As usual, I was looking forward to enjoying the mildly sweet, hot, cup of self made tea at the end of my daily morning walk. But the other day, no sooner had I entered our flat, both mother and daughter pounced on me with persistent demands that I read the day’s op ed column that invariably included thought provoking personal accounts.
I prepared cups of tea for both mother and daughter as well and then settled down to read the article recommended by, not only my better half but also “our” best reason to be proud. It was the account of a person who was caught unawares, ticket less at a railway station!
The article had a struck a chord in the minds of all three of us. It reminded us of an incident that happened to me quite a while ago.
Not much time had passed since I had joined service. I was living in a comfortable lodge, a few kilometers away from my office. Since the area was primarily residential, it was my practice to have food from a hotel before going home, after office, in the evening or to buy a packed dinner from one of the numerous makeshift ‘thattu kadas’ that used to line the streets of the capital city those days.
One of my usual dinner spots was what was then widely known as the VRR – the vegetarian refreshment room – at the railway station. The hot dosais, the succulent uthappams and the soft, steaming iddlis all made my dinner a grand affair, full of culinary variety – a much awaited gastronomical finale to the routine working day!
Since I was going only for dinner, little matters like taking a platform ticket etc never entered my mind. There was a door that led into the VRR through a corridor that skirted the kitchen which was my route for egress and digress!
Just outside the door were a set of small shops that offered everything from air pillows to water bottles that passengers are apt to forget during preparations for any long journey. One of the shops specialized in papers and magazines and I struck up a friendship with the wizened old man who owned the shop. We used to spend some time daily chit chatting about things in general. It was from him that I came to know of the involved and complex world of railways and the intrigues and intricacies that informed the seemingly confused – but in realty routine - days of a railway station!
Things went on smoothly. The dinner at VRR became almost a routine affair, as was the entrance into and exit from the railway station sans ticket.
But one night, when trying to come out of the VRR, after having had a particularly tasty meal of dosais and a couple of crisp vadais thrown in as well, I found to my consternation, that the door at the far end of the corridor was securely locked. I tried to find some one to ask why the door was locked, but it seemed that every one was too busy to reply.
I walked out through the main door of the VRR on to the platform, where I was immediately asked by a uniformed ticket examiner to produce a ticket. I told him the truth – that I had only come to have my usual dinner! He was not in the least amused, but ordered me to follow him to the ticket examiners’ office at the far end of the platform. There I found that several people had been rounded up. The examiner curtly demanded that we had to pay a heavy fine before being released.
One by one several of those in the room paid up and left till at last only two of us remained. I told the examiner that I did not have the requisite amount. The examiner said that he can’t release me and since he had to go to and fro to various parts of the platform as his duties demanded, I was asked to follow him. My companion was let off since he was a ragamuffin who was not even conversant in the local language!
Up and down the platform we marched, not once, not twice, but a number of times. In between the examiner had a cup of coffee from the mobile kiosk and I was also offered one!
I think that was the last straw that broke the examiner’s patience. He seemed fed up of me and he seemed to realize that there was no way of my paying up the fine. He let me go!