Thursday, July 24, 2008

Caveman Mode

I have realized that whenever I am faced with prolonged physical adversity, I tend to go into what I call my “caveman mode”.  Now before I hear any smartass comments like “hows that different from your normal life”, and “what about mental adversity”, let me expound on both.

First is medical situations. The latest example is the tooth problems I am having. It has involved one gum incision, one root canal, and a week of antibiotics, which is in essence a no-alcohol period (well, almost). And the fact open cuts in the mouth do not take very kindly to smoke means that I cannot partake of my favorite grand daddy also.

But it also includes situations like camping, trekking, long drives .. any situation in which the body is under more than average stress. (Average in my case has recently been quite low, I must admit)

The first reaction to all such situations is to let my hair grow (ok .. whatever I have). I feel that all the needless energy spent in shaving should go towards recuperation. (Case in point : my bearded facebook profile picture is from when I had my MCL tear).

The second is a greater tolerance of clutter and rubbish around me. For obvious reasons, this is mostly seen in the “roughing out” situations. For example, I would not hesitate to sit down on the road and eat with dirty hands. Or to gladly consume some barbecued chicken that had the misfortune of falling off the grill. The five second rule still applies, and there is nothing that cannot be re-sanitized by a healthy alcohol wash.

It is a somehow liberating feeling to ignore most artifacts of a first world civilized society and let yourself go once in a while. First time I realized this was in Burning Man. Even in the hostile climate, we were following some decorum. One day, I was sitting in a tent, drinking bloody maries, and the water truck came along. Something (well, seeing other people do it is one thing ) prompted me to take of all my clothes and run after it, trying to get cool in the shower. After that, I did not feel the need to wear clothes any more, or to generally be as picky as we usually are.

So anyway, I am in caveman mode now ! If you can smell me from afar, let me know – I might condescend to some deo !

Monday, July 21, 2008

Another train journey

Some time ago, I had posted an account of a journey in the european train system, the ICE and TGV. A couple of weeks back, I had the pleasure of experiencing the darker side of the Indian Railways .. the biggest rail network in the world.

When I normally travel to Chandigarh, I use the Shatabdi trains, which is the premium train category in India. It gets the highest priority in terms of service, routing, and is hardly ever late. It runs from Platform 1, so you never have to go looking for it. On this particular day, the train was sold out, so I decided to take the Jan Shatabdi (literally, people’s Shatabdi), which is a lower class of train. I was traveling with my aunt and uncle, and my illustrious sister. I booked the tickets through the internet (c’mon .. we atleast have that facility in India) in the A/C coach (yes, not all coaches in Indian trains are A/C), and wrote down the coach and seat #s on a piece of paper.

The train was at 3 PM, and we were dropped off at the station at 2.45 by my cousin. I looked at the boards to see what platform our train was departing from, and could not see the name of our train (In India, trains are usually referred to by names, e.g. Chandigarh Jan Shatabdi in this case, rather than their numbers). Surprise ! No train by that name. There was ONE train, leaving at 3.00, from platform 9, but it was named Nangaldam Jan Shatabdi. I had no clue where Nangaldam was, all I could think of was that I had made a mistake. Interestingly, the number of the train was what I had on my paper. “I have booked us on the wrong train !” was my thought.

Ah ! Go to the inquiries counter to find out. A line about 50 people long greeted us. No info for us. Atleast today. Well, lets just walk to Platform 9. But hold on, on Platform 1, right in front of us, is standing a train, the board on which says “Nangal Dam – Chandigarh – New Delhi – Dehradun”. Now I see whats happening ! The train actually goes to this place called Nangal, even beyond Chandigarh. Must be something new, because the train I remembered was only till Chandigarh. No worries, everything is fine, and we go and find our coach. I look at the seating chart attached to the coach, and cannot find our names. “Its an old chart, dont worry”, announces a helpful bystander.

I should have known right there. “Helpful Bystander” is something you have to beware of in India. Every bystander has an opinion, and tries to be helpful by imparting this to you in the form of knowledge. I was in a hurry, ignored this wisdom, and we took our seats comfortably. In about 5 minutes, we are approached by a woman who claims that the seats are hers, and presents her printed ticket as incontrovertible proof of the fact. I have to give it to her. Maybe we are in the wrong coach. I run down to the other coaches to find our names. Nopes.

I come back, open my laptop, look at the PDF containing our ticket details. No mistakes. So of course, I blame the railway reservation system, and decide to take it up with the ticket inspector. Meanwhile, there are plenty of seats, so I am not really worried.

Another woman comes by and asks me an innocent question : “Does this train go to Dehradun ?”. In retrospect, this is the EXACT question which I should have asked in the first place. I confidently laugh at her, and say “No, it goes to Chandigarh.” This seems to upset quite a few of our fellow passengers, and they immediately point out to me the error in my understanding. Suddenly everything is clear. This is the same train, going in the OPPOSITE direction !!

First thing we do is collect our baggage and get off. At least we have avoided going to Dehradun ! Our train was the one we saw on the board in the first place, leaving from Platform 9. As the time by now is 3.15, I am pretty positive that we have missed it, and pull out my phone to call my cousin back to pick us up. Ruchi still wants to give it a shot. OK, we have nothing to lose. We load up with baggage, and climb the stairs for the overbridge to Platform 9. It is really crowded. I amble across, not contributing to the general shoving going on, as I have no hope now. Somehow we reach, and I take a peek at whats there. Lo and behold, our train is still there. And as soon as I take that peek, it starts to move !

Our trains are not the kind that have automatic doors, which close 20 seconds before leaving. I give a shout, calling the troops to rally, and we run ! Luggage first, then my uncle, then my aunt, then Ruchi, and finally even I am on board. This was the first piece of luck for us, we were actually in our designated coach. Elation.

The coach is dark, and hot as an oven. The A/C is not working. The batteries in the coach are not charged. People are standing in doorways to get some air, as the windows are sealed (usual for an A/C coach). Combined with the exertion of the last few minutes, this is enough to have sweat pouring down my back. But we are on our way to Chandigarh at last. This time I do ask :-)

Epitaph: The A/C did start working in 20 mins, and the train did arrive well in time, inspite of starting late.