This would be a rather nice tale of a comedy of errors were it not so annoying. It all began when members of my family planned a trip to Bangalore. Part of the family decided to travel on the 27th and part of the family on the 28th - 4 on the 27th and 2 on the 28th. Rail Tickets for the 3 Tier AC were booked separately for the travellers - one through a 45-minute queue at the Mangalore Central Railway station and the other, via IRCTC.com, the online booking arm of the Indian Railways in what can only be described as a luxury unheard of in my younger days. Despite the physical and virtual queues, no grouses as they were cues; the queues were expected, the cues, a bonus as you will see. On the 27th I dropped off the scheduled travellers to the Mangaluru City station around 20 minutes ahead of the scheduled departure and here the fun, pun intended, began.
After I dropped them off, they took the elevator to platform 3 on the far side of the station. As they descended onto the platform, they eagerly began seeking out their Coach, labelled, as per the ticket, AB1!. What they didn't know at the time and there was no board to inform, that the Express train on which they had booked - the Kannur Bengaluru Express Train no: 16518 originating from Kannur had become a part of another train - the Karwar Bengaluru Express - Train no: 16524, for its onward journey to Bengaluru.
At the inquiry booth strategically located at the entrance to the station, they were informed that Train No. 16518, their train, would depart for Bengaluru from Platform No. 3. Announcements on the PA System belied this information. The continuous announcements referred to the only Train No: 16524 departing from Mangaluru to Bengaluru at 20:55 Hours. Despite the confusing signals emanating from their enquiry and the PA System, they scoured the length of the platform for a 3 tier AC Coach numbered AB1, reaching the end of a long train of Coachs, on the advice of someone who seemed to be in the know about these things (there was no one else to ask apparently), finding at the end of the train a three-tier AC Coach A1, but not AB1.
Time was running out, tempers were running high, and the luggage was becoming a dead weight, given that there were senior citizens in the travelling posse. They were advised by a good samaritan and a regular traveller on this route via the same train - he was already on the train - to climb in, and then move on to the front over the fishplates that joined Coachs to each other, as for the first time the travellers were enlightened that this train combined two trains in one - Train No. 16524 and Train No. 16518; the Coach they were looking for was part of the latter and would be well ahead near the engine in front. While the senior citizens made progress through the train, generation x moved swiftly along the platform with the luggage in their desperation, despite the tiredness that was threatening to overwhelm them, finding AB1 at the far end as promised. They climbed into the Coach only to find that it was a combined Coach comprising of 2 tier AC and 3 Tier AC seats/berths which began from either end. All well that ends well? Not so. The train began to move and the travellers were separated! And the twain were not to meet as there was no access from the end of the previous train (no.) to the current train (No) - there was a shutter in between! Although we blame our mobiles for a lot of our social ills including riots and the like, the mobile came in handy - Contact was established between the separated brethren and the switch to their rightful place and a restful sleep occurred at the next stop - the Mangalore Junction - via the platform of course. The rest of the journey for them was uneventful. But not for those of us who travelled the next day.
They say forewarned is forearmed; we were neither; we were not in the know of the calamitous events of the previous day as we entered the station and made an inquiry at the entrance. Like our travellers the previous day, we were guided to go to Platform 3. And we did, using the wonderful elevator facility at the far end of the platform. Still no mention of our train - Train No. 16518 - on the PA System, which seemed to mention only Train No. 16524. The confusion was the subject of a puzzling conversation between me and my fellow traveller - my wife. We decided to explore the problem further on reaching there. But we were lucky or maybe our silent prayers were answered. Normally we don’t like our conversations to be overheard, but this time we were glad. It was again a good samaritan who explained this double-crossing system to us in detail, suggesting we go to the front of the train directly. And we did just that, finding our Coach and seat rather easily, but with no help from the Indian Railways system.
Our return journey last night was booked on Train no. 16511, the Bengaluru Kannur Express, and we learned that this was part of Train No. 16513, the Bengaluru Karwar Express. By the time we entered the station, we had made a mental note about the two trains and did try to find the Coach's position close to the engine - But we missed our target by a mile - we ended up at the wrong end of the platform. Luckily, we had a few minutes more to spare this time; so we chugged along briskly with the luggage in the opposite direction till the other end, finally finding Coach AB1, exactly where it was supposed to be. We should have laughed at ourselves, but we were in no mood to, having been fooled twice in the span of 5 days! and thereby hangs a tale!
True, all's well that ends well, and we managed it to end it all rather well "with a little help from our friends" (BTW, "With a Little Help from My Friends" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band). It would have been nice if we could include the Indian Railways in that list!
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