Sometimes certain things happen that put you in the thinking chair for long. One such incident happened this Diwali in Ooty.
In October-end, as a part of my backpack trip to Orissa and Tamil Nadu, I was on a train from Bhubaneswar to Chennai. Not only was it already running late when I boarded, but by the end of its run, it was at a seven hours delay. Aboard, comfy on my 3AC side-upper berth, I had finished reading the book I was carrying and the playlist was now on its second loop. Lack of options made me look up the internet aimlessly. Before I share what was I searching for it must be known why was I traveling in the first place. This year, I’ve taken upon self to visit country’s complete list of 35 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in a calendar year, making it a 50 individual sites’ countdown. Now, I was curious to know if someone else had done this before and this took me to the Limca Book of Records website. Without investing much efforts and thoughts, I searched for the editor’s email and wrote sharing my plan. I heard from her the next day asking to connect later, in February, 2017. It didn’t say if the record already existed or not, nor if it’ll be up for consideration, if completed. Nonetheless, for that we wait till July, 2017.
I was in Ooty for two reasons. One, to visit the Doddabetta Peak as a part of the Western Ghats, and secondly, to ride the Ooty Toy Train, both part of the UNESCO list. On 30th October was my train ride at 2PM. Since my ticket was in waitlist, I preemptively went to the railway station to buy a backup ticket in the general compartment, in case my waitlist ticket didn’t come through. Now this is a small train and offers only 45 general tickets. I soon knew I won’t be able to grab one when the police officer incharge at the station took a head count of how many tickets were the people ahead of me in the que were to buy, bearing the restriction of issuing a maximum of two tickets per head. The count ended much before my turn would arrive. Mind it that the Diwali holiday, clubbed with weekend off, brought a rush of tourists to the city, and seemingly everyone wanted to hop on for a ride.
Without wasting much time, I got out of the line and approached the officer to tell him my story. He was quite receptive and asked me to wait. Meanwhile, I realised that the chart for the afternoon train was prepared and my ticket hadn’t confirmed. I approached him again and this time shared that if I don’t my record spree would be broken and I’ll have to travel various parts of the country all over again. This was just to add meat to the story, I wasn’t really concerned about the record but about contenting myself with the completion of the list. Either ways, it was imperative that I rode the train, even if partially and not all the way through.
The officer told me to quickly go and have a chat with the station master as he’d be the only one of assistance, if at all. I did so, but, bound to his duties, he clearly stated that he could only allow me on-board with a valid general ticket. He did so politely. I was content, and since I knew this was the rule I wasn’t one to push him to make leeways. A tad disappointed, however, I returned and found the police officer waiting to hear what the station master had to say. He then suggested that I tried the travel agent counter located at the basement of the hotel across the street as he usually sold a few tickets too with a minuscule incentive added. I got hopeful again, only to be disappointed as quickly. My only option now was to get a legitimate ticket from the ticket counter, and so I returned to the station and was in the que, though knowing it’ll be futile. Seeing me there, the officer approached with an obvious question to receive an obvious answer. By now he must’ve realised that I genuinely needed this and wasn’t in lure of a joy ride. Buses to the end station left every 15 minutes from the neighbouring stand. He knew I had the money to spend and wasn’t looking for a cheaper option, the train ticket costing a mere 15 bucks. He pulled me off the que again and said ‘Come here at 1:45PM, you’ll ride the train’. I was stunned!! I questioned if he was sure? He repeated with a faint smile and an assuring look. I had no reason not to believe him, nor options. I left with some assurance, had a nice meal in the city, collected my luggage, and was back at the station at 1:45PM. The same officer was strictly checking everyone’s ticket before letting them in on to the platform. He gave me an unbiased strict look too but let me in and join the que leading to the general compartment. A little later he came to me and said secretively ‘wait for your ticket’. As the line moved, he ensured that I got a window seat since he knew I wish to click tonnes of pictures. By now I was amused, astonished, but overwhelmed with joy as well. As the clock ticked 1:55, I was a little concerned as I didn’t have a valid ticket to travel with. I quickly got off and approached the officer, but he signaled me to go away with lines of strain on his forehead. I went back and sat at my spot. Soon the engine blew its loud horns, signalling our departure. And just then, filled with anxiety, I turned to look outside the window to find the police officer standing on the sidetrack passing me a general ticket. With a humble smile he said ‘Enjoy and Good Luck’. Within seconds the train pushed with a jerk and we left.
As the train left the station, the station left a mark on my memory and conscience. Till now my experience with the people of Tamil Nadu wasn’t most pleasant and/or pleasing. Police officers aren’t conceived as generous and polite ones, let alone being selflessly assistant. And here was an example simply shattering both the beliefs I had. In all this time I hadn’t pressed my story on the policeman and I wasn’t one to be melodramatic about it. He had no reason to entertain me, let alone aiding with a ticket, for which he didn’t even take the money due!!
Call me old-school, but, moments like these compel you to ponder with a smile. Here I was riding the train I so desperately wanted (read needed), all thanks to a man who had no reason to believe me, assist with a ticket without money, who’s name I don’t know, and probably won’t ever meet again. It was an exhibit of sheer kindness. My faith in humanity was restored. I felt guilty of considering all Tamilians the same, which was only for and at the convenience of my ignorance. The ride became more beautiful and memorable for a different reason. Such a rich experience it was that the captivating sights, soothing winds from the greens, and the sheer contentment of being on the train, weren’t the reasons for wearing a faint smile all through the journey.
It’s said, if you wish to travel far and long, travel light. Shed your ego, arrogance, jealousy, and sorrows. Let me add to that. Don’t be judgemental, and do away with stereotyping. Add faith, optimism, trust, politeness, and honesty to the pack. It won’t get heavier, only richer.