in my bags?

For half the way, I walked in the middle of MG Road. Then, a black dog joined me for the next few minutes. He just wouldn't go away though I sternly asked him to, telling him I had no food. Please let it rain, I implored the skies, it would keep all those howling dogs away from me. It rained but my new companion just wouldn't leave me alone. Finally, two bus stops away from home, across the road, an empty autorickshaw passed by. I yelled for him to stop.

For a frightening few seconds, it seemed like he was going to say no. But then he thought the better of it and turned in my direction. As I turned to pay, I looked at the meter with horror. It was a cool Rs 344 something. What now, I thought. I pulled out the first note I could reach, a Rs 100. Sorry, I said. No problem, he said and gave me Rs 70 back in change. I asked him if he were going home now, he said no, I'll go home after 5am. Go to Mulund station, then, I said, there are a few stranded souls there. Hope he did just that.

- GEETA BHAGAT

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