It was the summer of 2003. Had a quarterly meet in the city of Joy, Kolkata. It was a four day tour to this city. First 2 days were scheduled for the meeting and the remainder 2 to meet key customers, get their feedback , suggestions if any, etc etc.
Day 1 went off like a dream! Good presentation and the enthusiastic response of the team to the strategies gave a kind of high! Day 2 was a bit relaxing as predominantly it was the sales team’s day, their target and achievement plans, local strategies etc. At lunch time, while I was coolly enjoying the Bengali cuisine, equally coolly walks in the boss. After the usual pleasantries, he asks, “So Shilpa, what’s the plan for tomorrow and day after?” “Meet key customers in Calcutta Medical College & Hospital, R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital, among others”, I said.
He: Why don’t u go to Malda tomorrow and meet some guys (I mean customers) there?
He: Ya why not?
Me: Kolkata itself is a large city; in fact 2 days are insufficient to meet the customers here!
He: Malda will give you the rural flavor!
I lost all appetite
Me: I will have to get the tickets booked. Let me speak to the regional manager here!
He: You need not get the tickets booked, its just 2 hours by train from here, you can get the tickets at the railway station itself.
Ok, I said with a sigh. And then I saw his hidden smile! I always had a hunch, that he got sadistic pleasure in certain things, this was certainly one of them and it was confirmed.
Rest of the evening was spent in planning for the trip to Malda (had never heard or read about this place, till we launched our division in West Bengal few months ago). Discussed the time, place of meeting among other things with the local manager and the sales representative of Malda.
As per the plan took a Taxi at 4:45 am (yes!) for the railway station. Kolkata was buzzing with activity at this hour. It was a big surprise and it was broad daylight too. The early morning scenic beauty of Kolkata, Howrah Bridge, rows of big yellow ambassador taxis, hand pulled rickshaws, trams, early morning business of fish market, I was soaking it all in when the reverie was broken by sudden brakes and loud voice of the driver: “Howrah station”!
Paid him and entered the station. The first step and I froze! My God, so many people at this hour! It was too shocking to see throngs of people and no place to move! After much jostling, excuse me’s to bhaiya hato found the ticket window. Had a heart attack on seeing the queues. Ladies queue itself was as long as an anaconda! With a long sigh, joined the queue. It was not moving at snail’s pace but was not moving at all! Found out later that there was no clerk at the ladies window yet! God! Though one was expected any moment! But that any moment was just not happening. Was in a fix: to wait for this person to start his business or join the Gents queue! And then the good news came, the much in demand guy had arrived! So the queue started moving a bit.
All this gave me some time to look around. And I saw a husband and wife arguing. A lil girl was clinging to her mother’s hand. They were having some heated exchange in Bengali which I could not understand and then a SataaK! The guy had slapped his wife! OMG! This station gave me too many shocks, that too early in the morning!
And then the announcement, the train to Malda is reaching at platform no. 6 and will leave at 6 am. Saw the watch, 10 minutes. I had a panic attack, still so far behind in the queue, train leaving in 10 minutes, what do I do? Somebody understood my plight (God, must take some acting classes, I am way too transparent!) and said, rush to your train and take the ticket from the TTE. Gave him a grateful smile and ran towards the platform no. 6.
Found the train, entered the AC chair car coach, found a seat and relaxed for the first time after an hour! Soon, the train started moving and my neighbor was asked to vacate his seat coz the genuine ticket holder of the seat had arrived! So he was also without ticket! Some respite, but another panic attack, what if I have to leave my seat too!
With hyper activity going on in my brain, I decided to vacate my seat and stand near the door where that other fellow was standing. Didn’t want an embarrassment! Thought, I will take the ticket when the TTE comes and then sit! (Some ethics!)
So kept standing till the train reached Malda. Can you believe it? And no TTE till then and even the seat (I was earlier occupying) was vacant till Malda.
Anyhow, got down and started moving toward the exit. And I saw Suresh waving near the exit. And I saw the Ticket Checker too! He asked me to show the ticket! I realized, these guys are too smart and I must surely take acting classes. Third panic attack! Made some attempt to search my bag, finally told him that I can’t find my ticket. He gave me a look before opening his “Fine Book”. I was never so glad in my life after paying any fine! And Suresh, kept pestering all this while, “Mam, please check your purse properly, it must be somewhere?”
Wow! What a relief! It surely counted as one of my happiest moment! With a spring in my step, moved on to explore the small sleepy town of Malda!
But a lesson learned! Never ever to enter a railway station without a ticket! The travel agents keep arguing, “Madam it’s RAC, will get confirmed, don’t worry”! But I don’t budge, till I have a confirmed ticket in my hand!
Once bitten, twice shy surely means a lot!