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Monday, February 11, 2013

My Train Journey Through Allahabad on Mauni Amavasya

This article is not about higher education, but my rail journey back from the 8th annual convention of the Indian Railway Fan Club. Train journeys are always interesting, and this particular one became even more interesting because I was passing through Allahabad on the day of Mauni Amavasya, when about 30 million people were supposed to be taking the holy dip in the river Ganges.

No, I did not take the holy dip. Apparently you have to keep quiet for the whole day for its good effects to accrue to you in full measure, and for me to keep quiet for the whole day was a bit too much sacrifice. And I had already had a dip in Sangam a week earlier, so half measures had been taken care of.

At Mughalsarai Jn, platforms 3 and 4 were full of people wanting to reach Allahabad. It was difficult to move around. Trains would come, with the doors of most of the coaches bolted from inside. A few doors would open since someone inside would insist that he had to get down at this station, and the entire crowd would try to force their entry in those coaches. Of course, we Indians have this stupid habit of expecting Government to do every small thing, including an expectation that when there are thousands of people on a single platform, there would be some RPF personnel trying to make sure that there are no stampedes (of the kind that actually happened at Allahabad yesterday). I am sure in their records, they will show the names of people who were on duty on that platform at that time, but they were conspicuous only by their absence.

For my train, there was no information about which coach will come where, and I was afraid how I will move between that huge crowd to reach my coach if it is too far from where I was standing. But I was lucky (may be it was the effect of my earlier visit to Kumbh and the holy dip). The AC-2T coach stopped right in front of me. But it did not mean that one could peacefully enter the coach. A few hundred devotees were keen to enter the coach and all warnings by the TTE (yes, a brave man to even attempt this) that he will fine each of them Rs. 2,000 went unheeded. Eventually, I was able to enter the coach along with a lot of crowd, and the train started moving.

A few people who could not access their berths pulled the emergency chain, but it had no effect on the train. The Gods were clearly inviting everyone to Allahabad. I was again lucky to have the upper berth (my belief in the holy dip was getting stronger). The TTE, the coach attendant, and a few other persons started pushing unauthorized passengers out of the AC area and insist that they should stand in the space near the doors. A few of these appeared to be ill, and they were allowed to sit inside. The coach attendance did not have access to his store because of the crowd and there was no way he could distribute the bedsheets, pillows and blankets. But that was fine. After all, Maha Kumbh happens only once in 144 years.

The journey to Allahabad should have taken less than 2 hours on a normal day. But this day was anything but normal. With some devotees hanging from the door, the compassionate driver was running the train at a speed that if someone falls off, it would not be a fatal accident. In about 5 hours, we reached Naini, just a station before Allahabad Jn. There were announcements being made that devotees could get down there and go to the Kumbh area from there, but our confidence in official announcements being what it is, not a single passenger disembarked from the train.

And finally, we reached Allahabad Jn. at 2:15 AM, and the crowd at the station was to be seen to be believed. I was reminded of Nehru's words, "At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom." India was fully awake at that hour. The Mumbaikars who talk about crowds at CSTM during the peak hours should have been there. They will start enjoying their local journeys much more.

There could be no VIP there, no rich or poor, no caste bias, no language bias, no regional bias. Everyone was equal in their suffering, but more importantly everyone was equal in their devotion. I thought of getting down and join the millions to the Ghats. My belief in God was getting stronger by the minute. And this event would not recur in my life time. But I was to conduct the JAM exam just a few hours later in Kanpur, and the empty coach meant that I will have sound sleep for two hours. I needed at least that much rest if I were to work the whole day.

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