As kids when travelling by train, I remember Baba carrying his aluminium suitcase and 5-6 थैला around his neck, one carrying medicines for all possible ailments (but if you needed a Crocin, that may have been forgotten), one carrying food and biscuits, another- a towel and chain complete with lock and key and a few handkerchiefs, bowl and spoons, coins, nail-cutter and also some cleaning clothes- just in case (and rest I never really got around to- since I was not allowed to peek inside them). And of course several water bottles and vacuum flasks. Over time the suitcase converted to a trolley, the train journey became a flight but the count of झोलाs of थोले Banerjee as he was known did not reduce.
Since he was the neighbourhood traino-pedia, he had his own system of booking tickets in those days when there was no चिड़िया called online. He always had his own copy of railway timetables at home (he would go and get one the day it was released), along with reservation forms. Whenever there was a hint of any journey in the distant future, he would wear his specs, sit down surrounded by the timetables and forms and perform a detailed analysis of all possible permutations of how to reach point B from point A, including the amount of wait, in-between stations, long and short routes and more. Then he would fill several forms, various options that he would have shortlisted, with variations across trains, dates and classes, and berth options. Finally it was time to go visiting the reservation office. He would hand me a couple of forms, my brother a couple and all of us would stand in different queues and talk to each other, how else, by shouting. Now this was a complex algorithm. The options had to be tried in order of priority. So if a low priority form holder reached the window first, he would have to relent his position. Once a form was presented and if we got confirmed berths and the kind of berths he wanted, work would be over; else it would fall back to next option and so on ad infinitum. The clerks sitting behind the desk looked on with exasperation as we presented one form after other and never even said thanks. Sometimes, we would run out of forms or none of the options would work and then we would choose another destination and the whole episode would start all over again. Spending a day at the reservation office from breakfast to lunch was a common occurrence for us, till our travel plan was frozen. Just imagine the situation if we finally did manage to make a booking and then the plan had to be changed. Baba definitely didn’t believe in agility.
A couple of days before travel, the packing ritual would start. My and Maa’s packing would be done quite easily, but Baba, loved the chaos of home in utter disarray. Our home, normally a mess, would turn just a level messier with no place to sit on any of the beds, sofas or chairs. Everywhere would be spread stuff that he needed to take, clothes, नाड़ा, batteries, डब्बा, hankies, keys, cups, flasks, लुंगी, chains, medicines, spoons and of course polythene bags. Every single item had to be inside a polythene bag. If I dared remove something, he would get upset, No, no, don’t remove that, if I forget that, there will be big मुसीबत.
If I offered to pack, it meant, getting a lesson in how to pack and then anything I did would eventually be moved to a different location without any clear explanation except that the original place wasn’t right. And that would continue till the time we had to leave. Finally everything would find its place in a suitcase or a bag or in one of the many थैला he would carry. But we promptly forgot where we packed what and we were forever looking for things during the entire journey. And the essential was almost always left behind despite the long (un)planning. Murphy also probably decided, enough is enough, if they want chaos, let me shower my blessings.
Once we would settle in the train with everything finding its place below the berths and rest spread around us, Baba would suddenly want to drink tea. And of course we would have forgotten where the cup was packed. So imagine us opening one suitcase after another in the train, rummaging through under-wears and लुंगी, and नाड़ा to find a plastic cup to drink tea in. Much to the amusement of other passengers, we were a noisy family, everyone had a different memory of our higgledy-piggledy packing, we would openly fight, and we had to rummage through at least three bags, before we found the blasted cup. Then we would settle down again, half of the bags left open- who knows what we may have to search for again, might as well leave it open.
Then would begin the अड्डा session where Baba would make friends with everyone around, with of course the loudest laugh and share all details about himself including his address, salary and his children’s marks. He would also borrow their newspapers and remember to keep it in his own थैला after finishing it.
Baba had an annoying habit of getting down at every station and climb the train only after the train started moving. Maa always fretted he would be left behind and he carried all the money and tickets and address. Just to worry her further, Baba would move out of sight and climb into a different compartment. Now Maa would be almost out of her wits, where is he, did he get on, keep looking out for him fearfully. Till the next station and Baba would come strolling in, would get an earful from Maa and we all just looked away, For every male reaction, there is a female overreaction; just another day in the life of us noisy Banerjee family.