Human beings are hardwired to always look for patterns and reasons in everything, which is why we keep on wondering about why things happen, especially when they do not go as per plan. However, no matter what Paulo Coelho thinks, my general belief is that the Universe is too busy to give a flying f**k about you. The Universe has lots and lots and lots of things to do than care for what the hell you might be wanting or not. But as it is with all belief systems, challenges arrive from time to time that put your beliefs to test. Once such test happened on February 28 2016, when all the mysterious forces governing the Universe seemed to be really, really adamant at making me miss my train, in which they succeeded spectacularly, and then made me suffer for it too. However, then I was rewarded with a great photo opportunity and a meeting with some nice people, all which raised some crazy philosophical questions. But let me start at the beginning. Of course, this as always involves trains and buses.
So I was in the proud possession of a Tatkal ticket from Ernakulam ERS to Bangalore on the 16316 KCVL-Bangalore Express for Febraury 28 2016. I was in Kottayam KTYM and 16316 takes the Alappuzha route, so I had to reach Ernakulam ERS at 2030 to board the train. For this, like I have done many times before, I decided to take the 56390 "Tea Garden" passenger train that leaves KTYM at 1720 and reaches ERS at 1855, in plenty of time even if it gets late. That was the plan. However, things would go wrong from the start itself. The 12082 Jan Shatabdi Express supposed to leave KTYM at 1705 was detained by some angry passengers because fans in one coach were not working. It left only at 1720, causing our train to leave a whole 18 minutes late at 1738. I boarded the last coach (this point will become important later). This false start would be only the first (and the foundation) of a string of misfortunes the Universe had laid out for me on that evening when everything went wrong, when mishaps arrived as a parade, delaying my train so much that I would miss my connection.
The Universe Conspires To Make Me Miss My Train
First up was a crossing. 19 km into the journey, we were held at Kuruppanthara for 8 minutes for the 22113 LTT-KCVL Express to cross us. Now we were 31 min late. After that, we made it only as far as the home signal of the next station, Vaikom Road VARD, where we were stuck for a whole 30 minutes because, signal failure! After crawling in and out of VARD 1 hour and 12 minutes late, we passed Piravom Road without incident and entered double line territory. I thought things would go smoothly now, but hey, the powers that are could not allow this, right? Just before Kanjiramittam, the next station, the train stopped in its tracks, again. Now this was the real clincher! The sky far up ahead was a bright orange, colored by huge flames licking up from the ground which was on fire! We panicked at first, thinking the loco had caught fire! Then, locals informed us that dried brush had caught fire due to the dry weather and scorching heat. The pilots had stopped the train just before the blaze. After another whole 40 minutes of being stranded, the fire was doused and we moved at 2005 (thankfully no damages to the track, train or OHE). We were now 2 hours late and had 20 km more to cover with 2 stops. Still, I had no doubts about making it since NTES had been informing me that 16316 was also running 25 min behind schedule.
Astonishingly, the JanShatabdi, which had caused our delay in the first place, had escaped all this carnage! But five other trains including the prestigious Chennai Mail were stuck behind us. We left Mulanturuthy MNTT at 2015 and Trippunithura TRTR at 2030 and I was still sure of making 16316 though a bit tight, because we both were 13 km from ERS and would take 15 min each to reach. However, the Universe also looked at NTES and said, "Haha. NO." At 2040, with 16316 just 5 min away from ERS, we crawled to an agonizing stop at the Ernakulam D Cabin ERSD, just 2 km and 5 minutes away! The connecting line from ERS to ERSD is a 1 km bit single line track surrounded by double track all around. And there are only 9 trains in an entire day that come in on that line from ERS towards ERSD. And one of those had to come exactly at that moment, the 56389 ERS-KTYM passenger, for which to pass were we stopped! It was that 5 minute halt that sealed by unlucky fate.
We took another 8 minutes to crawl into ERS, in which time 16316 had arrived and completed its 5-minute halt. I had one last hope that 16316 would be held to let the Mail which was right behind us to go ahead since it is a SF and has priority. But no such luck (Mail would later overtake 16316 at Tiruppur). As soon as I entered the ERS yard I looked at 16316's signals to see yellow and green, and knew it was over. Even as we were crawling onto PF 3, 16316's WAP4 #22820 turned on its headlights, gave a long honk and started moving off PF 1. By the time my last coach entered the platform 16316 was halfway off. 56390 stopped at the platform at 2052. 16316 was given the all clear starter at 2051. I had missed the train. By one minute. For no fault of mine, unlike the last time when it was all my own bad decisions and the non-existence of an existing Tatkal Ticket.
IF they had waited only just one tiny minute to start a train that was already 21 minutes late to enable connecting passengers to board (there were many)! IF I had boarded the front coach, I could have jumped off, ran across the tracks and boarded the train as it started. But instead I stood at the door helplessly watching it glide away into the night. Devastated and angry for having missed the train for no goddamn fault of mine, I became even more furious when I found that I could not file a TDR refund for that missed-train tatkal ticket, because rules (If any RAC guys got that berth 10 in the A1 coach of 16316 on Feb 28 Sun, thank me) and vented by anger through Twitter (what else can I do?). Then, despair slowly replaced anger and I decided to eat something and sort things out. On my way out of the station I checked for buses but all were sold out or too expensive. I sat around in a restaurant without ordering anything, and then decided "screw it, I will take a bus and go home. I stepped out of the restaurant to go to the Vyttila Mobility Hub bus station, and stepped out into rain.
Yes, rain! Of course it was raining, in the middle of a scorching summer, because the powers were not content with just ruining my trip but wanted to take my trip too. Rain, so furious and torrential, pouring out of the heavens like it was July, when it was scorching hot at 35 degrees just hours ago. Oh, look at the bloody irony! The fields that were burning and holding up my train just and hour ago were now awash with rain! I ran all 5 meters to catch an auto, ending up half drenched, then discovering that the seat of the auto was full of water as well. The auto driver would not enter the Hub, so I had to run another 20 meters and was now drenched to the bone. But then to my great amazement, I found a clean and dry toilet stall and changed into dry clothes. After an hour of waiting like a post watching the rain, I boarded Ernakulam's RSE 330 FP to Chengannur via Kottayam and went home. As a small consolation, the bus managed to cover the 60 km in 1 hour 20 min in true KSRTC style.
In the end, the Universe won. It threw everything at me in a perfect storm of factors to prevent me traveling to Bangalore that day: false starts, holdups, signal failure, fire, rain, refused refund. One or two of these happening would've been understandable, but all of them one after the other? That was truly a sign of something, or was it? Why did all that happen? I crashed and slept until 9 the next morning.
The Next Morning: The Surprise and "Reason"?
The next morning of the leap day of February 29 2016, I learned from Facebook with a shock that Kerala KSRTC would be inaugurating their new fleet of Scania Metrolink Multi-Axle buses that evening at, of all places, Kottayam KSRTC bus station! This was an event I had been waiting for a long time! I reached the bus station by around 1600, to find the Scania ready and decked up for inauguration. I met up with fellow bus fans like @jaggs0022 and one of my main inspirations, the legendary Jimmy Jose, whose work only introduced me to rail-photography and made me realize that it was possible to take really great photos of trains and buses. I spent the next two hours with the new King of KSRTC, the Garuda Maharaja, clicking pictures of all its angles and generally feeling awesome of being part of this momentous occasion, ones as such something very special to me. At 1800 I boarded KSRTC Volvo RS 788 to Bangalore, reaching on the first of March at 0630 after an uneventful and peaceful journey.
So let us go back to the original question. Why did that string of extra-ordinary incidents happen the way they did? Was there a reason behind it? Why did the Universe conspire, if it did, to make me miss the train? Was it so that I could attend the function and get a "scoop" of the "first sight" of the Scania and become one among the very few who did, to click its first photos like those of the Volvos I captured with great difficulty in Bangalore, and then getting to be among the first to upload its pictures on the internet which helped to reach fottam.com the record of the most number of visits in a day? Was it a silver lining, or just an unexpected outcome? Does everything happen for a reason, or for an effect, or is that theory just bullshit? Or are none of these incidents related to each other? Does whatever that happens during various times happen because they have to happen (കാലാകാലങ്ങളിൽ സംഭവിക്കേണ്ടതെല്ലാം സംഭവിച്ചുകൊണ്ടേ ഇരിക്കും) and all that? Has there really have to be a "reason" for things to happen? What would have happened in an alternate Universe where I didn't miss the train? Would my life be drastically better/worse? We might never know.
Maybe all these happenings and outcomes are part of a grand plan of reasons, causes and effects, one leading to the next. Maybe they are not. But one thing is certain: our lives are hardly in our control. The plans we make in life are based on expected outcomes of the decisions we make. However, what has always bugged me it that there always seems to be some forces out there acting to decide what happens in our lives, beyond our control and understanding, forces that just refuse to even acknowledge the existence of our plans, compelling us to take alternative narratives in our lives. And there is nothing we can do to control these occurrences and their effects. Is this the force people call God or Karma or Destiny, depending on faith? This unknown force scares us, and the great fear of this unknown might be the reason we try to find "reasons" in whatever happens, or because we want to be rewarded with something "good" for our "suffering" of having to deal with our destroyed plans. But the reason for suffering can also be more suffering, a fact that not many people like to be reminded of.
Anyway, we can either get frustrated about the fact that we are but a spectator of our own lives with no control of it, or accept this as a fact, stop resisting and go along with the flow. That, maybe, could be the secret to a happy life.
One could never imagine that missing a train would raise so many philosophical questions, no? :)
P.S. Indian Railways should really "get" the concept of connection trains.