I visited Ahmedabad last week. It was after 18 long years that I was heading to Gujarat. I used to stay in Porbander when I was two years old, but I don't think that counts for much. Plus, Ahmedabad was my first time. And I decided to take Saurashtra Exp, since it involved a day journey and I wanted to 'experience the natural beauty of Gujarat'. HUGE mistake number one.
The route from Mumbai to Ahmedabad is HOT. REALLY HOT. I had bought a sleeper ticket, and I was on the upper berth (which is confusing since if you wanted to see the beautiful sun-baked fields, you need to be at the window). And the upper berth had the beautiful heat of the 43 degree sun reaching me directly, and 'Saurabh Fry' was served even before it struck twelve. Abhi toh picture baaki hai. I twisted and turned for want of some cool air, and I was wearing jeans. Thick ones. Brilliant strategy again. HUGE mistake number two. I only had Suketu Mehta's Maximum City for company, and I read quite a lot of it, before he got to the part where he describes Mumbai's sweaty weather. I couldn't bear it anymore. The only relief was the infinite flow of food vendors. I love Gujaratis and their food. I had a lot of stuff - bhel, khaman, chai, dhokla and something else which I don't know what to call but was suspiciously yellow. To hell with it, I thought. I was going to die of the heat anyway.
There was a couple opposite my berth, and they were coochie-cooing. I just hoped it didn't reach Bandstand proportions. They were my source of entertainment, actually. The guy was ignoring the girl's requests to talk to her parents (like all normal guys). Instead, he chose the best way out. He rested his head in the girl's lap and fell asleep. I managed to catch a wink or two also. Then suddenly, when Surat came near, the guy got up, went down, wore his shades and sat still. Like a beggar. Like a statue. The girl had no clue what had happened. She got down and tried asking him, but he was motionless. Sitting there with his pink shirt (Gujarat remember!) and his black shades, only a bowl was missing if you know what I mean. I slept off again, and woke up when the train pulled out of Surat. Here's where the fun began.
I got down and my sandals were gone. Poof. I asked around, and the aunty said that a sweeper had just passed by. That made sense. But another uncle told me that 'Shades guy' had taken my sandals and gone. WHY WOULD HE TAKE MINE? Didn't he have his own? Luckily I had an extra pair of shoes, but they were formal ones.
There I was, looking like a doofus with a tee, a blue jeans and BLACK FORMAL SHOES! Even in the land where men wear floral prints in bright colours, I looked like an idiot. And now I had two choices. Take off the shoes, keep them in the bag, go to the kiln on top and roast alive till Ahmedabad arrived. Or wear the shoes, burn below beside the window, and wait for Ahmedabad. I chose the former. At least I could sleep there. So I did. Till evening came and with it the cool 35 degree air. Heaven!
TO BE CONTINUED...