The train had started. Rajiv* ran along with the moving train and jumped inside to one of the compartments.
He hurried onto an empty space and found himself comfortable. “Thank god!!Finally fourth semester of engineering also done. Only 2 more years to go. Tough though”.He looked at the hall ticket inside the bag. “Now, you are a useless fellow my friend”,he joked at it…
Rajiv looked at the girl sitting across.”Wow”!!He couldn’t help but have a closer look. Her beautiful eyes were running through the water on the window pane. Her long fingers caressing the free-flowing elbow-length hair. So graceful.A typical Kerala beauty.
”Get Connected”, his heart shouted.
Rajiv noticed the man sitting next to her. With his wide forehead immersed inside a newspaper, sat a gentle man with an elegant but tanned face.
“Looks like her father. Let me knock him down first”.Rajiv cleared his throat and politely asked,”Uncle, You look tired after a long journey”. The term ‘Uncle’ is normally used by guys to elderly men when they try to be extra sweet to them. And most of the time, it works.
The man folded his news papers and gave him a do-I-know-you look. Rajiv smiled. “Am Rajiv, doing my Engineering graduation at Chengannur Engineering College. Going home for the weekend. Where are you heading to uncle?”.
“Uncle” seemed to be impressed after he heard Rajiv is an Engineering graduate. “Me and my daughter are coming back after the Engineering counselling. She has scored well in the Entrance. What stream would you suggest Rajiv? Which all colleges should we prefer? What are the placement chances? How is the market now?”
“Too many questions. But am gonna rock. This train journey is going to be awesome”. He could see the girl looking at him.
“I forgot to introduce. This is Smitha”. She smiled and nodded her head. He acknowledged. In malayalam, Smitha is one with a sweet smile.”But this one has a very very sweet smile. I wish if I could be your college-senior, babe”. Rajiv smiled as sweet as he could.
Rajiv started from her entrance grade and went on about what all streams she is likely to get,how Engineering colleges should be carefully chosen, what streams would earn good jobs in the current market conditions and on and on.Through the corner of his eye, he noticed that her eyes were focused on him. Uncle asked questions every now and then and was trying to utilise the train journey to the fullest. Rajiv too intended to do the same. Utilise the journey!!
As he sketched and narrated his entrance exams and scores, Rajiv could make out from uncle’s face, the conspicuous impression that he had created. “If I cant get her contact number, at least I could shine like a knowledgable engineering graduate”. He smiled inside.
“Where is your ticket?”. The growl of a gigantic man woke him up. He was enquiring ticket to the person sitting next to Rajiv. Rajiv looked around. No means to escape. Squads came from both the sides. As all his neighbour passengers and his ‘uncle’ showed train tickets, Rajiv did an express-fast scanning in his mind to find out a reason why he did not have tickets.
“Where is your ticket,boy? Fast”.
“Uncle,my ticket is with my friend in the next compartment.”
The squad smiled. He sat next to him. “So “uncle” will not do any good. S**t man!!”,Rajiv was thinking hard.”There has to be some means to escape or it is only a fine of Rs.350/-. But the Eiffel -tower-tall impression that was skilfully built before Smitha would collide in seconds”.
Travelling without tickets in the train used to be fun and adventurous for boys. And to boast over those stories at college was heroic. This was not his first, but umpteenth time without ticket.But this was the first time he got so close to the TTE (Train Ticket Examiner).
“These days lot of college students travel without tickets. That’s why they have appointed us,Railway Squads, in addition to the TTEs. Travelling without tickets is an offense. Don’t you know my son?”
“Please uncle, I have tickets. It is with my friend who is in the next compartment”.
“I know all kind of excuses that you students make. So where are you travelling to?”
“Good. We also need to get out there.You are fined 250/- for travelling without ticket, and 100/- for the ticket”, came another voice from above.Rajiv looked up and so did the other passengers.”Am the squad leader. You have to pay the fine boy”.
“No, I have tickets uncle. Please you have to believe me. It’s with my friend in the other compartment”. He sticked on to the same story.
“Please don’t trouble the kid. I know him for long and he will not do an offense of travelling without tickets”. It was uncle trying to help.
”If you do not believe me uncle, please keep my hall ticket. Am from Chengannur Engg College and my next exam is after 2 days. I would come with the tickets to your office at the station and get the hall ticket”.
The squad and the boss looked around. Too crowded to go and get the tickets from another compartment. The boy looked decent enough not to lie. He definitely has to come back and get the hall ticket to appear in his next exam. Who would compromise his future for paying fine. They looked convinced.
Rajiv handed over the hall ticket and looked at Smitha’s father. Both daughter and father had crystal clear impressive faces. But the squads looked sad. “It is our duty or we would not trouble you boy. I know you are being truthful, but we can’t help. Please come on Monday to get the hall ticket”.
As Ernakulam was nearing, the squad sat some more time with Rajiv, patted on his shoulders and stood up to get down.
“See you on Monday”, he told Rajiv.
“I too hope to see you around some day”,Uncle said.
“Thank god for the presence of mind. It was a narrow escape”, I hope I never come across this beauty and her father”,Rajiv prayed as stepped out of the train.
We don’t know whether the squad waited for him,but Rajiv definitely enjoyed a great heroic college hour the next week…
Disclaimer – This story is not meant to encourage ticketless railway journeys . Traveling without ticket is an offense.