Would we travel at all if there were no stories to tell? The things that go wrong make stories – and things that almost go wrong make the best stories of all.
A train journey to Varanasi did not promise to be exciting. First, our train was from Mumbai at an unearthly hour. The journey was about 27 hours long, and we would reach, again, at an unearthly hour. But then, we were in a group, so things were bound to get entertaining, in one way or another.
Water dispensing machines have been installed at stations all over the country. These are supposed to be coin-operated, but usually, there is someone at the kiosk operating it for you. Many of the girls in the dance troupe were seeing these fancy water kiosks for the first time, so everyone was excited. Why spend on mineral water and plastic bottles when you can just refill your bottle at one-third the price? Of course, it’s exciting!
So, we consulted the train schedule. If the train halted for ten minutes or more, we would have enough time to fill our bottles. Katni, like a few others, promised to be a ten-minute halt. Five of us got off. The machine was right there, next to our coach.
There were lots of people, but how did that matter? Ten minutes is a long time, right?
So we filled our bottles … I paid as the last bottle was being filled … All of us were looking at the machine, with our backs to the train …
And then, people started shouting, “Gaadi, gaadi, gaadi, gaadi!”
I whirled around. Our train was pulling away from the platform! Ten minutes weren’t over yet, but the train was gathering speed! Like a parrot, I repeated, “Gaadi, gaadi, gaadi!”
For just one moment, all of us stood there, watching the train, frozen.
Then, we ran. Two of us got on together – into my teacher’s coach. As we passed her compartment, we smiled innocently. “We went to fill water,” we said sweetly. We may be in our thirties, but when our teacher is concerned …
We reached our compartment and the other three weren’t there yet! They came, eventually, faces shining with guilty excitement. They’d boarded the running train too, somehow. And they’d also crossed our teacher’s coach.
Almost got stranded at an unknown station? Been there, done that.