You’ve got to love and hate the Indian Railways. I love them since I can travel with Kiki in the comfort of AC first class, while she is sprawled right next to me, enjoying every bit of the service as well as the overdose of food (the staff is even lenient with extra bread sticks, Marie biscuits, curd and warm Rotis!).
Kiki is my seven month old Golden retriever girl and this was her first train ride to Mumbai to meet her dogs in law. Vijay’s family is in Mumbai and we were visiting to see off his younger brother as he was relocating to the US. The dogs in law in question are Thor and Kaiser, comfort creatures who sit back and enjoy their rhythmic routine with Vijay’s dad.
We had planned this trip in advance, booked our tickets a month before, but had confirmed seats only for our onward journey and were waitlisted 1 and 2 for the return.
We shouldn’t have made this trip. But we did.
On a humid afternoon of July, Kiki and I boarded a pet friendly taxi (yes they do exist!) and headed for New Delhi Railway Station. Vijay had left an hour earlier to get through the formalities. On reaching the platform he first checked the chart that confirmed that we were given a two seater coupe, informed the TT that we are travelling with a pet, got a sign off on our tickets, paid at the parcel office as per the weight of the pet, got a receipt and tadaa! We were ready to board.
It was perfect, Kiki sniffed her way to comfort, became friendly with the service staff, lounged about, and growled at the TT.
The perfect ingredients for a train journey. Imagine happiness swaying to the gentle gait of the train, the hum of the engine like a reassuring lullaby, only to be broken by the train stops where we would make a dash off the platform in the hope of Kiki easing herself.
She held off till 12am. We fell back into our reverie then.
We reached Mumbai the next morning to be greeted by warm smiles and buckets full of humidity. Kiki took to Vijay’s dad instantly, I’m telling you, they can sniff out dog lovers! She even gave him a morning present by relieving herself of all the foody indulgences of the train ride, right at the platform.
Her tryst with her dogs in law was fun filled. Lots of sniffing later they decided that she was acceptable. Some rounds of play time later they decided that her energy levels were unacceptable, the looks they gave Vijay and me – reminiscent of disapproving looks of family elders on a badly brought up child – why don’t they say anything to her! But like most familial ties, theirs too blossomed once the boundaries were made clear. Affectionate cuddling with Kaiser, Thor giving in to some boisterous Kiki moments and multiple belly rubs from Vijay’s dad later, it was really all happening at Ithaca (read the Gaba).
But the saga (no, maybe the ordeal) began when it was time to head back to Delhi.
Now we had one confirmed and one waitlisted ticket for the return journey. So we tried to pull some strings to get our ticket confirmed. We were assured that it will happen.
Lesson 1 – with Ac first, chances of any confirmation close to the travel date are bleak, given the number of VIP’s that travel this class.
On the day of boarding, we got a message that said that our ticket hasn’t been confirmed, we spoke to our contact and were once again assured that we will be given a VIP quota berth and so we took off for the station and reached 2 hours in advance to find a way around. And so the saga begins…
We first go to the station masters room where the TT informs us that there is no way that we could travel with the pet, since we only have one confirmed ticket. He says it’s best that we book for another day. But there aren’t confirmed tickets available for the next one month! We have to board this train.
Lesson 2– After much pleading, they say that last minute changes are done in the chart to accommodate VIP travellers, so wait till the chart is prepared. Half an hour before departure time this chart is released and we are told that there is no seat available. Vijay suggests that since we have one confirmed ticket for a two berth coupe, will you allow Kiki to travel if the co-passenger has no issue. They say that as per railway rules, you are only allowed to book a pet on AC first against two confirmed tickets. This was lesson number 2.
One of the railway employees in the station masters room is sweet enough to check the co-passenger’s name on the chart, he too tells us that we have no chance, our co-passenger is a senior railway official, there is no way that he will accommodate the pet. “Go back home”. “Leave the pet and board”. “Put your pet in the dog box in the guard room in the next train”. My head is swimming by now. My eyes well up. All I can hear myself saying is “No”, “No”, “No”.
With no hope, we walk back to the platform where Kiki is standing oblivious with my father in law, wondering why Vijay and I are running mad. Or maybe she was not that oblivious, quite uncharacteristic of her, she was quiet, didn’t move from between my dad in law’s feet.
Lesson no 3 – where there’s a will, there’s a way. This one was god sent.
A wonderful lady and her teenage daughter were roaming the platform, talking intermittently to co travellers. They walked up to us and enquired if Vijay and I would exchange seats with them. They were given a 4 berth coupe – they wanted to shift into a 2 berth. I laughed, hahahhahahahah. We don’t even have two confirmed tickets, we relayed are woes. The daughter was gently rubbing Kiki’s ears and absent-mindedly mumbled, why don’t you travel with us baby.. Eureka! What if they booked Kiki on their ticket as they had two confirmed seats!!! Elated, jumping with joy, we asked for her ticket and ran to the TT’s office. “Please book the dog on this ticket said the wonderful lady, we will travel with her”.
Lesson No. 4 – Not only do you need two confirmed tickets, but a two berth coupe as well to travel with your pet
But we have two confirmed tickets, and the coupe only gets confirmed when the chart is prepared, so how does one ever know for sure!!!
Lesson No. 5 – Book 4 confirmed first class tickets to be sure.
We then went to every 2 berth coupe, requesting them to exchange seats with the lady and her daughter, so they could travel with Kiki. 3 MP’s and 2 railway officials declined. All the 2 berth coupes were allotted to VIP’s.
On continued teary eyed begging, one of the TT’s said, that if the other 2 people in the lady’s coupe sign on the ticket as a no objection to the pet, Kiki can travel. There was only one passenger there – another railway official! On requesting, he agreed to exchange seats with me, so this meant that the wonderful lady, her daughter and I were in the 4 berth coupe with Kiki. There was only one piece left to the puzzle, the 4th passenger who hadn’t boarded yet.
Out of desperation, we forged signatures, ran to the TTs who were now lined outside the train and said we have all the necessary permissions. They debated, deliberated and when 10 minutes were left for departure they finally agreed. “Go run to the parcel desk and make the payment”. Vijay rushed to the counter only to be told off by the fellow, “we need a written letter, a signature won’t do.” At this point Vijay lost his cool, I mean someone needed to cooperate, a little. Another run back to the train, a quickly drafted letter, run back to the counter, five minutes to departure, he says “only five minutes are left, I can’t accept payment and give you a receipt. Bugger off.”
Now Vijay came back all choked up, we literally begged the TTs, they wouldn’t come to a consensus, so I picked up Kiki and our luggage and boarded the train. Do hell with it.
The train starts moving, the TT walks into the compartment and says “where’s the receipt?”, “we don’t have it”, “then you pay a fine of Rs 5000”. “Okay, here – take it”. And then he realizes, “but where’s the 4th passenger? Where is his consent?” At this point I told him that he didn’t board and since we are waitlisted one on the second ticket, shouldn’t Vijay get the berth. To our dismay, he told us that although the 4th passenger was to board from Mumbai, Borivilli station was yet to come. He was clear, if the passenger boards and has even the slightest issue, we de-board at Borivili. Fingers crossed we had our hearts in our mouth for the next 15 minutes, what if this was another VIP or official?
The station approaches, a stern sixty something gentlemen enters the coupe, looks around and says “oh, I didn’t know a pet will be traveling in the coupe, I’m not a dog lover!” The TT makes an entry and shrugs his shoulders. Now this was crunch time. I jumped off my seat, folded my hands and requested this gentleman, “Sir, I’m in grave trouble, I need to get back to Delhi with my dog, please please allow us, I promise she is well behaved, won’t be any trouble” He keeps quiet. “please sir they will de-board me, now in Surat since the train is moving” Still quiet. “okay, I will sit on the top berth with her throughout, you won’t even see her” He deliberates, then says “okay”. I just wanted to get up and hug him, I didn’t, I don’t think he would have appreciated it!
And so Kiki and I sat on the top berth the entire way to Delhi. The gentle sway of the train was no happiness and the hum no longer a lullaby. But we were relieved. The wonderful lady and her daughter kept the older gentleman in good humour. The daughter even baby-sat Kiki on the top berth while I had a quick bite. I should have taken their number. If you are out there somewhere reading this, thank you. Even the older gentleman – thankyou. I noticed how you warmed up to Kiki and passed us extra bread sticks for her to munch on. Its people like you that makes this country, it restores my belief that we as a people have a large heart. To the VIP’s who are reading this – have a heart!
In all this, my husband still didn’t have a seat, ofcourse it’s easier to find your way around the system if you are a human. He got a berth in another first class coupe within an hour of all this mayhem. But it’s Kiki that amazed me that day. This effervescent, crazy golden girl was just still. Calm, almost invisible. I felt she grew up, it’s as if she knew exactly what was happening. Cuddled up to my bag in one corner and said, okay mom, let’s get through this.