Saturday, June 14, 2008

From My Commuting Days - An Unforgettable Journey and its Fallout

This is just to put the records straight.

Residing in Cochin and working in Changanasserry, I commuted the distance, enjoying the hospitality of the Indian railways.

It was an unusually humid day in November and the train arrived on the dot at the Changanassery station (a rare, rare event – a minister or a top railway official must have been traveling in that train). I had heard the whistle of the train as soon as I took the turn to the short stretch leading to the station, and broke into a run. As I entered the platform, the engine was chugging and the gangman’s hand holding the green flag was beginning to rise. Seeing me hop, skip and jump across the railway platform, his hand suddenly began to behave like those shots in slow motion, and I hopped on to the general compartment behind the engine (my favourite ladies’ compartment was right at the back – would never have made it there even if I were faster than PT Usha). In a second the train started.

The compartment was jam-packed and I started excuse- me- excuse- me- pleeese my way through the crowd. Just then a friend who was seated comfortably in the side seat got up chivalrously and offered me the seat, which I took, giving him a grateful smile in return. In less than 5 minutes I started dozing. When the train stopped at Kottayam 20 minutes later, a huge crowd tried to fight its way into the compartment while an equally huge crowd pushed and cursed trying to get out of the compartment. Abusive words were freely traded. The train started, and loud angry voices could be heard in the crowded compartment for sometime.

It was the season of Sabarimala pilgrimage, and a large number of Aiyyappa devotees had boarded the train at Kottayam. One of them (apparently from Tamilnadu) stood near me. I think he was one of those hardcore devotees who had taken the vow to grow his hair uncombed for how long I don’t know - and the knotty, brittle copperish hued strands hung around his shoulders. He must have been terribly tired, 'cos, as soon as the train picked up speed, he squirmed his way down through the pressing crowd to sit on the floor of the compartment. Amazed, I first looked down at him sitting there in the space he carved out for himself in that jungle of trousered and saree/salwar draped legs, and then up at the irritated expressions on the faces of the owners of those legs. Then I fell asleep, into a deep deep sleep for more than an hour while the train sped to the next station Piravam Road.

AS the train approached Piravam Road, I came slowly out of the deep slumber. As usual, I became conscious of my surroundings even before I opened my eyes. Then I felt something rather heavy on my lap. I cautiously opened my eyes into thin slits and looked. To my horror and distress, I saw that Aiyappa devotee’s head with the knotty hair resting peacefully on my lap! He was fast asleep!

I snapped my eyes shut immediately, cos I knew that the people around were eagerly waiting for me open my eyes and react.

God, how embarrassed I was! My mind got busy immediately, trying to figure out how I can get that head off my lap. Soon a brilliant idea struck me and, still pretending to be fast asleep I brought my handbag (which I always clutch close to my heart no matter how deeply I sleep) down on the head resting so comfortably on my lap. I made sure it appeared like the unconscious action of a person fast asleep – and it worked. The weight left my lap all on a sudden. I waited for sometime and then opened my eyes, taking care to appear like a person coming out of a deep sleep. The rest of the journey was uneventful, while I sat looking out, refusing to meet the eyes of my friends and acquaintances who stood around.

That is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But truth, unfortunately, has a way of getting distorted.

Apparently, the word had got around – and real fast too, as I discovered the minute I joined my travel companions the next day morning on the railway platform. The minute they saw me, they burst out laughing and asked me how it felt after the yeoman service I rendered to a tired devotee the previous day. I took it all in good humour and sportingly took part in the bantering repartee.

And oh, the story spread. And how? not in its original form, but spiced with plenty of mirch masala. Some versions had it that in my sleep, I clutched that head and held it close thinking it was my handbag! With passing years, the story grew in quantity and quality, and spread among the teaching community of my university, seasoned with mustard and cumin seeds, garnished with curry patha and dhanya patha.

Almost two years after that eventful journey, I was at the centralized valuation camp. Three days after I joined the camp, a teacher from another table came to mine where I sat with the six others in my group, and asked who Miss K-------------- was. That’s me, I said. What can I do for you?

Oh, that’s OK, he said and walked off with a smile on his face. Perplexed, I sat there looking at his receding back and then went back to my work. A couple of minutes later, two more came with the same question. I repeated my words and they too went away without offering any explanation, but with the same smile on their faces. When the next batch came, the teachers in my group took over and insisted that the visitors explain their interest in me. And they did. They wanted to see the lady who traveled 100 kilometers by rail with a Sabarimala pilgrim’s head cradled on her lap.

The next day, I arrived a little late for the valuation. But my friends in my group greeted me with dancing eyes and a loud swamyeeeeeei, aiyyappo!

The story continues to grow. I don’t attend the camps any more but my friends tell me that the story continues to do the rounds. The sabarimala pilgrim, some said, had hair up to his knees. And throughout the journey, I was having a snoring competition with the man! Of course, my fingers were intertwined with his knotty locks, and one passenger had even detected a louse crawling up my hand.


  1. LOL!!!

    I had written about his phenomenon and titled it Mallu Whispers! :) Since mallus play Chinese Whispers best! :p

    p.s Can you switch to normal bloger template. This takes ages to load!:(

  2. silverine
    thanks 4 the tip- unfortunately am not techo saavy.

  3. LMAO!! ROTFL!!

    Side-splittingly funny! (Dad was staring at me for a LONG time for smiling at the computer, actually!) Compulsive reading!

    And yea, Silverine's true. We mallus are pretty good at ripping facts to total disrecognition! :D

    You've a dedicated reader here... Keep posting!

  4. wonderful, wonderful posts! keep them coming!

  5. ammai... absolutely hilarious... would love to hear this one from u personally sometime! =)

  6. Hilarious. The last para was too good! And yeah I am still awake! Hehe


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