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Tuesday, September 07, 2004

rally in bareilly

There are two Bareillys in UP – one is Rae Bareilly, the constituency of one of our late Prime Ministers, the other is plain and simple Bareilly minus ray of any sort. The Bareilly sans ray was immortalized in the foot tapping dance number Bareilly kay bazaar mein jhumka girah re of the sixties.

Whilst the former boasts of a unit of the Indian Telephone Industries, the other is proud of its Air Force base. I had occasion to visit Bareilly on official duty in December 1982. I had been first to New Delhi and from there took a night bus from the Inter State Bus Terminus. The bus left ISBT at around 10 pm along with armed guards as escorts. The reason was the fear of dacoits since the route from New Delhi to Bareilly passed through dacoit infested territory and caution was the watchword. As our bus proceeded to its destination, I could make out mounted Police and Police jeeps at regular intervals on the road. My friend, who was accompanying me and who was a resident of Bareilly assured me that nothing untoward would happen and, nothing did happen. After an uneventful journey, we reached Bareilly some time early in the morning.

I remained in Bareilly for three days. My work was confined to the Air Force base, it was December and the roads emptied very fast.

On the third morning having finished my work, I received instructions to proceed to Tejpur, another IAF base via Calcutta. Air passage was authorized from Calcutta to Tejpur and back. Therefore, taking leave of my companion, I took a cycle rickshaw and landed in the railway station at around 3 pm. I could feel another wintry evening fast descending. Straightway I made a beeline for the reservation counter. The gentleman sitting on the other side of the counter was deeply engrossed in one of those ‘whodunits’. Even though I was the only person at the counter, he did not bother to look up until he had finished reading whatever interesting portions of the book had attracted his attention.

I asked for a sleeper ticket to Howrah by the Doon Express leaving that night.

He was chewing paan and, with his jaws moving slowly, he surveyed me, trying to size me up as to my worth. Then he reached up to a rack behind his chair and brought down a huge ledger. It contained details of reservations made in various trains passing through Bareilly. He flipped the pages until he came to the date we wanted. He glanced through the page and looked at me.

‘Naam bataiye,’ he said.

I gave him my name.

Without any hesitation, he struck off an entry and added my name, prepared a journey-cum-reservation ticket and handed it over. I checked the ticket – it was in order. The fare was seventy odd rupees. I tendered a 100 rupee note – he did not bother to return the change. Putting the note in the drawer, he went back to his paperback. I also did not wait for the change. I wanted the reservation and he wanted a few extra rupees. We were both satisfied individuals. I sauntered on to the platform and headed for the restaurant. The train would arrive at 3 am and I had nearly 12 hours to kill.

I took a meal of chapatti and mutton curry and washed it down with a cup of real hot tea. Then I purchased a James Hadley Chase novel from the railway bookstall. I made some mental calculations - it would take around three hours to finish the novel. By then it would be time for dinner. Some more cups of tea, a few cigarettes and roaming on the platform should ensure that the time up to 3 am would be easy to kill. How wrong I was!! I had not reckoned with the bitter cold of a December night in the city called Bareilly. I was 22 years younger, I was wearing woolen clothes, I had a muffler tied around my ears and nose, my hands were in gloves but, as the night progressed, I became more and more miserable. A thoughtful railway porter kept a small fire burning in the waiting room to generate some form of warmth but, every time someone opened the door, a fresh blast of cold wind would enter the confines of the room and literally sent shivers down my body. My teeth were chattering, my knees were knocking and it was the most terrible night I had ever spent in my life.

At last, the train was announced and it arrived on the dot.

With much difficulty, I staggered into the railway compartment and collapsed in a heap on my reserved berth. With my arms nearly frozen, I somehow managed to remove the blanket from my suitcase, wrap it tightly around me and go to sleep.

I awoke next morning when the train was leaving the other Bareilly – Rae Bareilly!

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