The thought of going back home on the Mumbai Rajdhani invariably fills me with excitement and ebullience like that of a 4 year old when he sees candy. The silent motion coupled with high speed and the few stops this train enjoys sets it apart from any other Rajdhani in the nation. Mumbai to Delhi in flat 16 hours and that too, with convenient timings, makes this an enviable option to the myriad of flights available.
I reached Mumbai Central, the source station an hour and a half before departure by one of the new age locals that seem to be getting a lot of attention these days owing to frequent malfunctions.
At 2:30 in the afternoon,the Mumbai Central platforms bear a bored look, one that is accentuated by the empty platforms, the dead locomotives in the pit lines, the napping railwaymen, a couple of strangely coloured stray dogs and the odd traveler.
The main hall of the station, however, portrays a different picture, with its swanky new Mcdonalds and Rajdhani restaurants, the buzzing mass of people, all conversing animatedly and few railway workers checking, loading and unloading parcels onto carts
I preferred to stay away from the hustle and bustle and found myself comfortably placed on a new steel bench that seemed to have been victimized in some metal bashing session.
A few locomotives kept moving up and down the lines, shunting themselves onto different platforms. The locomotives of Mumbai are unique, in that they run on both AC and DC. These specialized locomotives were created because Mumbai and areas around run on DC while the rest of India runs on AC.
By 3:30 pm a handful of passengers had arrived on the platform. Two gentlemen chose to accompany me on either side of the steel bench. The one to my left kept himself busy over the phone, while the one to my right, obese from all ends kept nudging me for more space. all this when the benches ahead were empty.
In the midst of our fight for space, which seems to be the story of every Indian, we were approached by a eunuch, begging (read demanding) for money.
“De beta, paise la…bhagwan tera bhala karega” (followed by the quintessential kissing sound and the clap). Her sweetness, as in most cases, was shortlived and when she realized that we were hardly paying any attention to her, threw a string of abuses and went on ahead.
In the meanwhile, I was also fed up of the obese gentleman’s quest for space. I finally got up, glaring at the gentleman, who at that point in time, represented a ripened tomato (in his red shirt), all ready to be squashed underfoot.
I moved on to another bench.That the train was going to Delhi was validated by ” auntyji, train ithe hi aayegi, aap kithe jaa rahe ho” ,zebra striped and gaudy sarees and salwars and a couple of surd boys jumping up and down on the platform:Punjabis
The rake of the Mumbai Rajdhani was shunted onto the platform at 4:00 pm and it was a pleasure to see the queen, all washed and jacked up for the journey.
As i watched the rake being shunted in, the same eunuch walked up to me again, delivering the same few lines. I refused again and protested saying that she had come to me earlier as well. Her memory seemed to be in auto mode however and she had no recall whatsoever and after an “uff ohh’ moved on to another bench.
The one disappointment on seeing the Rajdhani rake were the meshed windows, with the words ” There’s a little bit of Sail in everybody’s life” screaming out at you. My disappointment was amplified when I realized, that the usually clear view outside was now marred by the mesh across the window.A genius thought for a marketer, a genuine disappointment for a railfan.
On the train, my neighbours included a couple of young chaps,a Punjabi businessman and two probably bengali ladies.A compartment ahead, sat a group of tough looking policemen with sten guns.
The train left on time and we were soon chugging along, though at top speed, across the Western terrain of India.
The Punjabi businessman sat right opposite me in the side berth. An unobtrusive man, he knew perfectly well to mind his own business. Apart from the open mouthed snores and the constant “Hey Prabhus” , he was the perfect co passenger.
Of the two young chaps, one seemed to be around 17-18 years of age, measly thin, with an army cut. He had an accent that seemed to suggest he had had some exposure abroad.
What made this character intriguing, however, were his phone calls.All his friends seemed to have nicknames assigned which included Baby Goose, Momma Goose, Tiger, Captain etc etc
He would keep referring to Western Commnd and war at this front and that front. His size didn’t seem to suggest any relation to the army, although his fervent talk seemed to suggest deep affiliation to whatever he was involved in. He had, infact come down to Mumbai because there was a lecture by Tiger, meant for the Western Command(??).
The only other plausible reasoning for this lingo was gaming. It was tough for me to comprehend, however, that young guys were travelling across the nation to attend lectures on strategy for a virtual world??
I resigned to Mary Higgins Clark’s “Where are you now?”and most of the evening was spent reading, interspersed with glances here and there and small naps, with my mouth wide open.
Dinner time came and went with the service good and the dinner served hot. I actually didn’t miss the soup and the bread sticks, items which have been discontinued from the Rajdhani menu by the IRCTC, citing enhanced quality focus by restricting themselves to fewer items. Fewer items meant no ice cream as well.
After the stop at Baroda (9:30 pm) ,I climbed into the cosy, side upper berth and in a matter of minutes was lost in dreamland.
Morning was a rude experience. I was jolted out of sleep by a white light beyond the folds of my eyes. I found myself staring at the tube-light on the ceiling. The attendant had switched it on on duty’s call.
Waking up, I realized, to my dismay, that as usual, I had forgotten to bring my toothbrush and paste. Brushing would have to wait but could not afford to allow my mouth to stink. I didn’t have my pack of Happydents as well and was wondering what to do when I remembered the welcome kit (given on the Rajdhani) included a mouth freshener pack as well .
So, within the confines of an Indian style toilet, while the others outside thought I was busy attending to the call of nature and brushing my teeth, I popped the sweetened saunf into my mouth.
Bad idea…The welcome kit included paper soap as well and the the soapy taste of soap and the sweet taste of saunf had combined and culminated in a truly disgusting taste. The mouth smelled fresh, however, even if it smelt of soap.
I got down to eating breakfast, which comprised of tasteless vada and tangy idlis served with a hopeless green chutney. Whatever hopes I had had of the IRCTC delivering to quality were lost with this breakfast. There was no packed juice as well, which had become staple for me in my frequent journeys.
The breakfast was followed by coffee. Instead of the regular Nescafe, they served TaTa Coffee and as a proud South Indian, I must say, this will surely appeal to all who favour roast and ground coffee to the bland Nescafe.
The coffee was invigorating enough to help me finish around 50 pages of “Where are you now?” in a span of half an hour. The train, meanwhile had reached Delhi and was slowly making its way through Hazrat Niammudin, Tilak Bridge, Shivaji Bridge to finally reach New Delhi at 8:36 am, for all practical purpose, on time.
A metro ride later, I was home, treating myself to chapati and Kerala style Chole.
Another succesful trip and another good ride on the 2951 down Mumbai Rajdhani Express