I exit from the lift and look frantically for a place to sit. There is no seating arrangement in place. I refresh the NTES app on my phone. At least an hour more of waiting. I have just cancelled my previous ticket where the train was 7 hours late.
The open space in front of the lift has people sitting or lying down on sheets of newspaper. No space to stand there. I find a quiet corner near the ramp where it is relatively clean and watch the rain outside. I look down at the tracks from my vantage position. Big trenches everywhere instead of the platform. No point in going down there until it is time for the train to arrive.
Habibganj. Touted to become a world class railway station. Set to become India’s first privately managed railway station. To be a transit hub with shopping centres, eateries and restaurants. But as of now it is all dug up.
Idhar khuda hai, udhar khuda hai. Jahaan dekho bas khuda hi khuda hai…I murmur as I descend down the stairs to platform number 4. There is hardly a platform. A deep ditch seems to have engulfed its centre. Grotesque iron rods project from the ground. The platform is dark and slush from the construction work makes walking dangerous. The only lights are the red blinking ones announcing the position of the compartments of the next train. I blink and stare at a slight movement. There is a lone construction worker in the ditch. No safety gear. No helmet. He’s trying to find his chappals in the dark. Between those dangerously protruding rods. Some more workers cross us. Wet- because of the rain or sweat- I cannot say. No protective gear.
The passengers here know all forms of jugaad. They sit on the stairs- packed neatly to the left. Because the rain is lashing down the right side. A mongrel joins them and no one minds. What a great leveller the Indian Railways is!
I wait at the base of the stairs. Not knowing where to go- right or left. No announcements to tell me which way to go. I find a group of boys all looking alike. Non-descript T-shirt, crumpled jeans, backpack hanging down to their waists and all poring down into their mobile phones. I stand four paces behind the group which is a sensible decision. Two minutes later one of them shoots a trail of red spit my way. And I narrowly escape being in the line of his red fire. I glare at him. He glances at me as if nothing happened and resumes his boisterous conversation. I want to wring his thick neck or smash his thick skull. Preferably both.
Forty minutes later the dead blinking red lights come alive. My train has been announced – but do I go left or right? No clue. On an impulse I start walking to the right. Gingerly avoiding more trenches and ‘men at work’ signs. The wheels of my suitcase creak with the grit. It is easier to carry it rather than drag it. I have been walking almost 10 minutes to the other end of the platform, but still cannot find the display sign with my compartment number. I realize I have walked beyond the covered end of the platform when the cool breeze hits my face. No more sign boards here. I presume my compartment will stop here.
I look around and find a nice bench. A lad with ear plugs is sitting in the centre of the bench. I ask him to shift a bit. He takes his ear plugs out, understands, nods and then shifts. After two hours of standing I mercifully find a seat. Thankful to this khuda.
I then notice that I’m seated under a glorious neem tree. Suddenly its leaves rustle in the welcome breeze. I’m thinking of an old grandma’s tale which says that ghosts stay away from neem trees. I’m safe.
Why didn’t I find this seat earlier? I could have eaten the parathas the guy in the guest house packed for me sitting here. Now they have gone cold.
We hear a train horn and everyone gets up. As it rattles past I strain in the dark to read Yeshwanthpur – H.Nizamuddin. These are not remotely the destinations of my train. False alarm. Not my train. It is the Karnataka Sampark Kranthi Express with that extra H. I walk back to my bench.
The lad with the ear plugs is still there, now laughing uproariously. I peep into his phone screen. Navjot Singh Sidhu is thokoing taalis seated on his big sofa. Where has Kapil Sharma disappeared? Detox regime? We perhaps needed a detox from him too.
Another hour later the train arrives languidly without announcements. A chap on the next seat is wearing a black T-shirt which reads: ‘I’m not lazy, I’m motivationally challenged’.
Exactly what I feel after three hours of needless waiting. Motivationally challenged.