My mother and her colleagues from office have a serious disorder. They lack the vitamin that makes people catch trains and flights on time.
All of them travel extensively, both in India and abroad. So they have developed an evolutionary arrogance and disrespect towards traveling that lands them in trouble every time they have to travel.
I remember their misflights and mistrains right from the time when I was a school going kid. At that time, they were not as economically well off so usually they only afforded to miss second-class A/C trains. Now they are rich enough to miss LCC as well as HCC aircrafts and sometimes, even make it “just in time” (according to them) to board international flights.
It is somewhat like those hopelessly romantic movies they have. Where the guy realizes that he loves the girl at the very last moment and the heart-broken girl has already left for Timbuktu. So the guy tries driving to the airport when suddenly his car breaks down. So he takes a cab, which is stuck, in a record-breaking traffic. So he walks and runs and hitch hikes and takes lifts from mailmen and fire trucks to make it to the airport. When he reaches finally, they say that the flight just left but as he starts walking back looking like a lost puppy, he finds the girl beaming at him!
We never need a love interest to go to all that trouble. The fact that we have paid for the ticket and we cannot make it is enough to get everyone running frantically all over the city. It is not like these people are awfully busy; they are just about moderately busy.
When she has an afternoon train to catch, my mom comes home at about 12 PM.
She asks me to help her pack, which I gladly do because I consider myself a “packing expert”. She ticks her checklist and realizes that she has a bit of time to spare. So she calls up her mom, or decides to cook something for me before she leaves or suddenly sits in front of the mirror with the hair color! (I don’t know why gray hair on the crown of her head would make her less impressive in a stupid seminar that everyone attends just for dinner and drinks!). About an hour before the scheduled departure, I remind her that she must make a move in order to make it with no respiratory disorders but she completely ignores me. Finally we rev up the car only about 45 minutes prior to the departure and somehow we are always stuck in traffic.
She is at the edge of her seat at every traffic signal and since I am no movie star I cannot ignore the basic regulations. When we have about 20 minutes in hand she starts getting really wild and almost always she is in charge of everybody else’s tickets as well. So every five minutes her phone rings and she looks at me like she has just been made to have about a dozen raw eggs.
When we are very close to the station, there is this jigsaw traffic jam ahead of us. It is that kind of traffic jam which is created by vehicles trying to overtake vehicles that are already stuck. They make their own space on the road that is independent of lanes, cross roads, cows napping in the middle of the road or even footpaths.
If you take a top view of such traffic jams you can visualize it as a big jigsaw puzzle that can never be taken off. If you get your car inside such traffic jams, you come to a point where you can sense weeds growing inside your car!
I have grown used to these train catches. So when I see such traffic jams, I abandon our car, load the entire luggage on my back and start running. By this time I am usually very upset. So I convert my anger into a fierce determination and resolve that I will catch the train or I will die. I run with all the will and strength I have but half way through I realize that I am not going to be the one who is traveling. So I look back exasperated and find my mom using a diagonally stuck rickshaw as a shortcut. She is way behind, trying to cope up and everyone is looking at us with evident joy for we are the silver lining of entertainment in a bad traffic jam. I holler loudly asking her to run faster and about fifty heads turn back in sheer amusement!
By the time we make it to the platform, her colleagues have lost the hope to be able to make it inside the train that has almost started moving now. They are standing with those paper cups of tea chitchatting as though missing trains is not the end of the world. When they see us, they are filled with this newfound hope. They look like those football players, when they get a pass; they look at the ball as though it is the only reason for them to stay alive. They all throw their cups and almost vaporize into the compartment. My mom is the last person to get on and I throw her luggage inside as the train begins to speed up. I stand there, exhausted looking at the departing train and I see my mom peeping out of the compartment giving me a thumbs-up and a flying kiss! What a life!
It is not just me. A lot of taxi drivers in New Delhi, Lucknow, Calcutta and Chennai will tell you similar stories about my mom.
There was a time when two of our staff members were traveling together. One of them was supposed to get in at Mumbai in the morning and the other at Nashik at night. The guy, who was supposed to board the train in Mumbai, missed it from Kalyan. So he called up the other to tell him that he will catch it from some other station. He missed it from there as well so he decided to take another train and come to Nashik. The other guy was worried because the one who kept missing trains had his ticket for the rest of the journey. He missed it from Nashik as well. So the good, punctual guy had to plead and bribe the TC to let him travel till the next station where the train-missing guy was confident that he would be able to board the train. The TC came to the good, punctual guy at the promised station and made him get down because the train that he claimed his lousy associate was traveling in had not yet come to the station. It was 3 AM and the good, punctual guy got down in cold with his blanket still wrapped around. The train began to move and his phone beeped. The guy who kept missing the train had made it and he was running across the railway track to board the train. So the good, punctual guy rushed inside and reclaimed his berth! Then they both traveled happily ever after!
There have been times when these people have made it inside planes right before the door almost snapped shut on their nose. There have been times when they have left some of the luggage on platform and left and bought clothes wherever they were destined to go! There have been times when my mom has traveled in eerie general compartments in come godforsaken villages in remote parts of India.
My mom has gone places but I have never seen her sit back and dreamily plan her voyage. Nor have I ever envisioned a vacation where traveling is involved. Because growing up in an ultra-nuclear family with parents living out of suitcases, I cannot bring myself to think of suitcases and handbags all neatly lined up outside my door as a moment of happiness. It always reminded me of one or both of my parents going away for a week or two or sometimes even three months in a row. It reminds me of all those missed trains and traffic jams. It reminds me of canceling tickets and booking new ones.
It reminds me of getting up all alone in the morning and cooking my own lunch before I left for college.
It reminds me of being in the office alone trying to fight it out or reason it out, if possible with idiotic staff members.
Their constant travel has changed my definition of vacations. I’d rather just stay home and have some tea than go chasing trains and airplanes!