MIDWAY: Travelling ticketless

After ten months of rigorous studies and physical training in an army school, the thought of the approaching annual vacation was always looked forward to with great excitement. One such vacation is still deeply ingrained in my memory. It took me three days on a train to reach Jogbani from Belgaum en route to Bhojpur Bazaar. Waiting at Dharan were two Liberation Army personnel assigned by my old man, who was commanding a small garrison of the army, following the end of the 1950-51 armed revolution that saw the end of the Rana rule. The sojourn on foot from Dharan began. The journey with two escorts with a rifle was embarrassing. I even felt a little flattered with my new found status. At the crossing of Arun river, I, inadvertently fired a shot in the air after which the boatmen from the other side hastened to ferry us across.

After the holidays were over, I was returning to my school with a relative, who was also returning to his unit. We were both donning army uniforms as the school had made it mandatory even while travelling. At Katihar we boarded the “Assam Mail.” The compartment reserved for the armed forces was comfortable. The ticket collector would only cast a cursory glance at the reserved compartment. At Lucknow, I disembarked and took a train to Jhansi and waited for the “Bombay Express” to take me to Kalyan. After failing to spot the reserved compartment, I hopped on to one of the general compartments. Scanning for an empty space, I found one near a cute Anglo-Indian girl. Excusing myself , I sat down beside her — she even made some room with a friendly gesture.

Her pleasing demeanour encouraged me to initiate a conversation. Soon we were chatting. The sudden appearance of the ticket collector, near Kalyan, interrupted our discourse. I was benumbed as I was travelling ticketless. After failing to produce the ticket, I was asked to follow him to a room where other ticketless travellers were being interrogated in language not too palatable, after the train had stopped at Kalyan junction. I quietly and quickly paid the fare, including the fine, and rushed back to the platform, where the train had halted. It was too late — the train had already chugged off.