The last few days of my life

There are some journeys that you would like to remember forever as the most happening moments of your life; and there are some that you'd like to forget immediately as ones full of mishaps. The last few days of my life would fall in the latter category.

Where should I begin? The flight from Lucknow to Bagdogra via Delhi, where we landed in the middle of a thunderstorm, or the train from NJP to Allahabad featuring a derailed goods train and a punctured tyre? Or may be the auto ride late in the night that could have, well, made these last few days of my life, really the last days of my life! Perhaps, I'd start four years ago with the alma mater I bid good-bye today, on the eve of our Convocation.

I come from a small hill station in Darjeeling and belong to a simple middle class family. For the last four years, I've spent the most important festival of our calendar year Diwali in the middle of a few friends, 500 miles from home in Allahabad. So it should come as no surprise to the reader that when presented with an opportunity to go home on Diwali eve after five years, the writer was over himself with delight. So delighted that he could miss his convocation just to go home! You might be surprised how someone can miss the product of four years of dedication and toil and a lifetime of memory (!) for a small moment of mirth. But if you've bid over 50% of your friends who live not more than a hundred miles away, a Happy Diwali as you are left with a bunch of Southies to enjoy Sagar Ratna instead of home-made delicacies, you'd probably understand. But not without a first hand account of events at MNNIT would you completely understand; and thence, decide against turning up for your own convocation.

I had my tickets booked for the 22nd by Rajdhani Express to New Jalpaiguri and return tickets to Lucknow on the 28th. Then, I had a long conversation with my mother that lasted over nine minutes. The agenda of the discussion was to convince me to attend the convo just because she wanted to see me wearing that crazy robe. Without a second thought, I cancelled the return ticket to book another ticket back to Allahabad. Another ticket got cancelled when Tata Motors announced that we were working on 23rd October, Sunday; hence in order not to sandwich my holidays, the best bet I had was to leave on 24th. Hence, the itinerary now read: LKO-> NJP on 24th by Awadh Assam Exp. and NJP-> ALD on 28th by Mahananda Exp.

Problems started to compound when in two months, the ticket I'd booked on wait-list #9 moved down two places only to WL#7. Two days before the train was to leave, I cancelled the third ticket for the trip to book a flight to Bagdogra via Delhi on 25th. Excitedly I called makemytrip.com on the evening of the 24th, only to learn that the transaction had been dropped. The attendant politely told me that he'd try his best that I get the entire amount refunded. I checked all flights for the next day. None would cost me less than Rs. 7,500. I called up a good friend, who checked on his own and found out that if I left that night itself, I'd have to hold in Delhi for the night but would get another flight in the morning and the trip would cost me Rs. 5000. I had to book a flight to Delhi (Rs. 1500) and then another one to Bagdogra (Rs. 3500). By the time I booked the first flight, the second expressed regrets. I was late by 5 minutes and it was full. The next cheapest flight to Bagdogra was for Rs. 6600. I checked my watch; it was impossible to catch the flight to Delhi that night. I cancelled that ticket; Rs. 1100 lost in cancellation charges. In the end (with God's grace), I did get a ticket to Bagdogra for the next morning, for a much cheaper rate and did reach Bagdogra nevertheless. Ironically, on the same flight that makemytrip.com regretted and could not offer any seat to me.

Two days at home passed in a jiffy. After all, it was festival time and I'd some work in the bank and there were family members coming from other places. After two days, I left early in the morning after Bhaiya Dooj. At NJP, I met Sneha Agarwal, a good friend from X+2 for about 2 minutes; came to know that she was travelling by Rajdhani Exp, the first train I had cancelled. The train arrived in 2 minutes and she was gone. Mahananda Exp. arrived some time later. I was complacent that I had been able to spend two days at home and could also attend my convocation now; a rare feat albeit at the cost of a few rules, read my inability to attend the dress rehearsal that was compulsory to attend the convo. But then, if you are an engineer and you've studied at a premier engineering college and work in a premier factory, complacency is a word you'd appreciate.

So, I was scheduled to reach Allahabad at 6 am in the morning, well ahead of the 2 pm convocation. But fate had different plans for me. At 3 am, the train stopped at Mughal Sarai junction and refused to budge till 8 am, when I learned that a goods train had derailed some stations away and would take some time to be cleared; meaning if I stayed on that train, I'd probably reach Allahabad only after 5 pm. I immediately got down at Mughal Sarai junction and walked out into a horde of haggling drivers. If I had more time, I could probably take a bus to Varanasi, then another bus from there to Allahabad and then an auto to the institute, but time was not at my disposal. The taxi drivers took advantage of my situation, asking me for Rs. 3000 and Rs. 2800 to drop me to Allahabad. After considerable shoving, I managed to find one good driver ready to take me for Rs. 1300. I jumped in immediately. Hardly 2 kms from the station, the good driver started working on me to raise the fare a little, citing toll taxes and rising oil prices and what naught! In the end, I managed to contain him for Rs. 1400. I had to keep moving.

60 kms into the ride and the rear left tyre punctured. With the little training I've had at Tata Motors, I helped the driver replace the spare tyre. The driver, now fully aware of the adrenaline rushing through my blood, drove in full speed only to reach the institute at 12:30 pm. I collected  a couple of documents a friend had ready in printed form and ran towards the Dean Acads building for registration for the convocation. When I reached there, a blank staring man announced that I was late by 5 minutes. I tried hard and in vain to convince him of my situation. In the end, he said that only the Dean Acads could help me; and he was not picking up his phone because he was in a meeting.

At 1:30 pm, with almost 30 people behind me who had also come a little late but interested nevertheless to attend the convo, we met the Dean Acads. Dr. Duggal brisked us quickly at first but we continued pleading persistently. When you push aside your ego and look beyond your pride, you start using all words like institute-nurturing-you and all-important-day and it perhaps worked, for with 10 minutes to go for the convo, he gave a nod to allow us to wear the crazy gown I'd come for and pose with the director for a photograph. Only when I came back from the stage did I realize that the folder handed over to me was empty; it would take me another struggle through another line to get my degree finally.

By the time I got my degree (after standing in a line for another hour), I was getting late to go back to Lucknow, which isn't very far away but I had office even on a Sunday the next day, and I could not afford to miss it. Not for the 1000 Rs. I'd lose as LWOP, not for the sake of record that I'd notified well in advance about my leaves, not even for the Rs. 87000 I could probably save the company, but because I'd come to convo basically to wear the gown and get my degree; not to meet my friends. And although I wish I could meet my good friends and spend some time with them, I'm sure that our paths would intersect more often to throw more opportunities for us to meet. I'd look forward to be in good touch till then. So, without meeting friends, without wasting another minute in college, just as I'd come like the wind, I was also probably the first to leave.

And I left for good because I caught the last bus to Lucknow just in time. And since I had not had anything since morning, when I'd left the train at Mughal sarai with three biscuits in my stomach, I was awfully thirsty and hungry. I managed to delay the bus by 5 minutes to buy a bottle of water and a packet of biscuits. At 10 pm, I had a morsel of a meal at Bhadohi, mid-way between Allahabad and Lucknow and at midnight, reached Lucknow.

When I was getting down the bus, I realized that I'd also lost that day, my mobile phone cover; somebody might have mistaken it for my wallet that was safe in my bag. With two baggages in hand and another one on my back, and a horde of people hurrying behind me to get down the bus, I landed in a rough patch, spraining my left ankle. In the end, I had no option but to get an auto right from there to take me back to my flat; no option even to bargain the fare. It was past midnight and in his excitement, the autowallah wound a new route to take me to the flat. He said it was a shorter route and I was too weak to resist. I had had fever all day long,  something I had tried to conceal from good friends by acting a little hyper. The autorickshaw wound up a railway track and then stopped right there; right on the railway track with a train not more than a 100 metres away. With a sprained ankle, I got down the auto and pushed it ahead, managing to get it moving with the slow train hardly 20 metres away. Had it been an express, I would have probably perished. Yes, these last days would have been my last days.

With all these mishaps, I write this post, to apologize to my friends that I could not meet; my sister whom I had to disconnect; my parents who had to bear a lot with me and often call many other people to find out if I was safe. Yes, I'm safe and in one piece after everything and I thank God for all the near-misses; eventually I did go home for Diwali, had fun, attended convo, got my degree and am alive. And as a sister messaged me in the evening, even I'm proud of myself :)


amal said...

wow! what a journey! glad you are still in one piece man..

Ashwin P. Verleker said...

really scary shit....especially the finale...congrats on the degree.. :)


koi nahin karwa ... jahan chah hai wahna rah hai ... u got the degree naa thts the best part ... And we will meet some day for sure ..

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