The scheduled arrival of the train was at 23:50 and the departure at 00:10. That means the train would arrive at the station just before midnight and depart 20 minutes later when it was the start of the next day. In other words, if you are going to the station today, you will board the train tonight and your journey will start in the wee hours of tomorrow. And that is perfectly fine if your ticket is booked accordingly for tomorrow. But if your ticket is for tonight, or to be precise, with journey date of today, alas, your train has already left!
My train had left thus, and as if that were not enough, I boarded the next day’s train with a wrong ticket! But what happened thereafter was heart-warming for me.
That was in the summer of 2005 when I was on a trip to Nainital for a few days. Travelling from Hyderabad, I, along with my family, had a stopover at Lucknow on the way to the hill station. While departing from Lucknow, a traffic jam on the road delayed our arrival at the railway station, and we boarded the Howrah-Kathgodam Express just a minute and a half before departure without checking the reservation chart for our names.
As the train started, we proceeded to occupy our seats in the Sleeper Class carriage. I saw that two of my fellow passengers had already occupied the berths booked by me. As I asked them to vacate my berths, they showed me their tickets. To my surprise, I found that the seat numbers in their tickets were exactly the same as those of mine.
My mind went blank. It took me some time to realize my mistake – I booked my ticket for 22 June when I should have done it for the next day because my journey was in the early hours of 23 June.
The train picked up speed and the passengers began to settle in their seats. With my wife and two-years old son journeying along with me, I could not afford to get off the train at the next station. I got a little panicky. I showed my ticket to some of my co-passengers and asked whether I would be allowed to travel with that ticket. They said, ‘Aapke pas ticket hai na? Kyu nehi allow karega? (You’ve the ticket. Why won’t they allow you?)’
But the prospect of making a 10-hours long journey at night along with a kid, standing or sitting, filled me with anxiety. Sensing my distress, one of them assured me, ‘Please be seated. We’ll have some arrangements for you shortly.’
They were a large group of men and women travelling together by the train that night. Almost half an hour later, one of them called me over and mentioned two seat numbers for us. Two women of the group magnanimously vacated their berths and accommodated themselves elsewhere along with their children.
I cursed myself for not being careful enough about my itinerary and was getting ready to offer an explanation to the ticket examiner, pay a hefty fine or just be scolded by him. However, he did not come to check the tickets after midnight.
It is almost sixteen years since then and I have had my share of unanticipated troubles in the travels afterwards – my illness, a sudden call of strike by localites, vagaries of the weather, cancellation of train and all that. Those are, however, the hassles that come with travelling and I was prepared for them. But some troubles cannot be overcome without the help of others and one cannot be grateful enough when help comes from the strangers. In this context, this act of kindness by my fellow passengers sixteen years back still moves me. And it reaffirms my faith in the goodness of people and makes me go out into the world with confidence.