"Plan something for the weekend" was the buzz at home ever since we realized we have got 3 consecutive holidays coming up!! "Palampur!".. Palampur is finalized. The follow up action was my baby entirely all because my office is on the Metro Route and it is convenient only for me. So I did the needful, checked out bus timings, made bookings...all set. Our homework was done, as in we had made inquiries, collected information available on the web, planned the budget and all that. The two students at home met their academic commitments, we consumed all supplies at home [so that nothing is wasted], put the maid on unexpected leave, forbade everyone who might need to contact us in the weekend, packed whatever that needed to be packed. 14th had arrived.
I was supposed to reach the bus terminus from office availing of the metro. It being the eve of Independence Day [August 15], I was greeted with a massive queue for a thorough check. You cannot complain because although a formality, it is a matter of national security. The stopwatch has started. Time's running out. My security check is over, albeit brushily. I transform to Carl Lewis, draw out my smart card on the run, punch it and rush to the platform to a lower level and get into the train in the correct direction, just about to depart. Four stations, I am where I needed to be. I am conversent with the station building by now, so I know exactly which gate to head for. I am out. I am at the bus terminus. Its raining.
Yikes! The top level is closed, due to some repair work, security reasons, etc. I get down to the lower level in utter chaos. No signage to guide you through. No "Enquiry" counter. Nobody knows, or is willing to, help you. I chose to wade through the water to reach some end wherein I could locate the counter from which bookings were being made for buses destined to Himachal Pradesh. All I needed to know was the location of the bay from where I could board the bus. The people at the counter were just unreachable, engulfed by layers of hopeful travellers. I drew myself out from the middle of the crowd and chose to ask the bus drivers. It was much easier, I tell you. I located the bus.
Next thing to do would be to call up my co-passengers, my husband and brother in law. You have got to find them, dont you? " We aren't reaching" was the information broadcasted through my cell phone. I couldnt make out much, except for the fact that I needed to cancel the tickets. I took one last chance with the driver, asked him to wait for 10 minutes. Never have I been written off so ruthlessly by anyone, the way the driver "pooh-pooh"-ed me.
I needed to cancel my tickets. I daren't even attempt to sell my tickets like a blacker in a movie theatre, because there were policemen on the prowl. I didnt need to be in the lockup atop this mess. I tried to take a plunge in the crowd, but nobody was willing to let anybody inside, man or woman. 10 minutes, the bus if off. No cancellation, no refund. Somebody asked me to try from the backside of the counter, which was equally crowded. Luckily for me, some representative of the Himachal Road Transport Corporation was making way for himself in order to get inside the enclosure. I followed his path and gained a position near the grill. 9 minutes. I hold out the booking slip and scream, "Please cancel my tickets, let someone else go". No body is even willing to turn. 8 minutes. One of the lot suddenly takes the paper out my hand, checks it and asks, " Why are you not going? Dont worry, these buses dont leave on time." And coolly returns the tickets to me. "I dont want to go", I try to tell him, but who is listening? 7 minutes. A man next to me gets friendly all of a sudden and asks, "Why are you trying to cancel your booking? Sell it to someone.." I give him a mighty scary scowl and mutter, "Where would I get three people willing to go to Palampur?" A young boy, spectacles and a black T-shirt, was trying to communicate something to me from the correct side of the counter. I hold up 3 fingers; the glow on his face subsides. 6 minutes. Suddenly the previous man beckons him to our side. He asks me to handover the ticket. I become extra careful. "Got three people?", I ask. On a positive reply, I take up the authoritative role, "Collect the money and hand it to me... otherwise no ticket." 5 minutes. The boy in black, yet to believe his luck, asks, "Which bus?" I point out frantically at the bus whose driver I had spoken to just a while ago, "Thats the one". 4 minutes, I am asked to get the number of the bus written on the ticket. Although unwilling, I realized I was still in the front row of the crowd. So I called out to the man at the counter again. 3 minutes to go and there was a confused look on the man's face. He must be wondering what was wrong with me. However, since too many hands were dangling all around him, he decided against investigating and jotted the number for me. 2 minutes to go, but the job was done. It took just 10 seconds for the money and tickets to change hands. I guided them to the bus and pulled myself aside. Jittery, wet, tired. Called my husband and informed him. No financial loss. But complete draining out of energy.
I needed to get out. They were coming. I need to reach the rendezvous. Getting out was a tough task. I followed few people up a staircase. I knew the upper level was closed, but hoped to find a way out. You cannot imagine the mess up there. It was dimly lit, scarcely populated and there was water everywhere. The ceiling was pouring in incessantly at some points. I dodged some, some I couldn't. I had lost complete orientation of myself in the building. Looking out, I could see nothing but rain. There were some bookshops which kept my hope of finding a way out going inside me... but however hard I tried, I kept ending up in barricades, dead ends. Ultimately, I found another staircase to the lower level and somehow got out of the complex to a familiar area. I walked to the point where my partners-in-travel were expected, ignoring the rain, puddles.. I was just drained out of all energy. I shoved my watch and my cell phone inside my handbag and sat on the edge of a wall, waiting. The lashing of the rain varied as I sat watching people hustle by, some carrying luggage, some dragging children, some glued to their cell phones ...
August 15 is a day you cannot move in Delhi. We were planning a one day trip to Chandigarh to make full utilisation of the Saturday. But along with the incessant rain, my brother in law played a spoilsport... he was not interested in buildings, road patterns... so there we were, in Delhi.. but there is a silver lining to everything, our house needed us.. we did a lot of homely work, which was long necessary.