It was November 1982 and I was in Patna on my third Branch probation. Incidentally, I joined State Bank of India as a Probationary Officer (PO) on 14th December, 1981. As per our training schedule, we were to attend some institutional trainings as well. As part of that I was asked to go to Chandigarh for Intermediate Programme in Staff Training Centre (STC), now State Bank Learning Centre (SBLC), thereat hardly a week before the programme to start. The programme was for a month. At that time, we were entitled to travel by First Class in trains. I was very much thrilled to have the opportunity of visiting a new place but I was a bit scared to execute the journey as,
- I did not visit any place beyond Patna in the north earlier, leave alone Chandigarh. So, I had no idea about the people and places in the entire route.
- Reservations were not available in trains as the time was too short. So, only way I could reach Chandigarh was by executing journeys during the day and it would take not less than three days to reach Chandigarh.
- I was alone to go as my other batch mates were going from other places in Bihar i.e. by other routes.
- I had no knowledge as to where to stay at night, etc.
In view of the huge uncertainties and as I did not have any option but to go, I started the journey with my luggage, four days prior to the start of programme. I reached Patna Jn. station in the morning and gathered that a train for Delhi would be reaching shortly. I purchased a first class ticket for Lucknow. If you ask me even now why I purchased the ticket for Lucknow instead of Kanpur? I don’t find any answer even today. May be, it was because of my knowledge of Geography and / or lack of knowledge of rail route. Anyway, the first part of my story relates to my blunder of purchasing the ticket for Lucknow. Story goes, as follows:
I boarded the train at Patna station around 9 o’clock and started searching for a seat. At that time, First Class consisted of 5 cabins (having 4 berths) and 3 coupes (having 2 berths). However, during the day a cabin /coupe could accommodate 6 /3 passengers respectively. I got a seat in a cabin wherein 4 persons of a family (comprising husband, wife and two teenage children) were already there. After keeping my luggage below the seat, I started reading newspaper and magazines purchased at the station. When the train was about to reach Mughalsarai station, Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE), after verifying my ticket, told me, “Ye train Lucknow nahin jeyegi. Aap Mughalsarai station mein utarkar Lucknow ka train pakar lena.” (This train will not go to Lucknow. You get down at Mughalsarai station and catch the train for Lucknow.) I was at a loss as I did not expect that situation at all. At that very moment, I opened my mouth for the first time and asked the gentleman present in the cabin some information about trains for Lucknow like how many trains are there for Lucknow, how long would it take, etc. He told me, “Trains for Lucknow are very few in number. You may not be able to travel to Lucknow with this ticket as you may not get any train which reaches Lucknow up to 9.00 p.m.” At that point of time, I sought his advice as to what should I do? Meanwhile, the train reached Mughalsarai station and I became really restless on the face of uncertainty. The stoppage of the train was for 20 minutes. The gentleman said to me, “I am D N Kumar. We are going to Kanpur. The train fare for Lucknow is more than that of Kanpur. The train will reach Kanpur around 9.00 p.m. I think, you need not get down. We shall talk to the TTE and manage the problem. Please do not worry.” I was not fully satisfied with the solution given by him but at that stage I had no other acceptable solution. I was, however, happy to know that I paid more than actual fare to Railways.
The train left Allahabad. It was already dark. The next stop was Kanpur. What I was apprehending , had happened. A TTE came inside the cabin and before he could ask for the tickets, Mr. Kumar showed him four tickets and quickly threw a ticket on my lap as the TTE was asking for the ticket from the sixth person sitting on the other side. He also indicated me through some gesture to pick up the ticket and show it to TTE. I instantly understood the matter and showed the ticket to TTE. As the TTE left the cabin, I wanted to know from him as to why we did not discuss my issue with the TTE. He replied, “You do not know these people. It is most likely that he does not go by the logic and impose hefty penalty. Alternatively, he may ask for some money for himself. Both are not acceptable to us. Moreover, you need not feel guilty as you have paid more money than required to the Railways.”
At around 9.00 o’clock, the train reached Kanpur station. We all got down there. Two persons (relatives of the family) came to receive them. I was about to say good bye to them. Mr. Kumar asked me about my plan for the night. I told him my plan to spend the night in the platform. He thought for a moment and asked one of the relatives to go out and purchase another platform ticket. I was also asked to wait for a while. As the person came back, he handed over one of the journey ticket to me and told me to go to the waiting room to spend the night and catch Avadh Assam Mail around 10.00 a.m. in the morning. I thanked him for his help and bade good bye to the entire family.
Next morning after taking bath and breakfast, I was ready to board the train. Avadh Assam Mail stopped and I boarded the train. I was in search of a seat and luckily for me, I found the lower berth in a coupe was vacant and a person was sleeping on the upper berth. I occupied window seat in that coupe and after keeping my luggage below the berth, I started reading newspaper, etc. I was, however, thinking intermittently about my probable place of stay in Delhi as I had no prior knowledge of the city. As the train reached Gaziabad (as I could recall), the person on the upper berth came down and sat beside me. After a few minutes, he introduced himself as R K Bagga, an Engineer in Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. (BHEL). He also told that he went to attend some problems in Singrauli plant of NTPC and was going back to New Delhi where he stayed. I also introduced myself and my purpose of travelling to Delhi. When he heard that my destination was Chandigarh, he started telling that he was from that nice city, he studied there, etc. He also told me that there were so many places in Chandigarh to visit like Rock Garden, Rose Garden, etc. Finally, he told me that I would like the city very much. As the train was approaching New Delhi station, he asked me, “Where are you going to stay in Delhi?” I told him that I would stay in a nearby hotel and next day morning, I would start for Chandigarh. Hearing this, he asked me whether I had any booking in any hotel and without waiting for my reply, he added that if the booking had not been there, the question of getting a room did not arise as because of Asian Games, all the places including stations were overcrowded. He, however, assured me that he would assist me in searching a suitable accommodation.
At around 8.00 p.m., the train reached the station. After coming out of the station, he hired a cab and asked me to join him. We went to 10 / 12 midsize hotels and got the same response, “No Rooms”. In the process, we spent more than an hour. Mr. Bagga then asked me, “What’s next?” I had no clue. Finding me in that situation, he told, “Mr. Sinha if you do not have any objection, you may come to my house in Chirag Delhi. I stay alone there. There are three furnished bed rooms in the house. You stay there at night and in the morning take a bus for Chandigarh.” It was 9.30 p.m. and I was really exhausted. I agreed to his proposal as I had no other options. We started for Chirag Delhi. On way, he purchased some food stuff from roadside dhaba. During dinner, we discussed about many things including places near Chandigarh. When he came to know that I needed to reach Chandigarh only by Sunday evening, he suggested me to stay back for next two days and see a few places in Delhi. I had some hesitation but I had to surrender before his request. He then told me to get ready by 8.30 in the morning. We exchanged ‘Good Night’ and went to sleep.
In the morning, after taking breakfast, we started by his motor bike. He dropped me near his office in Connaught Place, gave his office telephone number, guided me how to travel, what all places to be seen, etc. Finally, he told me to give a call from nearby booth if I had any problem (At that time mobile was not there.) and to come back by 6.00 p.m. I spent two days like that. He did not allow me to spend a single rupee. On Sunday morning, he escorted me to ISBT and told me to meet him on my return journey if I could manage time. I could do so during my return journey.
When I recall the first part of my journey, I always ridicule myself as I fail to reason myself why I did not ask anybody before purchasing the ticket. Anyway, my blog is not to criticise myself but to extol those two persons for the support, help and cooperation extended by them to me, an unknown person. I believed it, believe it and will believe it that God (through people) is always there to help you out under any circumstances provided you have the right attitude. Therefore, it is absolutely true that friends are everywhere if you extend your arms.