It is one a.m. I've to catch a train that leaves Bezwada at 2 a.m. I call a rickshaw. The fellow demands more than the usual fare because, he says, it is midnight. I agree and keep a hold-all and a big trunk on its footboard and leave for the railway station. My uncle accompanies me. It is an east-west train that starts from Machilipatnam and reaches Marmugoa in the Portuguese territory the following day. I need to change to another train at Hubli to reach my destination.
The rickshaw brings my uncle and me to the station. I engage a porter. We get on to a footbridge that delivers us on to Platform 2. With my uncle by my side, I wait on the platform for the train and hum a tune to pass time. I promise the porter two rupees more if he gets me a sleeper berth. I'm travelling Inter class. I sight the headlight of the engine pouring into the night. I alert the porter. The train pulls in in a few seconds. The porter takes the hold-all first and jumps into the Inter car. He spreads the hold-all on an upper berth. According to railway etiquette the sleeper berth is now reserved for me.
Next, the porter reaches for the heavy trunk. I help him lift the trunk on to his head. He carries it inside the car and heaves it under the lower berth. I enter the car and pay the porter off. My uncle comes near the window to tell me to keep an eye on my baggage. I tell him not to worry about it.
The train has begun to move. My uncle keeps step with it and shouts into the car, "Send a telegram when you reach.'
"Certainly,' I shout back.
The train moves out of the platform. Soon I fall asleep when the train is crossing the Krishna bridge. A while later, how long I don't know, I wake to a medley of noises you associate with a platform about to receive a train. I find the train is stationary. I ask a passenger on the lower berth what station it is.
"Guntur,' he says.
"Please see if my trunk is under the berth,' I ask him.
"I don't find any trunk here,' he says.
In panic, I get down and find the belly of the lower berth empty. Since the train doesn't stop anywhere till it reaches Guntur, I presumed that someone had walked off with it just a few minutes ago. Everything, my money, my ticket, my clothes, is in that trunk. I'm left with the clothes on my body and some unwashed linen in the hold-all.
"Complain to the police,' the passenger advises me.
"I'll do it at the next junction,' I tell him, remembering a rule of the railways that if a person has lost his ticket he should get off at the next junction and report.
How do I explain myself? Would the railway staff believe me? Suppose they let me off the hook, what do I do for food? How do I get back to Bezwada? I've no answers.
The train reaches Dronachalam junction at around 8 a.m. A ticket inspector posts himself at the entrance of the car. I hardly got off the train when he asks me to show my ticket. I tell him it is a long story.
"Please stand aside,' he tells me as he checks tickets of other disembarking passengers.
He lets the train pull out, turns to me and asks,
I tell him the entire story. I also tell him I'm a law student on way to Belgaum for my second semester. Normally, railway personnel dismiss such stories as fiction. I didn't expect him to believe me.
"Please follow me,' he says.
I follow him, lugging my hold-all. He stops at the railway restaurant. We sit at a table.
"What will you have?' he asks me.
"I leave it to you,' I tell him.
He beckons the waiter and tells him to bring two plates of idli and two half cups of coffee. Not a word passes between us at the table.
Breakfast over, the ticket man pays the bill.
"Let's go to the police station,' he says.
We go to the police station and repeat the story. The policeman betrays no emotion that could show belief or disbelief. He records my complaint.
We, me and the ticket collector, then walk down to the waiting room. He tells me to relax.
I doze off without a thought for the future. What is there to think about?
At 12.30 p.m. my savior reappears.
"Come, let's take lunch,' he says.
"Kind of you,' I tell him.
After lunch, he flourishes a pack of cigarettes in front of me. He asks, "Do you smoke?'
"No, thanks,' I tell him.
"Okay, please rest in the waiting room. I'll wake you up at 3.30 p.m. There is a train that takes you to Bezwada.
I thank him again, embarrassed by his hospitality.
A policeman enters the waiting room at 3.30.
"The train will arrive in a few minutes. Wash up and get ready to leave,' he says. He doesn't mention about who'll buy the ticket. I stop thinking about the next step, leaving everything to chance.
The train steams in.
"Please follow me,' the policeman says. We enter the car. The policeman finds a place for me. I sit. The policeman sits next to me. He makes no effort to leave the train and go back to the station.
He tells me he will see me off at Bezwada. Four hours later, the train clangs to a halt at Bezwada. The policeman gets down, takes me to the exit gate, tells the ticket collector that I am sort of a state guest. We are out of the station now. He gives me a smart salute and takes leave of me.
"Thank you very much for everything,' I tell him and stand there at the parking lot till the sea of passengers sucks him in.
I reach home and tell the story to my uncle and others. After dinner I try to go over my experience to know if what happened to me was fact or fiction.