The long train journey was not as bad as I thought it would be. Having said that, it was exhausting.
We left home in the midst of an extreme downpour, at almost 3.30 to catch an almost 4.30 train at Central. I was un-worried, until I noticed that Amit was the don’t-talk-to-me-I’m-focussing-all-my-energy-on-just-getting-there kind of tense. Then, I started to worry. He called 139, only to be told that our train was on schedule. By 4 p.m. We were all holding our breaths, as the station was still several traffic jams away and we weren’t even sure which platform to head for. Our taxi driver told us it would be platform 7, entry 2, and we took his word for it. Luckily, he was bang on, and we reached with 10 minutes in hand. The train hadn’t arrived yet, and what should have been a brief 10 minute wait at the platform turned into an hourlong marathon with the kids running around, screaming, lying down prone on the filthy ground and generally getting into every kind of scrape concievable. They provided endless entertainment for the others waiting there, and endless exercise for us, in addition to stretching our mental alacrity and patience to the utmost.
At last, the train came, and the journey got underway. The kids were as good as could be hoped for, given that it was early evening and therefore their peak activity time. Still, I was happy to find ourselves in Executive class, and with the two seats across the aisle from us vacant to boot, so that the kids could wander around a bit and even get seats for themselves. There was another girl just a little older than them nearby, and soon they had a brisk trade and exchange program for picture books. Aside from several trips each to the bathroom, despite being firmly strapped into diapers, the journey was not too strenuous. What was really taxing was a long wait just outside Chennai station, when everybody was at the end of their tether and just waiting to get off and go home. It was then that Tara started up her plaintive “pottykini” cries, which I had to ignore because the aisle was crowded with passengers waiting to get off. When we did finally get in to the station, I rushed past the toilet, thinking it’d be dirty and that I’d rather she used the toilet in the hotel. Or, better still, her diaper. It became very clear very soon that this was a big mistake. She absolutely would not “go in her pants”, diaper notwithstanding, and she cried the whole way with increasing desperation. I felt absolutely terrible about not being able to get her to a toilet any sooner. But in the end she held out until we reached the hotel, which was a very short walk away from the station.
A very short walk is all very well, but it doesn’t seem so very short at 11 at night, when you’re tired and irritable, it’s pitch dark, you don’t know the way, you’re walking on the sleazy and stinky pavement outside the station watching buses roar past you six inches away, holding two small and fidgety kids, encumbered with various pieces of luggage… And struggling with “pottykini” pleas every step of the way. I can’t say I enjoyed that particular short walk, but for the kids it must have been absolutely traumatic. Once we reached the hotel, got a room, and got the kids settled in, it took them a good 30 minutes to fall asleep.
And the next morning, they were up just after 7, none the worse for wear. We all grabbed a quick breakfast and walked back to the station, an easy walk in the daylight and without any added tension. Our train was waiting for us, we didn’t have any trouble finding our seats and we left punctually at 8.45.
On this leg of the trip, we were traveling AC First class, something I’ve only ever done once before in my life. I have to say, it was definitely worth it, just because in the coupe the kids could move around enough to not get bored to tears. They could spread their toys around, jump, climb, sit, lie down, or look out the window and that kept them happy for most of the journey.
Just outside the coupe was a short corridor that led to another two coupes and to the toilets. The rest of the bogey was AC two tier, and they and the other bogeys were separate from this half bogey.
Having two toilets dedicated for the use of ten passengers (though a few of the staff used these toilets too) is an unimaginable luxury and one that I don’t know how I would have managed without. Almost every time that I took the girls to the toilet, the western style toilet was vacant. It was even usually clean and dry! For quite a while, I think the girls were the only ones using the western style toilet. I have to say that it was extremely taxing taking the girls to the toilet, though. After Tara’s performance the previous evening, I had given up trying to put them in diapers: taking off and putting on the diaper after every trip to the bathroom only added an extra degree of complexity to the entire process, and any additional complexity I could do very well without. Besides, do you have any idea how difficult, cumbersome and ultimately ineffective it is to try and put a diaper on a child who’s standing up? No, the AC First bathrooms don’t have a fold-away baby changing station, at least, not one that I could find.
Just to give you some idea, every toilet trip involved the following steps:
- put on my shoes (slip-ons without socks for the occasion)
put on the kid’s shoes
grab the kiddy toilet seat and wipes
head for the toilet opening and closing two doors on the way before even reaching the toilet door
unhook the toilet door
place the toilet seat on the toilet
drag the girl into the toilet and close and latch the door
pull down her pants and seat her on the toilet
steps A-Z above in reverse
repeat the entire process for the second child!
So yeah, that part of the journey was tiring. But apart from that, it was ok. Amit spent a lot of time looking after the kids and keeping them occupied or entertained, so I got some reading done: To Kill a Mocking Bird, which I’ve read before, but eons ago.
The sad part was that the train food was extremely insipid and almost unpalatable… And there are few public vendors in AC First. But we survived.
The train rolled in to Howrah station fairly punctually, maybe 10-15 minutes late. It was raining.