The noisy Banerjee family travelled

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.

In the Ghats for a day

When you live in Pune and it rains and you want to get away, there is a beautiful getaway called Lonavala that beckons you. Problem is, it beckons majority of the population around. Net result is chaos.

Last week I got an invite to spend the weekend in a resort at the very top, somewhere in that city and I jumped at the offer. Already dreaming about the rain and clouds and waterfalls and cool breeze, I wondered how to go, since taking the car was not an option. Well, driving on winding broken single lane mountain roads is not something I do very often, but the excuse I have is better- my car was being used by family so…So. I decided to take a train. Not having ridden in a train for quite a few years now, my first thought was, how difficult can it be, it is just about an hour and a few minutes away, with trains almost every hour, all I need to do is reach the station and board the next one.

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A view from the train

But then wiser and saner thoughts prevailed, maybe I should get a reservation. A dialogue with the hubby resolved the situation and he booked a ticket for me. So far so good. Reached the station almost 45 minutes in advance, years of non-practice does that to you. Waited with stamping legs and straining ears at the entrance for about half hour till the platform was announced. Managed to board without any incidents, just observing that the platform was decidedly cleaner than what I was used to in the yesteryears. Provided you don’t look out when the platform ends.

The train was cleaned twice in that small journey- nice. It was decidedly hard to resist the constant chant of “sabudana vada, veg cutlet, sandwich”, but the most interesting was “water pani” which I realised meant plain water and not “chilled pani”. Now, not having travelled this route before, I wondered how I would know my station was arriving and how long would it stop for and will there be enough time to get down. Yeah, I know, I am a totally inexperienced traveler. But outwardly, I was cool, even though I was doing the math in the mind, so many minutes from Pune, shall I ask Siri, what was the last station that went by and so on.., I did manage to get down at the right station quite safely. It is a different matter that after that, I had to climb up and down the bridge multiple times to find the driver. I mean how was I supposed to know “towards the city” didn’t imply towards the platform no 1.

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It is gonna pour

Sitting in the cab, with cool breeze blowing my hair, and rain drops down my cheeks, well, I was smiling away, I had arrived, and the rest was going to be a cool breeze (literally). Till I found traffic jam and jam and crowd and hawkers and no one following traffic rules. Well, this feels just like Pune, I thought with a grimace. Small congested roads, directionless people and honking all around. A little more than an hour, a packet of chips and several bumps and potholes later, I reached the resort.

It was as beautiful and serene as expected. Ah the beauty of a hill top resort when it is raining is beyond compare. Gorging on good food, good company, love and laughter. Even in 45 acres of property, we could find hordes of people coming from the dry state and debating whether to be upgraded to purple from white and other such nonsense. No, this is not a gyan session on Club Mahindra.

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6 am from the balcony
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Ah the colours

A day of relaxation, chai in the balcony, long morning walk, lot of selfies and a huge breakfast spread. We hogged so much, needed to lie down awhile. But then finally it was time to leave. The lime water in the tummy kept bubbling up and down as we encountered the familiar potholes again, somehow kept it from overflowing.

We stopped at the tiger’s point, or was it lion, or jackal, not sure. Some animal, definitely. Any self-respecting hill station in India has to have a Lion or Tiger’s point, and a sunset and sunrise point. Amidst a mass of humanity and cars and a breathtaking view, we too decided to do what the tourists do, walk, eat and click pictures. All around us were couple with the girlfriend perched on the boyfriend’s back, posing away, and few I-am-a-cool-dude guys posing on the cliff edges. Thankfully nobody fell off during our watch. After about an hour of touristy thingy, we followed the bro, the leader, who kept going in weird directions till we realised he was looking for relief and so we hastily retreated and went back to the car, relieved.

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At the animal point

Next stop was Bhushi ghat. Now that is a place, I would absolutely not recommend unless you are drunk and rowdy and enjoy sitting in dirty slimy water and throwing it around on yourself and others. The walk is long and bad, uneven stones does wonders for your back, the place has some broken steps with no railing and a sure chance of falling on the rocks, stairs that lead nowhere and a lot of smelly people sitting in smellier water, on the steps and throwing it around. Just not worth the time. The river on the other side that overflows at times. Not for me.

Came back to downtown, tired and happy and in dire need of ginger chai. Unfortunately, my train mode of transport did not work this time, simply because I did not get a reservation. Too many people, too little time. How will you go back, maybe come to Mumbai with us and then go back Monday. No way, I want to be back tonight. So, a cab, me and a 60 km drive back to home. With memories. And an agreement to go back again, with kids.

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The memory