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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stranded!



“Stranded!”

The word has an uncomfortable ring to it.  A combination of helplessness and uncertainty laced with despair. A few strands of excitement scattered here and there. And the painful attempt of the mind to believe that it is in control.

Yes I know that formula very well dear friends. I should have received an honorary doctorate in getting stranded – if that subject was of any academic interest.  If finding holes in illusion of certainty that the modern technological age has been striving to create, was a crime – then I would be behind the bars for life.

You don’t believe me do you? Well, how about I share some of my experiences and then the jury can decide.  And before I start , I want to reiterate that all these incidences are true.

****
Train is of course one of the most popular modes of transportation across the world. Especially in India where thousands of locomotives ferry millions of passengers every day, connecting cities and towns and villages to each other, it is a like the lifeline of the country. 

During my college days, it used to be my primary mode of transportation between my home and college.  Thought it was long ride – fifteen hours if the train was on time, I was lucky that there was a direct train to the city where my college was located in. The scheduled departure time for the train from my town was 9 PM but it used to be invariably a couple of hours late, arriving at the destination early afternoon the next day.The travels would take place mostly during college vacations. 

As the train passed through numerous towns, known faces from the college boarded the train - mostly acquaintances and an occasional friend.  We used to spend a lot of time standing near the open door of the coach, smoking and chatting, getting off and on the train at all the small stations that the train paused through.   Only when the coach attendant declared that it was time to close the door, we used to finally retire, usually sleeping through the rest of the journey.

That day, the train had arrived at the station right on time. This was the first time this happened since had been travelling to college. My coach was in the middle of the train, which was a good location to scout the train from.

Strangely enough I was not able to locate any friend in the train that night. I decided to retire for the night and stretched out on my berth. The sleeper coaches of the train provided seeping berths that were positioned one on top of other. Though it was a bit early for bedtime, I pulled the blanket over my head and dozed off.

I was jerked out of my deep slumber by a rumbling sound followed by loud screeching and a finally a jolt. The coach swayed so much amidst the noise that I had to peep out of the cozy blanket and looked at my watch  – it was 3 AM in the morning .Then I heard screams, something that I had never experienced in my twenty odd years of riding the train.

The train swayed dangerously with a deafening sound and came to a screeching halt. I got up, amidst screams of passengers who had been thrown out of their berths. As I made my way to the exit, I noticed that the entire coach was sloping towards the right.  I was one of the first ones to jump out of the coach into a dark and still night.

The coach I was travelling in was leaning at an angle on the tracks. It was really dark outside, we were in the middle of nowhere. The only thing that was visible was the faint outline of the tracks next to our train and a broken harness dangling from our coach. The harness was supposed  to be attached to the next coach. All the coaches after ours were missing - those coaches, most likely would be lying down toppled somewhere down the tracks.

I glanced down the deserted track and then nervously at the men standing next to me in the dark night.

I was  stranded!

****

‘Train accidents happen all the time’, a cynic jury member might say in an imaginary conversation with the author, ‘You just happened to be unlucky enough to be part of one ...’

‘How about a cross country motorcycle journey then?’, I  would respond, ‘ Will that make the cut ?’

The jury member might look at me with a skeptical gaze, ‘A motorcycle accident?’

‘No – that would be too easy’, I manage a smile. ‘How about getting stranded on the road – without any of the predictable stuff …  accident, falling sick , bandhs  ?’

I passed on to the cynic jury member a link to the story – Pulp Fiction Masaala.

****

‘Did it really happen?’ , the jury member asked after browsing through the story.

‘Yes, most of it’, I replied ‘ Of course what is life without  a little creative license ?’

‘ I have more stories ..’, I added eagerly ‘ There is one where I get  stranded because of  the train. And then I head out for a road trip and get stranded again!’  

‘Yes I have read that one in your blog ‘ , the jury member gave me a faint smile.

‘Do you have something that is different?’, she asked after a pause.

‘You bet I do!’ , I was eager to be absolved of my crime of finding holes in illusion of certainty that the modern technological age was trying to create.

****

So here is a different story that happens in a totally different part of the world.

Aircraft is of course one of the most popular modes of transportation across the world. Especially in USA  where thousands of aircrafts  ferry millions of passengers every day, connecting cities and towns to each other, it is a like the lifeline of the country. 

‘Don’t tell me you have been in a plane accident  ...’ , the jury member interrupted  with her eyes betraying  her attempt of  feigning a detached calmness.

‘No – no usual stuff ...’ , I smiled ‘ Here is how the story goes…’

I fly a lot as part of my work.  If you discount the instances of ego induced imaginary levitations, I still flew a lot and was in the elite clubs of most of the airlines.  Of course the perks of these travels – beside the complimentary fist class upgrades, glasses of champagnes and access to exclusive lounges at  the airports, was my near constant absence from the life of my family. But somehow I had played along with the illusion that elite mileage membership was a more than sufficient compensation for missing out on life.

Because of my frequent travels, I have had the good fortune of experiencing several adrenalin induced moments. Like getting splattered with the barf of my co traveler when our shuttle aircraft plummeted down due to an unusually large airpocket.  It was early in the morning and I swear I could have guessed the menu of the breakfast the guy had.

Then there was this incidence where the overtly panicked stewardess asked us to  put our head between our knees for an emergency landing. The aircraft landed on the runway lined with ambulances and fire trucks. But  that is not when I got stranded.

It was a balmy winter afternoon  in Boston (if you know the standards of balmy winter in New England) . The Sun was still shining brightly - the temperature was twenty degree F ( -6 Deg C).  I was travelling to Chicago - It was supposed to be snowing and much colder there.  My brother lives in Chicago and I would be staying with him for the night and go through a string of official meetings the next morning. It was a simple plan.

The air was unusually chilly when I got out of my car at the central parking of the Logan Airport. I hurried out of the car and rushed towards the terminal building.  The flight was on time.

After  the usual rounds of in-flight complimentary  champagne, I disembarked the plane at O Hare Airport in Chicago.  My brother was supposed to pick me up from the terminal. ‘ Call me when your flight lands – I will be there before you reach the terminal exit’  he had said.

I dug into pocket retrieve my cell phone.  The phone was not there!  Then I realized that I did not recall turning the phone off before the phone took off.   My cell phone was in my car that was parked at Boston Airport !

I looked at the eyes of the cynic jury, who did not seem to be impressed by the turn of events.

‘So what – you just forgot your cell phone … is that all?’ , she seemed to be underwhelmed.

That day I realized the extent I had got used to the technological props.  I did not remember my brother’s cell phone number. Or his address – I had his address stored in my contact information in my cell phone. All I recalled that he lived in the Lake shore drive opposite to Lake Michigan on the eighteenth floor of a beautiful building that had a swimming pool on the terrace.

A combination of helplessness and uncertainty laced with despair crept up on my mind. A few strands of excitement scattered here and there in the mix. My mind made a painful attempt to believe that it is in control as I called my home from a pay phone.

‘So you got your brother’s address and phone number from your wife ?’ , my heartless jury remarked  nonchalantly.

I tried to. There was no one at home as my call kept on hitting the answering machine. I did not remember my wife’s cell phone number - her office had switched over to a new carrier last month and she had a new number which had not registered in my memory. 

It was snowing outside  and the temperature was minus 15 deg centigrade. I stood on the curbside thinking about my brother who was waiting for my call so that he could come and pick me up at the airport. I could not take a taxi to his place because I did not remember his address.

I was stranded!

****

‘So what is your point?’ , the imaginary jury asked after a long pause , ‘ Is it that the things that you take so much for granted – the safety net – it is a mere illusion ?’

Frankly, I was just hoping for some sympathy. But my jury’s philosophical inference sounded reasonable.  I nodded affirmatively.

‘But you did survive all the strandings  ... didn’t you ?’ , she asked  with a smile.

I recalled that I had walked for about a mile after the train accident when we saw fire from a distance. Several coaches lay toppled on the tracks and the passengers had lit up warning bonfires. Some of the passengers were helping the train staff in attending to the injured.  After what seemed to be a very long wait, a train passed on the track parallel to ours – we had stopped that train and made our way to the next station.

I had hailed a taxi at O’Hare. It had started to snow. ‘Please drive towards the Lake Shore dive … by the way do you have a cell phone?‘ I had asked the cab driver. I left a message on the home answering machine ‘Left my cell phone in the car. Stranded in Chicago – please call me at 347 564 3422’.   I had my brother’s address when I was a mile away from his home.

I did not want to tell her about the countless other times that I had felt that I was stranded but I had survived the stranding.  

‘We all survive the strandings’, I winked at my imaginary jury.

4 comments:

rachna said...

Ha! Ha! You are a dangerous man. You actually need to be locked up. And we won't get into who could also be locked up for similar crimes. Nice piece and i really liked the line about self induced levitation.

Nisheeth Srivastava said...

Nice one as always!

Varsha said...

Wow! Your life is full of adventure and thrills!Good that you always come out the winner. Please continue to keep us enthralled by your writing.Always BE a WINNER!

BEG said...

Surprisingly enough, you do get stranded and even after 17 years of living with you, I don't, though i wouldn't want to jinx it ;-)
You certainly have a knack for it..
Fantastic caricature for icing of a delicious piece!

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