Saturday, February 16, 2013

Rail to Apdu Ahmedabad

I wheel my bag into the 3 AC Coach of Somnath Express that plies between Jabalpur to Somnath via Ahmadabad. My PNR status is waiting list number one. This makes me very optimistic about getting a berth. I ask the TC about the possibility.

"Full hai Saheb! Bhool Jao berth" he says nonchalantly. "I will be a stowaway," I inform the TC rather apprehensively. You are not allowed to board the Indian trains if your status is in a wait list. You have to get on the general coach which is nothing less than corporal punishment and if there is a riot you are possibly dead.

I enter the coach and find myself lucky to get a seat in the first compartment. The couple look at me hesitantly but tend to ignore since it is day time. " I do not have a confirmed status but will vacate your berth when you wish to sleep" I say apologetically. They do not reply but just shake their head to express some discomfort. I feel like a pariah. This makes me realize how much difference a placement on a piece of paper can make. One step down and you are unsecured - this applies to life in real as well.          

I sit with a book in my hand, my legs stretched wide, oblivious of the surroundings. A traveler with a confirmed status to be.He! He!

Be it AC Coach or Sleeper Coach the chaos continues throughout the journey - day or overnight. Indians are restless travelers and utmost loud. From one compartment to another; to the toilet - to and fro - the settlement is never there, it is either relatives adjusting the seats or friends trying to group together.  More time is spent on the passage than on the berth. For those who are taking me as chauvinistic better experience first hand.     

The train has large number of Gujarati travelers mostly holiday makers who have visited Pachmarhi, Kanha and Bandhavgarh in MP. Like loads of baggage, one another aspect is common among the Gujjus - it spells "Chavana". Chevada as it is called in Hindi is an assortment of many mouthwatering fried snacks. Gathia, Fafda, Sev, Puri, Sing Dana (Roasted Peanuts) etc. These are accompanied by Dhebra a super duper delicious Gujerati spiced bread. Whether upscale, midscale or bit lower this accompaniment is ubiquitous. These are one of the tastiest regional tit bits and those with screwed noses will never ever experience these desi delicacies. The nutritive value is zero but that is compensated by fantastic taste. The sight and savor is an excellent cure for those suffering from dehydrated oral cavity, larynx, pharynx and loss of appetite.       

Food among all train travelers in India is a typical extension of the journey. The gastronomic apparatus is always at work, be it chavana, peanuts, chips, aloo bondas; masala chanas, samosas, idlis, dosas or bhel sold at the stations big and small. Lunch and Dinner is a big affair with all possible servings packed meticulously and served with gusto on paper plates. This is followed by more snacks, sweets, curd, lassi (sweetened curd thoroughly whisked) on the stations that the train halts next and after. The mouth keeps churning throughout Chomp! Chomp! & Chomp! The coach smells of nothing but an admixture of various spices and so does the toilets - perhaps the messiest and the smelliest in the World. Well so to speak. 

"Do not even bother to show your ticket, the RAC is yet to be cleared," the TC informs me with regret. I look at the corner near the smelly toilet my recourse to be and curse my Karmas. In India you survive if you can extract things with a bent finger and that is what I did. I ignored the TC and paid the attendant for a sleep on his berth. (This is a regular affair so please do not raise eyebrows.) 

Ahmadabad Railway Station is one of the most chaotic, both inside and outside. I board an auto rickshaw and head for my nephew's flat. The old Ahmadabad appears to be depressing, messy, conservative and scary -  like any other city in India. The auto struggles forward through the traffic with acrobatic grace executed by the experienced driver. And yes the traffic too can be described as chaotic.

The New Ahmadabad is more organized and gives a refreshing feel before the morning rush. It is one of the finest changing urban landscape in India. As the auto surges ahead I try to figure out the way by seeking landmarks that made me reach from one place to another on my earlier visit. I give up.    

The community is tightly knit in this mega agglomeration of Gujarat. In this state, day means money, evening means snacking or light dinner. For many late night is heavy dining or preferred snacks. Contrary to popular belief Ahmadabad is a gastronomic paradise almost on par with other metros of India. 

Though primarily vegetarian Gujarati food is the most varied and the tastiest in the World. Paradoxically average diet of many families at best can be described as light. Kchidi is most common element of dinner at home. It is easily digestible and highly nutritious. But the Punjabi food joints rule the roost in Ahmadabad. Most of the Punjabi restaurant owners are long back migrants and speak chaste Gujarati.                        

Two aspects that dominate culture in Ahmadabad is the Garba Dance and Marriages. The latter is one of the most important happenings...and the swanky marriages invite gate crash. This is due to an amazing servings of ethnic and exotic foods. The classic ethnic decor and dazzling Gujerati garbs are a sheer delight to watch.

In gatherings you will realize most of the old generation Gujerati men lack attractive physical attributes. But the kids are getting smarter and smarter. The women are most gracefully endowed with dazzling countenance, lightly sculptured bodies and a demeanor that spells class. Many chics are ultra modern hence do not fail to  try your luck!       

My roots lie is Gujerat in Ahmadabad and date back to perhaps hundred years. I am not conversant with fluent Gujarati nor aligned with the fragile social fabric that is typical to this town. Coming from a cosmopolitan agglomeration I feel a bit ill at ease. I make myself comfortable in a corner with a plastic bottle filled with uh!Uh!. It is ironical that in a state that follows the principle of the Mahatma so zealously, liquor is available for asking. Concerning this very aspect in mind I had an argument with some intellectuals as to why Gujarat is a dry state? "Liquor flows in every corner with liquified easy, all you need is a mobile number" I said. 

"It is because of prohibition that the state is so peaceful" they remarked. Well this argument is hard to digest since I have met many people in restaurants and pan shops in a state of inebriation. The labor class consumes local brew almost every day and moves around freely.  

Personally I believe the people of Gujarat are less prone to violence and crime. The Mahatma effect I am sure and economic stability. But unfortunately because of prohibition alcohol consumption has become a fashion as well a craze among the youth. A phenomenal amount of money must be paid by the liquor mafia to those concerned with prevention.   

Well the marriage is well organized and I meet many of my family members and relatives. It is a terse "khemcho" most of the time and wee bit of conversation with some.

The Gujaratis are talkative lot, most polite and friendly. Full of enthusiasm when it comes to making money, eating and traveling. The civic sense is worth emulating except the traffic sense which paradoxically the less talked about the better. If you are seeking a safe place for your daughter's education do not hesitate.  The metro has some of the finest education institutes in India.  

Characteristic Ahmadabad landscape is a mix of skyscrapers, small houses, restaurants, boutiques, colonies, shopping arcades, malls, parking, swanky roads. The lower story contains pan shops, tea stalls and handcarts selling plethora of goods. The handcarts and small shops sell pakoras, bhajiyas, bhel, sandwich, dabeli, Chinese and what not. Without these the landscape would be incomplete, these elements are quintessential Ahmadabadi. I never forget to savor these magical morsels besides Waghbakri Tea which is the hall mark of the city brand now going International.       

Leaving some premium markets most of the roads are littered with amazing plethora of junk, garbage, holy cows and stray dogs foraging between dog shit and cow dung.      

Nevertheless there are beautiful green residential areas that exhibit architectural marvels. One great characteristic hall mark about the citizens is less snobbery. You will find a millionaire sitting with a middle class friend sipping tea on a road side joint. The rich will not hesitate to savor delicacies in a small road side joints. Though finest cafes and upscale eateries abound here.  The new government is doing a marvelous job and things are changing for better.

Those expecting sightseeing in this metro city will be disappointed for there is very little on anvil. The walled city is a unique feature of this town which I do not really find interesting. There are number of them and are called poles. The poles contains series of house enclosed by a large wall and a gate which sort of acted as fortification during invasions by Moghuls.   

Ahmedabad is a great place if you like urban entertainment, seek business prospect and all things related to urbanity. 

It is time to leave after an enjoyable trip. I check my Railway Pnr Status it shows wait list as usual. Well better luck this time perhaps. By the time I reach the railway station my nephew informs me of the berth number and coach. Bingo! Happy journey ahead.      

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