Let me start this with two Wikipedia entries:
1. X (25 September 1916 – 11 February 1968) was an Indian politician. X was one of the most important leaders of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the forerunner of the present day Bharatiya Janata Party.
2. Y (station code MGS) is an Indian Railways railway station in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Y is the fourth busiest railway junction in India. Y contains the largest railway marshalling yard in Asia.
You know what I am getting at: Mughalsarai will be renamed to Deen Dayal Upadhyay. I am sure this is the Government’s own way of honouring a significant man in their history, renaming perhaps the most iconic junction in North India.
The Government is obviously keen on making India forget the mighty Mughals. Renaming Mughalsarai is the easiest way to make sure tourists visiting Taj Mahal remain blissfully unaware of the history of the Mughals in India.
Being a person averse to travel, I do not have sentiments or associated with Mughalsarai. I did not feel sad at the town being renamed. A part of my childhood was not lost, not even a minuscule.
Of course, a part of history was lost — at least temporarily — with the renaming. I understand that.
However, as a nation we have collectively failed to preserve our history, so this was always on the cards. It has been a habit carefully nurtured over millennia. Indeed, we are unlikely to care for our history unless we get to know from WhatsApp groups that our history has been acknowledged as the best in the world by UNESCO.
Where was I? Ah, Mughalsarai. Take the station away, and there is really not much in the town. I am yet to meet someone from Mughalsarai. The only eminent Mughalsarai-born person I know of is Lal Bahadur Shastri, a man born on October 2 — the day when Ajay Devgn took his family to Panjim for Satsang. I am not sure of the date when Mohanlal did a similar act before Devgn.
In other words, Mughalsarai does not hold memories for me — except one. And that is what you are about to learn now.
When Mughalsarai was relevant
I had spent a year of my halcyon days in Delhi. I stayed in a hostel on Shaheed Jeet Singh Sansanwal Marg, a place from where the Qutb Minar looked tiny and aeroplanes looked humongous. You can figure out the location if you are from Delhi.
Obviously we needed breaks from rajma, paneer, butter chicken, and temperature that varied between -75°C and 140°C (blame the Delhi weather for the exaggeration). Even the newly-acquired swear-words did not make up for the challenges.
So we had to return home. I did that five times in a span of a year — in July (for an emergency), for Pujo, and for Christmas; the last two trips were in summer.
This was a May trip. The trains were crowded. Tickets had to be booked two months in advance. In a few years’ time IRCTC would come to make things worse. This was an era when internet was still spreading its, er, net in the middle-class stratum.
1998 was all about long, serpentine queues, the only plus of which was a richer vocabulary of swear-words — something that scaled levels hitherto unknown to me till I reached Delhi.
But the tickets were acquired. We marched on to Kalka Mail. I think the train used to leave Old Delhi at 0700 and reach Howrah Station about the same time the day after. Basically it was a morning-to-morning thing that started with chhola-batora at Tundla and ended in that impatience-saturated stretch after Liluah.
Since the train was crowded, they added a couple of compartments at the end, after the pantry car. The sleeper class compartments typically go by the name of S1, S2 ... and so on. The additional ones were named (I think) AS1 and AS2. Perhaps A stood for additional.
Mughalsarai is located famously almost midway between Delhi and Howrah. Kalka Mail arrived there in the evening. We set out in pursuit of some concoction of chicken and carbohydrates. The food was duly acquired and the money paid. We strolled back towards AS1 (or AS2).
Wait, what compartment?
There was no compartment. Our compartment, our accommodation for the night, complete with luggage, was gone, along with its neighbour.
Just like that. Poof!
It was not a pretty sight. Four or five men, all in their early twenties, waiting utterly flabbergasted in a station named after one of the greatest dynasties in the history of India that the Government would choose to forget in about two decades’ time.
One of these men decided to get the food out of his way first. You have probably guessed who it was.
Did the others join in the act? Of that I have no memory whatsoever. However, I remember a stern look from at least one pair of eyes.
But then, since when has appetite depended on vanishing compartments?
We did not even know whom to ask. There were officials in that gigantic junction, but none of them could answer our query. Worse, they looked supremely unconcerned. There could have been two reasons for this (or at least I think so):
1. Missing compartments was not a part the curriculum when they had appeared for the admission test.
2. There was a substantial chasm between their brand of Hindi and ours.
Was this the greatest heist ever pulled off at the junction? What about the nation? Two entire compartments, presumably with people inside them...
Time passed. Our group sunk into various postures of resignation that ranged from slouching helplessly to staring blankly into the starry night sky to washing hands after a hearty meal.
More time passed. And some more. Every second felt like an hour spent in Saki Naka traffic in office hours (Google it) without an oxygen mask.
Wasn’t the train supposed to leave in half an hour? Hasn’t it been longer?
What if it left without us?
What if it had left without us?
Where would the compartment go? Would it roam about aimlessly all by itself in the labyrinthine stone-chips-and-metal-clad realm that goes by the name of Indian Railways?
Just when we had resigned to the unknown deities of Indian Railways and were considering rummaging our pockets for money, we heard it. From some far, far land they appeared, two supremely familiar metallic cuboids on wheels, dragged by an engine certainly past its expiry date.
We jumped on to them. We found our seats. Everything was there. Every lock. Every chain with which the ancient suitcases where attached to the seats. Everything.
Then we talked to the handful of smart passengers who had opted to stay back during this cataclysmic chain of events that was on the verge of changing the future of the planet. “It’s perfectly normal for additional compartments,” they told us. “They sometimes add another pantry car.”
That was it. There is no climax.
Climaxes seldom happen in real life, you see. And when they do, like most things in life, they are often impeccably faked.