We were all waiting for the day to come - 31st May 2008. It was going to be our last day in Bombay and of our two-and-half months long internship - and an ending to our homesickness.
We also welcomed this day in style. On our last day in office i.e 30th May, we collected our respective certificates and cheques and met up in the Chowpatty Beach. We sprawled over hired mats, savoured pav bhaji and generally gossipped till mid night when the policemen came to drive people out of the beach.
I had a few plans for the morning of 31st. I badly wanted to visit the National Gallery of Modern Art for the photography exhibition of Raghu Rai. It was my 3rd photography exhibition in Bombay and the one most eagerly awaited. But before that, I joined my friends for a breakfast at Kyani's Cafe and was left astounded by the experience.
Highly recommended by our foodie friends, we reached this 100 years' old Irani Cafe with lots of expectations. Sadly, whatever we ordered for was not available. So our dreams of an authentic Iranian breakfast were dashed to pieces. Add to that a quirky waiter who, when asked why we had been served two pieces of sheekh kabab instead of four pieces of shammi kebab, he replied totally nonchalantly 'do ko kaat lijiye, chaar ho jayega!!!' Now I dont know whether he was just being ignorant of the fact that he has misunderstood our order or was trying to be plain and simple cheeky.
The same waiter also had the audacity (or, innocence?) to bring a chocolate cake and a chocobar icecream when asked for 'chocolate cake with chocolate icecream!!! He surely has some more learning to do in the trade of waiting and serving.
That apart, I liked the sausage, kulfi and the Irani chai served in stained cups (whew).
With our stomachs full, we headed towards NGMA in Colaba. I fell in love with the Gallery and more so, with the collections on display. I always wanted to see the masterpieces of Raghu Rai, like his photographs of Satyajit Ray, Mother Teresa, Bal Thackeray, Bhopal Gas Tragedy, naga sadhus at Kubh Mela, the classic old man with child photo and especially his photos depicting my most favourite city Kolkata. It was a memorable morning, rounded off by a documentary on the man himself.
Our next POA was having lunch at Rajdhani Thali. We have heard a lot about its lunch thali which have been recommended by the same foodie friends. We still had some faith left in them and so decided to check it out.
What we were totally unprepared for was the pocket pinch. The thali was priced at Rs. 190/- plus taxes per person! and it consisted of Gujrati vegetarian fare. The hard core non-veggie in me could not believe that she would have to shell out so much for something which had no meat!
We were promised unlimited supply of authentic (again!) Gujarati fare and since they had started serving the startersthe moment we sat down, we had no choice but to accept our fate.
[Inportant rule in restaurant business: Start serving as soon as the customers are seated. If it is something like thali and the customers are as idiotic like we were, they would never refuse it in fear of being dubbed rude or unsavvy]
Well, I won't say I didn't like the food. The problem with it was we never understood the names of half the things on our thali, despite asking the waiters repeatedly. And beyond a point, we could not act like fools any more than what we already were made out to be.
The most important part of the deal was 'unlimited' serving. We all went on a mission of stuffing ourselves like crazy, only to make good of the 190 bucks. But trouble started when we decided we have had enough. The over-friendly and over-hospitable waiters decided to be over-nice and continued piling food on our thalis. They kept on saying 'Ek aur lijiye na', 'Bas ek aur, mere khatir (!), 'Yeh akhri phulka, Ek aur vada' and we kept on nodding our heads profusely in negation. But everytime we lost infront of their persuasiveness (like a cute waiter saying 'ek aur mere khatir'). So we stopped eating for ourselves and started eating to please them. As a result, we were over-stuffed beyond our capacity. But thankfully that didn't deter us from relishing the best Shreekhand I have ever tasted.
Post-lunch, mobility and money became a problem. We withdrew enough cash to see us through our train journey back home. And then we walked back to our hostel to shed some of the extra weight gained in the past hour. Our tickets were of Jnaneswari Express, which was due to depart at around 9-30 pm from Lokmanya Tilak Station in Kurla. So I had declared that we all should leave by 5 pm, so as to reach comfortably and finish our dinner before the train arrived.
Four of us managed to fit in our huge luggages on top and the boot of the fiat cab and started a 2 hour long journey towards the station. We reached at about 8 pm and began our routine haggle with the porter. It was then that I happened to glance at the screen and saw that the departure time for Jnaneswari Express was "20:30 hours"! Again it took some 5 seconds to dawn on us idiots that 20:30 means 8:30 and not 9:30 as we had previously thought. We quickly checked our tickets and saw that they always gave the correct timings, god only knows how and why we presumed that the departure time was 9:30 pm!
Having realised that we had only 30 minutes to board the train, we ran the entire length of the train along with the porter (who got the price he was asking for) to reach our compartment right in the begining of the platform. Of course, our plan of boarding the train first and then capturing all the free space beneath the berths for our luggages had gone waste. We could barely fit in our plus-size suitcases and had to engage in a verbal duel with a Bengali family who refused to adjust even a bit. According to the man, "I had adjusted enough when I was a student, now that you are students, you should also learn how to adjust"!!!!! The other co-passenger was a young guy, again Bengali, who alone had some 4 pieces of luggage with him because he was shifting. No amount of pleading and fluttering of eyelashes by four young girls helped with any of them.
By this time, two of my friends had bought some puri-sabji for dinner and once the train started, we settled down to eating and discussing how close we had come to missing our trains. "Eventful day", somebody said. But the best (or, I should say worst) was yet to come.
We had got e-tickets for ourselves and the friend, in whose name they were booked, was carrying the attested photocopy of her voter ID card. She didn't ask for her original from home in fear of losing it. Now, that was the biggest and costliest mistake, as we realised when the ticket cheker declared our tickets as INVALID.
"Invalid?" we asked dumbfounded. "What does that mean?"
"It simply means that since the identity of the master passenger is not proved by the photocopy of the voter ID card, this e-ticket holds no value. You have to pay the prices of the tickets right now."
"Rs. 1500/- per ticket? We are not even carrying that much cash on us!"
"Then get down at Bhusaval."
Now that was the last straw. We tried all sorts of arguments - ethical arguments on the lines of how-can-you-make-4-young-girls-get-down-at-an-unknown-station-at-11-in-the-night, legal argument like its-nowhere-written-that-attested-photocopy-is-not-valid (bad argument, never even try) and logical ones like why-can't-we-pay-at-Howrah? etc. Well, of course none of them held ground since we were at fault. But what was irritating was the unrelenting attitude of the TTE and the way he treated us like criminals. Read a story here where a similar incident had happened. It raises similar concerns about this stupid rule of indentity verification.
A frantic call was made to one of our friends, whose uncle was in the Western Railways. It so turned out that he was also boarding the same train from Kalyan, and was with his uncle at that moment. We were instructed to keep the TTE busy till 9-30 pm when the train would reach Kalyan station.
Our knight in shining armour came in the form of the uncle, who boarded the train to persuade the TTE and remained in it till 11 pm! After hours of coaxing and cajoling, that beast of a TTE agreed to let us off. He told our friend that during subsequent checkings, the identity will not be verified again in all probability. But in case some smartass TTE asked for it, she should pretend to have lost it. It would not matter too much since the first TTE had already verified it.
We did sleep soundly through the night. But another moment of agony arrived with the arrival of the second TTE next morning. Our heartbeats stopped the moment he stood before us and asked for the ticket. But luckily for us, he didn't ask for indentity verification. It seemed as if we were bloody criminals, travelling without tickets.
So much within a span of 24 hours! May be my bad luck, carried from Delhi, had affected all of us here. But most remarkable was what our friend (whose uncle saved us) remarked wisely before the TT in order to impress him (or may be to distance himself from fools like us) "Main apna chaddi aur voter ID card kabhi nahi bhoolta hoon!" Whew! How gross! and the TTE nodded in agreement!
Small trivia: Among the four of us, one was travelling on someone else's ticket, to avoid the hassle of cancelling the same, and another was a Bangladeshi passport holder. Had these facts come out before the TTE then, we would have been history!