Monday, March 23, 2009

Paschim permutations

There was no real incentive to get back home for us in RECK except maybe at the end of the first semester. Hostel life with its fully engaging tomfoolery and stifling periods of inactivity had put us into the twilight zone where time had come to a stop. Semesters came and went, but were impossible to tell apart as far our routines went. It was the same carrom, common room, 'khokhaa', party, 'panga', bunked classes schedule that repeated itself through the years and every sem was a minor variant of the past. Going home was something which took us out of this world of irresponsibility and timelessness for a brief vacation.

Gujarat was about 18 hours away by train and despite knowing when our semester would end at least 3 months in advance, none of us guys based in Gujarat would ever take the pains or even had the foresight to book a seat. Given the extreme demand of seats on the Indian Railways, naturally we'd end up with a rather hopeless situation of 1 berth between 8 people or sometimes none at all. We'd prefer to take the Paschim Express from Ambala as it made its way to Bombay running through the parts of South Gujarat where most of us lived.

Bombay was home to the mythical 'maal'(babe) from Bombay and so it was a logical conclusion that at least a dozen of them ought to be on the Paschim Express. Every trip back home or to college would begin in a scouting trip up and down the length of the train for a sighting of this elusive species. Most of the times, the search party would return empty-handed but then the rarity of success led to the thrill of the hunt. In case of the occasional gust of good fortune, the carriage where the sighting had been reported by the forest guide would find itself frequented by a variety of young male college students who'd be passing along the length of the carriage multiple times and without apparent purpose. Being the socially inept engineers that we were (Most of us mechanical engineers too), the closest that anyone would get to a conversation with the Bollywood beauties would be a baritone "Sure" to the squeaky "Excuse me" from her as we stood blocking the passage in her carriage. We almost never had any seats anyways so we were nomads permanently in search of the promised land. Once on the rarest of rare occasions we had a single seat in the midst of some hot architecture girls headed out to Chandigarh from Bombay. We tried to play up the non-existent REC/NIT brandname card with them, an effort which needless to say fell flat on its face. Blank looks and confused smiles met our even more pathetic attempts at further explanations. We could've walked away with a little of our honour intact but that was not to be. Like the usual 'despos', we were quite shameless about our abject failure and felt blessed for at least having had the opportunity.

Night-time would make us feel really unwelcome. The bunks would go up and the day-time smiles would flip around into suspicion filled grimaces. We'd have to keep shuffling about from seat to seat every half an hour which hardly had area enough to park half an **s once the real owner of the berth had done his best to fill up his space. Most of the times, especially in summer time, we'd stand near the door, revelling in the cool night breeze and talk about adventures past or future as the train cantered through little towns and villages long dead and oblivious to its thunderous approach.