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When no amount of planning makes any sense .....

Monday, October 20, 2014

/ by Srikanth Eswaran



I wanted to write this article for a long time but there were too many things in my way blocking me from making this article available on the blog. Pretty much things that correlate to the topic in question - planning.

After a month's worth of planning to go to a trip to the Arabian sea front, and after booking relevant train tickets, and air tickets after much thought it was the day for us to leave Bangalore. The unusual rains that wrekced the city in the last two days did not bode so well with my thought process and it had left me pretty spooked about the trip itself.

I had a Taxi for (un)Sure booking at 5:30pm on the 26th of september. Being a Friday and peak hour, I decided that the booking at this time was perfect enough to reach the railway station in 2 hours from then, a reasonable assumption these days for people traveling in Bangalore. It was about 14-15 kilometers and by any means 2 hours is sufficient time for me to reach the station by 7:30pm for an 8pm train. Or so I thought.

After having a bitter experience with Taxi For sure in chennai, I assumed that the problem with that service is limited to only Chennai and Bangalore would be perfect. My worst fears came true when I call the company and enquire about the whereabouts of my cab. The reply not only astounded me, but also permanently erased any sort of existing respect for Taxi for Sure that I still had - "Your taxi may take 20 mins more to arrive sir, you need to wait while we check out and inform them".

My immediate question to them was "How do you guarantee to me that after 20 minutes I would not get the same response saying that the cab is delayed again by 20 minutes?" for which as expected of an immature player in the industry came the answer "Not sure" - yeah - "Taxi Unsure".

My mind raced ahead to do the math and I knew I was not doing good to reach the station on time. This is when I decided to try out Uber through an app I had installed just the previous day. After giving my credit card details as required by the company. I did not get a Uber Black, so went ahead with Uber X. After a few minutes I got a confirmation that an Etios was on its way to my house. Pretty neat. Really.

Luck does play the fool with you sometimes and that Thursday night was no expception in my case. I took a route which was not the best, and ended up in a 2 hour traffic jam. Every single traffic light was red. Every minute I moved about few inches. Viveknagar road was jammed due to Infant Jesus Church rush, Richmond Circle was perpetually jammed in a sea of vehicles. I got a bit luckier on the KG Road stretch and reached the station at 7:40pm. 20 minutes for the train to go. Should be able to make it, I thought.

On the way into the station (after Uber's pleasant experience of not asking me to pay the driver anything but charge to my card instead), my wife managed to quickly catch hold of train information which said the train is waiting on platform 5. With four sets of luggage - 2 bags and 2 kids - I rushed up the overbridge (god damnit railway authorities have put up the escalator elsewhere than where it should be) and started walking down platform 5. The clouds had by then gathered in full swing and history was set to repeat.

I saw the train, the train perhaps saw me. We were 20 minutes away from departure. And all hell broke loose just 10 steps between the train and me. There was so much rain and so much of water that any possible thought in the mind turned out to be a bad risk management strategy. The whole platform was gushing with water. The ingenius mind which decided that we would go with as little luggage as possible, put us into a situation where raincoats were not there, umbrellas were scant - basically I had packed a recipe to get me drenched.

My wife decided that we must make a dash and get into the compartment before the train departed whatever the state of our mind and body were and so we did it. Luggage wet, me wet, wife wet, kids wet, everything wet. Thanking god that this was over, I noticed the compartment I was in was S5 and my seat was at S3. So me knowing all too well about the vestibule thanked god again and quickly trotted with kids along two compartments away to get to S3. Found our seats and sat there saying how we managed to win this round of travel planning. A grandpa there exchanged pleasantries with my kids - which kids dont like grandpas? and which grandpa doesnt like kids? - and finally popped me the most important question of my lifetime: "What is your seat number my son ?" - I said its S3, and seat 28. And then he tells me in a composed manner, - "Son, thats not possible, thats my seat, please can you check your ticket again".

I check my ticket and realize its ES3, not S3. Its then that the evil design of Indian Railways comes to my mind. This Kannur Express is a part Karnataka, part Kerala trains merged together by a couple of general compartments. I understood that ES3 is beyond S8. And I am in S3. The train is on its way and I trudge along with my luggage bumping into each and every passenger and with my wife and kids in tow through vestibules upto S8. It is there that I got another slap on my face. The vestibule connection ended in S8. And I had four more compartments to go to to find my seat. The train was moving, S8 was overflowing with people and rainwater, and there was no vestibule.

After quickly assessing the situation with few people there I understood that the only option was to get out of the train in the next station and make a dash for the right compartment. The next station was Kengeri. A few older folks agreed to help me out and one of them agreed to take my elder son, while my wife comes with the younger one and me with the luggage. Great idea it seemed until I reached Kengeri.

The train was to stop for just 2 minutes, and it was dark outside, it was raining treacherously, the whole platform was full of water puddles, and there were a few hundred people on the platform running to enter the train and a few hundred people like me trying to dash to the other side of the train. The run began.

My elder son was the first to go - or rather to be whisked at the older man's mercy of speeds and he was flung into the AC compartment ahead at the kerala bound part of the train. While I started running I realized that my body and mind were slowly giving up. My glasses were wet, I was practically blinded. My footwear started slipping. I had two trolley type baggages running on their own behind me as I tugged them and this entire setup was just one step from a royal tumble on the platform. I had no idea where my elder son was and I had a strong belief that the younger son and wife were doing fine behind me.

Finally I found my elder son and threw my luggage forcibly into the AC compartment. My wife had meanwhile gotten into the general compartment by mistake and people directed her to the right place. According to her she almost fell between the train and platform. Somehow she reached the AC compartment as well.

The entire sky had drenched us. I could not distinguish sweat from rain. My entire body was shivering and quaking. My heart was pounding like that was to be the last day of my life. I was almost at the point of collapse. My elder son was disillusioned and disoriented and fully wet. My wife and younger son were not any better either. My younger son was afraid, crying and wet. He was terrified out of his wits. He for the first time understood the fury of the rain. None of us understood what we just went through.

Our stupidity in planning our luggage for the trip and reaching late to the station for reasons beyond our control also meant that we did not have a single bottle of water with us. I was so thirsty, tired, wet and my head was spinning like never before. If there was a stretcher someone offered I would have gladly collapsed into it.

From there we went three more compartments by dragging our wet selves until we found our seat. Our entire compartment was wet and full of water. Luggage could not be kept down on the floor. The toilet water and rain water was mixed up and it was stiking all over.

Every cloud has a silver lining. The only decent idea I had planned was to cook some food and take it with me. And it paid off. That was the only freaking thing I had for the entire train journey. Except for some coffee that came by now and then.

We changed our clothes, and rented some bedsheets and pillows to make the kids warm. My kids were swearing that I must never get them off the train at any cost. Until they saw some sunshine the next morning. My younger son developed a viral fever and did not enjoy much of the trip. At 102 degrees he needed constant care for the remainder of the trip. The airline trip to return to Bangalore was perhaps the best part of the trip. After all this mess we went through.

Lessons will always be learnt. This time too. And here they are for your consumption if you care not to have an experience like me.

* Leaving 2 hours early is also not sufficient if you want to reach from outer ring road to majestic station during office peak hours
* Taxi for sure is bullshit - Uber is 100 times better and the costs are similar. I will never ever ever recommend Taxi for Sure to anyone anymore.
* You need umbrellas and raincoats or jackets. Nothing can be assumed about Bangalore rainy seasons.
* You need to read your ticket properly. Read the coach number properly at any cost. Every train is different and it also pays to do some research on the compartment structure at sites such as http://indiamike.com
* Trains from Bangalore city will leave exactly on time. Since they start there. Rain, sun or hell no one cares. Not the railways for sure.
* You need water and biscuits. These are integral part of any god damn luggage.
* Bangalore City railway is the last place you must ever think of boarding. In our case it was inevitable but to board there. Even after 37 years (my age basically) there are still no easy way to get to platforms. Even if there are, they dont work early in the mornings or late at nights. Just because Railways thinks human beings dont use trains during those times.
* The overbridge or underpass are mandatory tortures you need to go through at City station however young or old you are and however enterprising you are.
* Backpacks are better luggage compared to trolley type luggages. Trolley types are better suited for aircraft. Not trains. Not during the rains most definitely.
* Its impossible to run more than 4 compartments at a station where train halts for 2 minutes or less. Even that is practically impossible if the whole platform is wet, if the station name is kengeri and its raining outside like hell. Not a wise move to plan a shift there. Better to wait for Mysore where train halts 20 minutes.
* Floors of compartments are not suitable for placing luggage anymore. During rains it can get extremely wet and stinky and all your non waterproof luggage can take a beating and make everything inside it wet.
* For trains that travel across states the compartment allocation is slightly different and awareness is key.
* Always have enough time planned to look whether your name is on the chart or not before boarding. you will save yourself time and effort.
* Always carry something to eat, you never know what situation you will get into where you need food.
* The preferred mode of transport if you have money is AC coach. not a normal compartment anymore. Since Railways basically do not have a vision of what a train must look like in 2014 or even 2020.
* Pack some food at home. You will thank your stars later.
* No amount of planning is good planning if you end up in a situation like mine. Perhaps the plan itself was a waste. Change the mode of transport if plans are designed to fail.
* If its thursday do not take the viveknagar route lest you get stuck in Infant Jesus traffic like me.
* Never opt for a train in the evening, or during peak hours. Morning trains are better to use since the sun shines and there is practically no rain in Bangalore on such mornings.
* Never take ridiculous risks such as what I took when you have kids. Even if you miss the train its ok, but be together as a family. When its raining outside like hell, mobile phone is the last thing that comes to mind to sync up. Its not worth leaving your family in bits and pieces in this puzzle. I could have lost my wife and younger kid, I could have lost my elder kid, I could have hurt myself falling on the platform, anything could have happened.
* My experience ended fruitfully. Others' might not. Be aware of this.
* Traveling in a taxi with AC for 2 hours in the road filled with traffic is very very stressful. It confuses the kids and elders, makes them figity, makes them hungry and tired and basically reduces energy levels by the time you reach the desitnation. An open auto rickshaw maybe a better choice if it does not rain.
* God exists.


I hope you learn something from my experience and pass this message along for others to read. Learning from others' lessons is always better than getting stuck yourself. Not always you will encounter impacts like these, but good planning is meant to save yourself from this. And no one needs to understand or debate how good your plan is. The fact that you have a plan puts you in better shape than others who love to live by the minute.

Good luck in your planning!!
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