No.. It's got nothing to do with Chetan Bhagat's latest true/fiction book..
It's about my trip to Raipur last weekend.. And no.. It's not about Maharashtra and Chhatisgarh either..
After coming back home from Mihir's latest debacle involving the cycle waala, i went back to the office to print my tickets for my journey in the morning (boss please don't mind, I also really did send out all the required mails). I was travelling to Raipur in Chhatisgarh. The Indigo flight 6E 134 (they try and make it sound like "sexy" when they make announcements) to Nagpur was scheduled to leave Pune international airport at 4:45 AM. I, with my engineering college roots still intact, decided to reach the airport at 3:45 AM despite the text message I received telling me to reach atleast 2 hours prior to departure to avoid congestion at the airport. Now honestly, how much rush do you expect at such an hour at Pune airport? Well apparently, A LOT!!
Pune airport's efficiency left me flabbergasted. They manage to send out 6 flights from 4:45 to 4:55 AM and have a boundless queue for scanning your baggage and security checks. It's filled with a mixture of IT professionals, banking professionals, frequent flying business tycoons and enterprising housewives blowing up their husband's money by convincing them that this meeting or kitty party will help them boost their cosmetics sale and how it's absolutely necessary for them to fly as trains wouldn't reach on time and their arthritis affected joints would be in a lot of pain. The good part is they're all in a very good mood. They just love to not sleep the whole night, leave their house in the wee hours of the morning, not have their cup of tea or coffee or their favorite form of caffeine which they so desparately need, with groggy eyes and cranky moods, they're all impressively happy. They're fighting over who's flight has been already called for boarding and who's flight is scheduled to fly early and why they should be allowed to move up the queue. I couldn't help supress a smile amidst all these requests in Marathi, Hindi and English. What I found so funny was that in a such a fast developing city, in an international airport, underneath all the polish and sophistication we portray, we indians still manage to find reasons to look down upon others, think that we are the only ones who understand what we're saying in our mother tounge, throw wrappers and other trash right where we're standing, ogle at quite appropriately dressed foreigners like they're circus jokers and still argue and fight over the pettiest of things. I barely made it to the check in counter in time and managed to reach the boarding gate as the last call was resounding over the bustle of all my "impressively happy" travelling companions. I can't say I remember the sunrise or anything else from the flight as it's very difficult to register memories with your eyes closed and mind in a state of catalepsy. In my dreams, I was smiling. It was a long awaited and much needed break.
An announcement by our jovial captain(he was actually happy, not faking it, I guess flying at 30,000 feet does that) resurrected me. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Nagpur international airport was welcoming me. I decided to walk to the gate rather than take the bus again with the happy travellers. I'd heard Nagpur airport is pretty good and pretty nicely developed. I planned to spend two and a half hours at the airport before I boarded 2850 Pune Bilaspur Express to Raipur. With hopes of a much needed sumptious breakfast and a steaming hot cup of tea, I entered the gates and was greeted by... NOTHING... I comforted myself that it's just the baggage claim area and beyond the conveyor belts, Chef Ramsay is waiting for me with a smile on his face and an All English Breakfast on the plates. I collected my bag and walked ahead to realise that I reached the exit. There was really NOTHING in the arrival area of Nagpur airport. The departure area is pretty nice though (which I found out on the way back). The airport is actually pretty nice, clean, well managed and secure with Adam Gilchrist, Rohit Sharma, Andrew Symonds and the rest of the Deccan Chargers gang smiling at you from various directions welcoming you to their newly adopted home.
"A hungry man is not a free man" - Adlai E. Stevenson. I weighed my options, sitting in a cool, clean, empty, air conditioned airport lounge hungry, or, waiting at the hot, crowded, messy, railway station with a nice breakfast. I paid the ridiculously overpriced taxi (Ganesh Bhai) Rs. 300 to drive me to the railway station 12 Kms. away. The drive was nice and Nagpur looked beautiful and it seemed every building or school's name in the city started with Vidarbha. I wondered how we always manage to make a small community within a community and what would happen if disputes like Telangana would ever crop up over here.
I reached the Nagpur railway station and was again left flabbergasted by the sudden contrast. I'd just been driven through a beautiful city to reach its most crowded and disorganised center. I wheeled my bag through a voluntary x-ray security check (yes.. thats right.. i said voluntary.. you can just walk right by and the cop wont ask you a thing.. but it works because all the people are so excited at the sight of the machine they actually queue up behind the monitor once they load their bags on the belt). I asked the officer on duty where the cloak room and after a minute of thinking and "unnnnnn" she pointed towards the right. I thanked her and started off in that direction when she screamed out again and asked me to stop. I got worried thinking there was something illegal in my bag and felt a sudden fear creep up my spine in this new place but she just pointed left and said the new cloak room's over there. I thanked her again and found the cloak room to keep my bag. After calling out politely 5 times (surprising i was so patient considering my state of hunger but i guess the place just scared me), the manager on duty finally stopped discussin the morning tea with his colleague and gave me my receipt. I was STARVING...
I looked around and found Comesum. Now comesum is a nice reputed chain and I had faith since I'd always enjoyed the experience at Nizamuddin and Pune stations. Needless to say, i was once again amazed. I saw the most limited menu i've ever seen at a comesum and it was open, dusty, hot with no form of cooling what so ever. I paid at the counter and walked over to the manager in the red shirt behind the counter. I noticed his eyes were "redder" than his shirt from the remnants of last night or probably morning's ganja, booze or his preference of high in his veins. Delegation had a whole new meaning for me as soon as he took the receipt from my hand. Exact words - Manager: "Jai singh, ye order lo... Ram, Jai Singh kahaan hai.. achhe ye order le"... Ram - "Aye Santosh, ek pav bhaji de, abe juice counter pe kaun hai??".. Santosh- "Aye Atul.. ek pav bhaji de... saheb juice counter udhar hai"... As i moved to the juice counter, five more ambitious employees contributed enthusiastically to my Pav Bhaji. At the juice counter i called out for five minutes with no response and the manager in the red shirt just kept looking away. A short female in denim shorts and a red shirt came with a receipt for cold coffee to the juice counter as well and suddenly the manager shouted out and there was complete silence. He screamed till someone came to the counter even if it wasn't his job and politely turned to the female asked her for the receipt. He screamed for the cold coffee again and as soon as the woman turned he checked her out thrice from head to toe before finally turning to me and asking me for my receipt again. It was one of the funniest meals of my life.
The train was an hour late but I whiled my time talking to a bunch of frustrated banking professionals warily discussing their upcoming appraisal. The train pulled in to the station and as soon as i stepped outside I knew that I was gonna melt and my remains would evaporate in this city.
I saw my brother and his fiance smiling at me as Prashant bhaiya (bhabhi's cousin) swiftly snatched my bag and started leading us towards the car. This was the beginning of the overwhelming welcome and hospitality I was to receive in this city.
Ever wondered how you can love someone so much that you can kill them? I'll describe a simple way to do that. Ask them to sit down and start with the snacks and say you'll join them for lunch. Then go on serving them atleast 5 different types of snacks. If they object, tell them you had to fly all the way to Goa to get the potatoes so all your effort would be in vain if the food was wasted. Then serve them lunch. Cook all kinds of meat possible and all possible side dishes conceivable. Ensure that they eat atleast 10 Rotis and take a full bowl of rice. Just when they think the meal is over, get the sweet lassi(s) out and now it's ok to get rid of the fresh lime and other drinks you'd served earlier. Once the guest is halway through the glass of lassi, get the desserts out. Keep atleast two types of desserts and make sure you tell them that someone special from the household has made the dish all by themselves so it would be rude to not have it. By now I assure you, your guest is on the brink and if you even mention so much as having a cup of water they'll die. If you let them be they might survive for you to do the whole thing all over again the next day.
As you can guess i went through this but to tell you the i loved every moment of it.
We went driving round the city after that and suddenly i realized why all my friends had warned me about this city. The streets were swarming with people and the heat was as good as it used to be in Panipat. The next day we were going to one of the malls for a bit of shopping and on the way we stopped at a railway crossing. I'd heard from my brother about it but nothing could have made me believe what i saw next. The train's driver stopped the train just before the crossing. He got out with the red and green flags and waved them to himself probably. He stopped the traffic and closed the gate. He then proceeded back to the train with another wave of the flag and started the train again. Once he'd crossed the gate he stopped the train and got down again. He came back to the gate, opened it up, waved the flag, walked back to the train and drove off. He was the driver, the gate keeper, the station master and whatever railway jobs you can conceive off, a true one man army. Unbelievable, check out the video below.
It was a fun trip and this blog post has already been delayed too much but all i can tell you is that everything around has two different states, on and off, god and bad. The cities i'd seen on this trip were true examples of how we people are and how we live, what we show and what we do. I love India.