I have more than often taken the phrase “racing against time” literally while on my travels. Most times when solo, I run late either for my train or my flight and I do not know where from I get this massive confidence, that things will eventually work out. Very rarely have I had to re-schedule my plans due to missed departures, but otherwise I’ve made it through miraculously. I have quite many hilarious incidents of me running, panting and barely making it for transit schedules in and outside my country. There was this one time when I had to catch a flight to Munich, and I kept wandering on the streets of Berlin, lost in thoughts, wanting to soak more of the city in the last few hours left; so much so that I miscalculated my buffer time. After realising my folly I ran to my hostel, picked my bag, checked out, and asked the receptionist’s opinion with pleading eyes if I could make the flight on time. He almost smirked at me, bringing all the German stereotypes alive, but told me I could try. I listened to his instructions carefully and fled towards the nearest station as soon as he handed over my credit card. I remember how I ran that day, scared to even hire a cab just in case I lost time in exchange of words and money. I used my fleeting German language skills to confirm train details with the only other human being on the platform. I found myself running towards the entrance of the airport 15 minutes later and thankfully since it was an internal flight there was just a quick bag scan and I gladly joined the other passengers waiting for the next announcement. Such has been my experience, and each time I promise myself to double check my buffer times. Even though I tend to be extremely careful when travelling with friends, I have had the opportunity to grant them a dose of the adrenaline rush now and then. I don’t ever jeopardise my friends’ travel plans, and hence I never ask them to wait up for me, because I’m not sure if they could sustain the mini panic situations that I've gotten used to by now.
Recently, about a month ago Ishita, Supriya and I had planned to visit Rann of Kutch, a white marsh dessert in Gujarat (India), and we had been planning this trip at least 2 months in advance. We were to travel by the Kutch Express, and luckily our train tickets got confirmed a day earlier. This was a long weekend, and even though we had booked our tickets well in advance, we had a patient but painful waitlist to go through.
The train was scheduled to leave at 5:45 pm from Bandra Terminus (Mumbai) which was according to my calculation just 12 mins away from where I live. I was right, but me being me, I hadn’t considered the peak hours of traffic. Some more background. Just a week ago, I had rescued a bruised kitten, and taken him to the vet. I took a day off, got him food, water and a litterbox and he got used to my house pretty quickly. But 2 days before my travel plans it looked like he got sick. I panicked and almost cancelled my travel plans, but when I spoke to my mother about it, she offered to come and look after the kitten for 4 days while I was gone. This despite the fact she was out of town visiting her sister in another state and would take her 18 hours to travel to Mumbai. It was decided that I would pack my bag the previous night, attend a meeting in the morning at work, pick her up from the station at 12 pm, bring her home, introduce her to my kitten and leave for my train at 515 pm. All would have gone smoothly if I had packed the previous night. But as much as I love travelling, I hate packing, so I tell myself I can do it the next day. After all, with so much travelling, I had perfected the art of packing in 10 mins, right?
So everything's going according to plan - I wake up and go to work until things get berserk with a domino effect. My meeting gets prolonged and my mother has to get a cab to my office now since she doesn’t have the keys to my place. Work gets done at 3 pm, which means I have 2.5 hours to board the train. We quickly have lunch, drive home, I catch up with Mom's stories and begin packing at 510 pm when Supriya calls me. She and Ishita have by then coordinated to reach the station together, and here I am still packing. Panic hasn’t struck me yet, I am calm and leave at 525 pm sharp. Now these girls have already boarded the train, and I still search for an auto-rickshaw which is otherwise not so difficult to find. Murphy has always been my best friend, and his laws have abused and exploited me to the fullest. I run towards the nearest crossing and look for an auto. One guy refuses, I turn around. Another guy is just on the verge of refusing when I make that horrid-struck face and he gives in. I jump into the auto and ask him to drop me at Bandra Terminus station, which lies on the east side, in 10 mins. He raises his accelerator and zooms ahead but sympathetically mutters 'not possible'. Meanwhile, Supriya calls me back to check on me. She asks me to stay put on the west side and board a fast local train from Bandra west to Borivali instead(30 mins distance), and catch up with the Kutch Express at its next stop. However, I think I can still cross over and make it to Bandra Terminus through a shorter route “provided it's not crowded”.
My auto guy’s hand now tapping the horn incessantly, we almost eradicate an entire flock of sheep. Elderly people start crossing the road, and we have to respect protocol. After two near misses with oncoming lorries, I declare a moratorium until we reached the station. ‘It is now almost 543 pm. With crowds increasing at this rate we would still take around 7 mins. But the train would leave in 3. Bile fills my mouth but we manage to reach the terminus entrance in 3 mins. I call Supriya and she yells - "Turn around and go catch a fast local to Borivali NOW. Because the train has started chugging and it would take you 5 more minutes to get through the subway inside the station." I feel like I've lost the game. I jump back into the same auto and ask him to drop me where I have to board the local train. The poor man agrees but the traffic is insane now. Halfway through he tells me I could probably make it if I ran through the traffic. I jump out and run like my life depended on it.
Now here’s the thing about taking a fast local from Bandra to Borivali on a Friday at 6 pm.If you’ve ever travelled the holy western line on a weekday during peak hours you'd know it's quite a challenge. Especially if you’re not a regular local train traveller. I get on the station, I see hordes of people walking with focus - more than the number of people I saw in the market. I still run not knowing which platform yet. I stop to check the timings but my mind is blank. I ask a man next to me to help me, please. I need to reach Borivali at 628 pm. He runs along with me and shows me the platform. Next train leaves for Virar at 6 pm. I have 2 minutes to compose myself. I think I can still make it. I re-confirm with the women standing beside me. Will this train stop at Borivali? Yes, they say. The Kutch Express would reach Borivali at 6:28 pm. 2 minutes difference, but still a chance I couldn’t afford to miss. Little did I know of the war that I was about to brace. Peace could be restored perhaps between Israel and Palestine, but not between the Virar and Borivali commuters. That was what I was entering into.
The train screeches a halt, and women push each other to get into the compartment. Inside it is worse than pig sty condition. Or a jar filled with salamanders. I tell myself, ‘This is the only way I can redeem myself now. After all the effort gone into making this trip a reality for me, the most I could do is to literally go with the flow’. I get onto the train with more than 3/4 of my body and whole of my backpack hanging outside the compartment. I get a grip on the handle and just pray that I can sustain this for 30 more minutes. The girl next to me, going through a similar fate, smiles at me. I ask her if I could put my phone in her butt pocket since I chose this day in particular to wear my pocketless trousers. I would die soon if I didn’t hold on tight to the rod with both my hands. She agrees and we get talking. I tell her my misery, that I have to get down at Borivali and catch another train just in time. She was shocked at my predicament and so were the other 3 ladies next to me. They explain to me the Virar train situation, about how no one would allow me to get down at Borivali. In my head, I start reeling off alternative options to reach Kutch. I even have a romantic vision of me picking up a map, sitting on a bench studying it and figuring out state transport bus routes through the villages coupled with a few train options. I could figure this out someway or the other, right? I could reach Kutch the next day, not as early as Supriya and Ishita, but at least I would make it. Meanwhile while having all these conversations in my head, these 4 ladies have already worked out a plan for my cause. They take off my bag, pass it over all the heads and ask me to spend the next 30 minutes requesting all other women to let me off the hook.
Travel surprisingly gets you unexpected help from unexpected people. The kindness of strangers is not a myth. I squeeze through the crowd with my huge ass bag towards the other side convincing each woman out there, who had a queer animosity towards short haul commuters. The struggle was real. I say ”Please understand I have a problem, I need to go”. One lady in particular, pissed off at the world in general, snorted loudly into my ear, “What problems could you have? Look at all the flight tags you have on your bag!” My physical exhaustion no doubt contributes to my dramatic reaction and I retort back, “Problems do not always have to do with money” to which I get a loud cheer from all the other women. I reach the other side of the door. One lady holds me by my waist so I wouldn’t fall off the train. She also gives me instructions on how to jump off the slowing train to save more time. An icy tendril of fear begins to worm through my stomach, but I hold panic at bay. I put on a brave front, but it made me exceedingly nervous. I jump off the train onto the station and run towards the bridge reminding myself of the direction the lady instructed me. I wish I ran with this determination in school during sports day. I could have easily scored a gold in the hurdles race. Once more left to my predicament I scout for the platform where my train would have already arrived. With calculations of time, speed & distance already running high in my mind, I go blank again. I feel like I'm I'm hunting for platform 9 3/4. Another man comes to my rescue and shows me the way. As I run down, I see an empty platform. My heart racing full speed, I check the board for the next train arriving. Fuck, I've made it!
Now all this time I haven’t had the time to look at my phone, so I know that Supriya and Ishita have no clue where I am. I check their texts to learn that the train had stopped mid-way for 2 whole minutes. And even at this moment, I am in half minds whether to play a prank on them by entering another bogie and telling them I missed the train. I decide otherwise. I hop onto the Kutch Express and get a look at their white, pale, panic-struck faces. The story ends in hugs and smiles and mild scoldings. My race against time, saved by a nick this time.