Monday, June 20, 2005

The Adventures of CB - Chapter 2.

Two weeks have passed since the events described in Chapter 1.

Kharagpur Railway Station, (date1), 2:25 p.m.

God, or Evolution, gave us two arms and not three; The wise and experienced traveler is reconciled to this fact, and packs all his stuff into two pieces of luggage. Although numerous adjectives apply to my friend CB, "wise" isn't one of them.

One part of CB's brain worked furiously to maintain her balance, with two bags on one shoulder and a third behind her. Another was busy scanning faces in the distance before those faces scanned her. CB could not afford to bump into MV that day.

(MV's department), (date1), 2:25 p.m.

God, or Evolution, gave us one handwriting and not three; The wise and experienced proxy-marker is reconciled to this fact, and brings several pens to mark attendance for his friends. However, MV had only brought one pen. So the three signatures that he made - for himself and for two of his depmates, ended up looking very similar indeed.

As he stepped out, MV cursed the heat; he should be going home soon. He had considered going home that day, but decided to stay and spend another day watching movies. He didn't feel like running into that [-censored-] girl and her overprotective dad, either.

Kharagpur Railway Station, (date1), 2:25 p.m.

CB found the spot her coach would stop, and sat down to think about the little lie she had told MV - that her father would be coming to pick her up. At the time it had seemed a smart move. The guy was less capable of engrossing conversation than a doorknob, and she had to get rid of him and go for dinner soon. But other seemingly smart moves in the past week had turned into disasters - the invisible cloud at work - and CB was not so sure about this one any more.

It wasn't a total lie, though. Since her disastrous first train journey alone, her parents have always offered to come pick her up; Her disastrous first train journey... CB pulled out her ticket and checked it again for the hundredth time.

Kharagpur Railway Station, last summer, 2:25 p.m.

CB was thrilled to be traveling alone. All her life people had been telling her that she was too naive, too absent-minded, and that she couldn't take care of herself. This was her opportunity to redeem herself.

However, her worried parents kept calling her up, and they made her go to the station a full hour before the train was scheduled to leave. They called again just after she had reached the station.


CB's dad: do you have all the bags?
CB: yes, dad
dad: you have locked all of them?
CB: yes, dad. you asked me that before.
dad: check again.
CB (rolling eyes): they're still locked.
dad: did you take your phone?
CB (more rolling): no, my water bottle just rang.

(pause)

dad: okay, stay alert. we'll be at the station waiting for you ok? which coach are you in?
CB: dad, I told you already... S2
dad: you check again and tell me.
(fumbling noises)
(more fumbling noises)
(stop)
(long silence)
dad: do you have the ticket?
CB (wiping off sweat): yeeeeah. here it is. S2, as I said.
dad: ok, did you...
CB: dad I got to go!
(click)


CB's friend, lets call her DD, is permanently attached to two things. One is her rectangular black cellphone, which makes her look like she's talking into a TV remote; the other is her boyfriend - lets call him BB. As dictated by the laws of probability, she was with the latter when the former started ringing.

The first thing DD checked was that the call wasn't from bari. It was from CB. Although BB seldom said anything, she gestured to him to keep quiet as she answered the phone.


CB: I forgot my ticket!!! and I don't have enough money for the fine!
DD: whoa!
CB: what will I do?
DD: your train is at 3:20 right? There's still time... I could come over.
CB: haan that would be great... but do you know how much money you have to bring?

(pause)

DD: or I can also bring the ticket...
CB: yeah that will also do. actually that will be better. it should be in the (secret location) in my room.
DD: you keep your ticket in the (secret location)???

(pause)

DD: okay, never mind. I’m on my way. don't panic!


Twenty minutes later DD, with BB in tow, found CB sitting with her bags on platform 5. After a round of obligatory apologies, gratitude and "it's okay"s, CB mentioned that it was her first time traveling alone. Like any self respecting best friend's boyfriend, BB began to give her funda.


BB: Are you sure this is the right platform?
CB: yeah, I checked.
BB: And is this where your coach stops?
CB: I don't know... how do I find that out?
BB: let me see your ticket again... hmm... S9 huh... should be further that way...
CB (grabbing at the ticket): S9??? hey it's S2... see here?
BB: what? no, that says seat number 52! your coach number is up here... S9, see?


Amd they all moved up the platform to where S9 would stop. A twenty five minute wait later, CB's train pulled into the station.

On the train, last summer, around 3:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m.

The most unpredictable part of travel, even with Indian Railways, is not the schedule. Neither is it how dirty the coaches are, or whether the taps and lights actually work. The most unpredictable part of travel is the stranger you have to sit next to.

CB's neighbour was a fat man incapable of noticing the difference between a sauna and an express train. He sat, cooling off, with his ample belly showing through his unbuttoned shirt. Matched with a large moustache and a chain around his neck, he could have been just off the sets of Munnabhai MBBS.

CB stared out of the window, avoiding bhai's gaze. That didn't put bhai off - "madam, yeh aapka seat hai kya?", "madam, aap kahaan jaa rahi hai?", "madam, aapko koi takleef to nahi?", he chirped at regular intervals. To which CB answered in monosyllables, and kept staring out of the window until her neck hurt.

Around 7 in the evening another passenger entered the compartment and squeezed in next to CB. Almost immediately bhai growled, "Woh madam ka seat hai, hat jao wahaan se", and the thoroughly intimidated newcomer made a beeline for the next compartment. CB, petrified, pretended not to notice and continued to stare into the darkening countryside.

Another hour passed before the coach attendant came with dinner. Strung-up CB hadn't ordered anything, but peered carefully, just in case bhai laced the food with something. She wasn't planning to accept anything, but you never know...

Her heart missed a beat when she found him returning her stare. Bhai then turned to the attendant and beckoned him closer, whispering something in his ear, while CB grew tenser than a guitar string. The attendant smiled, glanced at CB and nodded. As he moved away, bhai shouted after him... "(CB's destination) ke pehle laana!"

Heart pounding, CB decided she couldn't stay there any longer. She pulled her bags out from under the seat and got up. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw bhai looking disappointed and hurt.


bhai: madam, aapka jagah to nahi aaya
CB: nahi... mein... (incoherent whimper)
bhai (for the N'th time): madam, aapko koi takleef to nahi?
CB (shaking her head): (inaudible mumble)
bhai: madam, aapko kahin aur seat nahi milne waala
CB: nahi... meri ek friend hai... (trailing off)


She did not wait to hear how bhai responded to this obvious lie. Dragging her bags into the next compartment, CB was faced with the daunting task of finding a place to sit. She scanned the row of passengers and approached a kind-looking gentleman engrossed in a magazine. CB, barely audibly, asked if he would switch seats with her.

Kind-Looking Gentleman did not stir.

CB repeated herself, louder this time, and a few of the other passengers turned to look at her. KLG continued to pretend to read. CB was tempted to check his pulse, but decided against it and asked him again. He continued to ignore her, and CB grew red with frustration.

A girl in the next seat squeezed herself to a side to make space, and CB took it gratefully. She could only get half of herself onto the seat, but it was still better than a stiff neck from looking out of the window, or sharing a compartment with a boozing bhai. CB wondered why she didn't do this earlier, and tried to make herself comfortable.

Ten minutes later CB began to feel that something was very wrong, but she couldn't tell what. First, she noticed this guy two seats ahead repeatedly glancing in her direction. That wasn't too strange, CB isn't bad looking. But then CB noticed others doing it too... another guy opposite her; then a middle aged man from the seat across the aisle. This WAS strange - CB isn't THAT pretty either.

CB does not respond well to attention. When someone is watching her, or if a camera has her in its view, CB develops a blind spot in that general direction. She looks left, right, up, or down; anywhere but at the person or camera. All her photos bear testament to this peculiarity - in every one, without exception, CB looks absent-minded, disoriented, or asleep. On this occasion too, CB decided to look everywhere except straight ahead; if she had, she'd have noticed that those people weren't looking at her, but at her neighbour.

So CB looked down at her hands; left, at the shoes of the man on the other side of the aisle; then right, at the girl who offered her the seat. And she received the shock of a lifetime - grabbing a full view of what the guys had been fighting to catch a glimpse of.

It was soon apparent, even to CB, that her companion was quite comfortable with the attention. And that the "views" that diligent co-passengers got were far from accidental. CB looked down at her hands, and didn't look anywhere else for the rest of the journey.

(place1 railway station), last summer, 3:30 a.m.

CB looked up and down the platform, but there was no sign of her parents. An already-upset CB was enraged that they were late. She thought up nasty things to say as she pulled out her cellphone and started to dial. Divine intervention - her sin of forgetfulness had finally caught up with her - and her cellphone gave a low battery beep before turning itself off. CB, now furious, kicked her bags into a pile and sat down on them to wait.

After two minutes the train started to pull away. With nothing else to do, she counted the coaches go by. As S2 passed her, a familiar figure jumped out of it, looking even more distraught than herself. Two other familiar figures joined him, and the three made their way menacingly towards CB.

Her parents and her brother.

"You are never traveling alone again."

Back in (date1), the train pulled into Platform 5 and CB awoke from her reverie.