If you miss the train...

Twenty-seven years ago, an incident taught me the hard way that being over-confident and careless about something are both the same. My friend Mahesh and I had travelled to Ujjain for the famous Kumbh Mela. As the 12-yearly event was to draw pilgrims in millions from all over, there was a tremendous rush to reserve tickets in trains travelling towards Ujjain. In Bangalore, we had to change our travel dates several times owing to many failed attempts at the railway ticket counter. The moment I secured our tickets, I felt as though half the battle was won! After our five-day visit to the Mela, we reached Bhopal by bus a day before our return journey and stayed at a hotel near the railway station.

Next morning, Mahesh coolly went away to see his relative in Bhopal, whom I did not know, and informed me that he would reach the railway station directly. Time in hand, I too walked to the hotel lobby looking for the day’s newspapers. A Bhopal train time-table in a paper, caught my eye purely by chance. I was stunned to find that our New Delhi-Bangalore train departure from Bhopal was at 11.30 am and not at noon. I had informed Mahesh with great confidence that the time of departure was 12 noon. A quick enquiry confirmed that the train would be well on time, too. 

As there was no way I could convey this to Mahesh in that pre-mobilephone era, I started praying to god to help extricate me from the situation. And help indeed came!
It suddenly occurred to me that Mahesh had made several calls from public payphones (STD booths, as they were called) while in Ujjain. I ran to our room and, like a detective, rummaged through his packed suitcase ,when I stumbled on a few call record slips. After I quickly flipped through the books, I found the only slip bearing the Bhopal code number.

Despair was now overtaken by hope, and fingers trembling, I dialled that number. Good lord! Mahesh was on the line! Time was running terribly short, I exhorted him to rush to the station, and not ask why. At the rail platform, I was armed with all our luggage and the anxiety over whether Mahesh would make it in time. It was past 11.30 am, but thankfully there was no sign of the train as yet. The frequency of my prayers was now at an all-time high in the hope of a last-minute miracle. My eyes were trained on the empty rail tracks.

“Here I am,” stated Mahesh, who had appeared out of nowhere, relieving my full-blown desperation just as the train rolled in, late by 15 generous minutes. I still believe it was divine intervention which ensured that we wouldn’t miss our train!

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