It was 6.30 am and I fell out of the berth in a tangle of limbs. We were probably pulling into New Delhi station and I wanted to collect my belongings. And then I realised the train was stationary. A quick peek out of the window confirmed that we were in the midst of lush green fields and nowhere near Delhi.
Nosy being my middle name I slipped into my flip flops and hunted down the coach attendant. There’d been an accident further up on the same line and we were all being held up. A bus full of baraatis had been run over by a train, he said.
The train began to crawl after a while and we passed similarly held up trains. The occupants had got out to stretch their legs and most of them are sprawled out across the tracks. No matter how often I see this it doesn’t cease to amaze me. The tracks are dangerous and filthy but the men lie back, smoking beedis, waiting patiently in a way only Indians can wait, for the train to finally chug into action.
Travelling back sans kids I fell back on an old and dangerous habit – sitting in the doorway of the train. I picked this one up from an ex who had made the doorway his own. I’d sit by him as he lit up cigarette after cigarette and we’d be jammed into the doorway, whizzing through the nightscapes, lights twinkling in the distance, frogs and crickets keeping up a chorus, chatting as the miles flew, the breeze on our fearless faces, voices getting louder as the train picked up speed and the rattling threatened to drown all conversation.
We finally came upon the wreckage. There was a level crossing but the bus seems to have driven around it and on to the track, into the path of an oncoming train. I can just imagine the scene. A tinny radio playing local hits and the aisle full of people dancing. An eager bridegroom getting drunk with his friends, urging the bus driver to go around the barrier instead of waiting for the train to pass. Elders smiling indulgently at the young man’s eagerness to see his bride. And then the bus is caught midway across the tracks as the train came bearing down upon them from around a corner. Maybe it was too heavy and got stuck in the gravel. Maybe something failed and the driver couldn’t get it to budge. I can only imagine the horrified silence in that bus as the entire family gathered to celebrate a marriage, a new beginning, met it’s end together. Not a single member spared. Hopes, dreams, joy, all dashed in one blinding, screeching, metal ripping moment.
Our train slowed down further, voyeuristically. The bodies had been cleared from the wreckage but one look at what was left of the bus said it all. Shredded steel, fuel tank lying in a ditch, seats ripped out of place and flung to the other side.
It was a stark reminder of what comes of impatience and breaking rules. Standing behind me the men fell silent as we rolled by, our jaws slack. Strangely, before I left the kids home this time I reminded Ma once more that should anything happen to the OA and I, I want Tambi to raise our kids. Yes, I know it’s a huge imposition, two extra kids on a young man already bringing up his own family. But I can’t imagine anyone else doing what I want better than him. Basically he gets first right of refusal. If he doesn’t/can’t, then my parents will bring them up and thank their lucky stars that they are still young enough to do it. Mother glared at me for being morbid and stalked off.
I snapped back to the present and absently noted that there were still more bits of the bus scattered down the tracks – the tyres had actually rolled so far away. Somewhere, a bride in her finery waits beneath her veil for a groom who won’t be arriving. I wonder who went in to break the news and help her wash her mehendi off her palms.
PS: I finally got home 6 hours late, at noon. All I’d had was a cup of tea I’d hopped off for at a tiny muddy station, almost missing my train in the process (it slunk off without even a whistle). I was starving but glad to be alive.