My previous post was a generic view about my experiences with train journeys in India.. But these readers' opinions (vox populi??) makes me think that I should write something specific, which I intended to do the last time, but inexplicably was held by some paranormal forces. Nah! I was just being lazy.
This happened sometime in 1998, but is burnt in my memory like it happened a few months back. I had to gone to Kanpur for one day to attend to some academic matter, and was returning by the overnight train. It turned out to be a rather adventerous journey. Not the kind of adventures where you get abducted by pirates or you face a charging rhino. But this is what happened:
The Lucknow-Jabalpur express was packed with commuters. The train was moving at a lazy pace because of the January fog which engulfs north India at that time of the year. Midnight was just falling and some people were dozing, but most of the passengers were noisily chattering about their days. You can recognise the Maru traders when you hear the conversation, and there were plenty of them that day. Somewhere around 12 at midnight the train suddenly stopped with no station in sight. Which is not very unusual in Indian trains. Specially in UP & Bihar where the railways are known to render personalised services. You can actually get down on the road closest to your house- sometimes even near your house. Raiways provide a special tool for you if you want to avail this service. It comes in form of the emergency brakes - the red chain which you can pull to make the train halt. Whats more - if you are beneficiary of such service, you generally don't have to buy a ticket !!
Anyway, when the train did not budge for around 10 minutes, people became curious. A couple of them went to the door and started peeking in the vast darkness outside. Suddenly we heard yells and shouts from the adjacent compartment. Then they started growing louder. You could distinctly hear women shouting and crying and voices yelling at them. And then we heard sound of a gun-fire. The train was being robbed!
Our compartment was under huge panick. The doors and windows were snapped shut in like 5 seconds. People started to switch off the lights so that if there were more dacoits out there in the dark, our compartment might not attract attention (??). A stupid idea, but in such situations, you just do what comes to your mind. On the seat opposite to me, a lady was travelling with her teenage daughter. She was desperately trying to shut her side of the window which was somehow stuck. After a little trying the girl started weeping, frightened of the bullet that might come in from the window. I got up and a small manoeuver with the lock, it snapped. For the next 5 minutes the girl's mother kept showering blessings on me.
My initial reaction was panic. But then I thought I was hardly carrying anything valuables with me, so I needn't worry. But after the noise of the firing, I was back to panic again. Anyway we could hear the noises from the adjacent compartment, with no sound or light in my compartment, and doors and windows shut from all sides. After sometime the cries and yells died, but our compartment stayed in the same state for next two hours. Whenever some curiuos bloke wanted to go near the gate other passengers would snap at him. Nobody knew what was going on outside. At around 3 am, the train started moving, and then it sank upon us, that probably it was over. Lights came back, people started to peep out of the doors of the moving train. At the next station, we came to know that the train was robbed by dacoits. That part of north India near Jhansi, is infamous for the Chambal dacoits. Ironically those robbers were un-armed and they had snatched the rifles from the Railway Police Force guards.
The morning newspaper carried a small section about trains being late on that route because of the train robbery. I reached home late and tired, but eerily happy to be safe and alive.