I'm a big fan of the Indian Railway system. It always seems to work despite odds.
For example, back in the steam engine days, the Puri Talcher express used to take about 12 hours longer than the regulation because the engine driver used to stop along the way and sell coal to people who wanted it (this priceless information is thanks to my old college mate Deepak, who has deeply researched the topic).
Today we have diesel engines. And I strongly suspect that the socialist objective of redistribution of wealth is carried out by the yeoman engine drivers of today who stop every 17 km to sell diesel to the needy.
For I can think of no other reason why the train would halt so often. Infact a congratulatory e-mail to Shri Laloo might be in order.
But I will pigeon-hole this for the moment and carry on with my tale, which will feature scantily clad belly dancers as a reward to those who have patiently borne with me.
The train started from Mumbai CST at 6.00 am sharp. At T+0.3 nanoseconds, the great musical berths game began in our bogey.
Number 37 wanted to go to number 12. Number 12 wanted to go to number 17. But number 17 was a pregnant lady. So number 18 was shooed away and made to go to another compartment altogether.
Shortly, the Ticket collector landed up and started writing the equations in matrix form on his sheet.
My co-traveller Sushil Soman, meanwhile helpfully complicated things by dispatching 7 people to the 3 tier compartment, moments before the connecting door was locked. There was much acrimony on the other side of this door and Sushil disappeared onto a higher berth and pretended to be asleep. And there was one guy who was convinced that Sushil had stolen his berth and kept questioning him in all kinds of oblique ways.
When we finally got to NJP (which is the technical name for New Jalpaiguri) the only thing that the four of us could think of was.......you guessed it - scantily clad belly dancers. No, seriously, the only thing we could think of was beer. Thus I fulfilled a childhood ambition of getting a bellyful of beer before nine in the morning.
Around lunchtime, we landed up in Gangtok. It also happened to be my 44th birthday. Grieving silently at the stealthy passage of time - 44 years old, for Chrissake!, I dragged the rest of the bunch to a nice little pub called Pub25 and got properly sloshed.
After a delightful half-hour with the locks of our respective rooms, which turned out to be on a different floor altogether, we hit the sack. Just before I collided with the mattress I heard Kundu say that he would wake us up at 4.30 am to show us the sunrise.
I hoped he would die in his sleep.