This is one incident I remember from my good old Ruparel days (that is, my junior college days). I don't have many memories from that time - firstly because I wasted most of time in my JEE preparation, which I then considered more important than my social life, and secondly, because I hardly ever attended college, mainly due to the earlier reason. This incident that I am talking about was on one of those rare days when I broke both these rules.
10:42 Churchgate slow. The ever so faithful local that came directly to Borivli from Andheri, literally vacant (it reached Borivli skipping stops at Jogeshwari, Goregaon, Malad and Kandivli - hence the absence of the return journey travelers. Thing is, a fast train bound for Borivli from Churchgate doesn't halt at these stations. I always preferred taking this train whenever I chose to go to college. As I do now, I hated crowds then too. Nothing more disgusting than traveling in a crowded second class compartment during the early morning office hours I would say. I have always chosen to travel second class. College students do get discounts on first class season tickets for trains here in Mumbai, but I never chose that option. There is something about Mumbai's local trains - mainly the second class compartments, that makes them so very dear to me. The very essence of Mumbai's life can be seen in all its glory here. Nothing more satisfying than traveling during the early morning hours in a second class compartment (albeit not so crowded).
So as I was saying it was this one fateful day, that a slow train for Borivli was converted to the 10:42 Chuchgate slow. Which meant the train was full - packed to the last seat, with hardly any space within for a 'healthy' person like me to sneak into. Besides, skipping this train meant getting late for college - and when you turn up for classes just once a month or so, you don't want to be late. So I was sort of left with limited options. I barged in with the rest of the crowd.
As luck would have it, I got a place to stand exactly where a fan had died a recent death, and was yet to be repaired. Ah, what a perfect day I thought. Could it get any better? Just then a man, roughly in his late thirties, wearing a soiled smelling shirt stepped in and stood beside me. His unkempt hair was smeared with what smelled like kerosene, and due to the fan's death, this guy was standing sweating profusely beside me. Ah, it just got better!
Some 4 minutes after schedule, our train finally decided to proceed with its journey. The gentleman mentioned earlier was enjoying his train ride, happily humming some old hindi song tune and rocking gently with the train's motion, much to my chagrin. After some 3 stops or something it happened. I never saw him coming. Besides, I wasn't expecting him in such a crowded train. It wasn't even the first week of the month, nor the last. What on earth then is he doing here?
'Ticket please', he said, approaching me after checking the tickets of the other passengers. Thing is, I always kept my pass in my compass box, which I used to keep safely beside my water bottle in the innermost compartment of my backpack (Yes, those were the days when I was supercautious, much the opposite of what I am now after 4 years at IIT). Nothing more embarrassing than opening up one's backpack just for taking out a pass - could you look more stupid? Anyway, I had to, now that this ticket checker chap was standing nearby. So I went ahead with my routine - opened my bag, shifted my books, took out the calculator, opened the zip, took out the water bottle, and finally took out my pencil box. The TC was standing there, smirking at how stupid I was acting.
Until now, I was thinking my day couldn't have got any better. But now it just turned perfect. I took out my pass only to see that it had expired a week earlier! Aargh! At least I should've checked it even though I don't use it daily. Wow! A hell of a day, only to be made worse by shelling out a good 300 bucks in fine. I was thinking if there are any other worse ways to spend 300 bucks (btw, I just watched Jodha Akbar the other day in PVR cinemas, and now I am convinced that there is one way at least). How can I avoid this? What should i do?
'Oye baba, ticket please' groaned the TC. He was having a torrid time too in this crowd. Not to show that I was guilty, I confidently handed him my expired pass, even managed to pass him a polite, innocent smile. 'O mister, this pass has expired a week ago. Come on now, take out Rs. 300. You will have to pay the fine', he said and showed it to me. There was a commanding look in his eyes, and a strictness in his voice. Somewhere on his face though I spotted a smile, anticipating a quick 300 bucks. Ah the devil! Why should I pay 300 bucks when I travel only about 20 days or so to college each year, yet buy a second class quarterly pass thrice a year faithfully? I had to think fast.
There are times in life when things you learnt in your childhood strike you. Sometimes, you feel these are silly. But when you really need them, such things can be blessings in disguise. 'Ignorance is bliss' - somehow this thought came to my mind. Ah, an idea! How brilliant of me! I made a mental note to pat myself on my back as soon as I got down from this wretched train! For the time being, I have 300 bucks to save.
'Pardon me', I said, 'What do you mean 'expire'? This is ticket for train - not a medicine that will expire' I said, and all people around me burst out laughing, even that smelly dude who was standing beside me (lucky bastard got a seat somewhere along the journey!) The TC was not amused. He gave me a cold look and said, 'Okay smart guy. Enough of your jokes. Now pay the fine.' This drama went on for a few more minutes. Now I was getting well into the groove. I was arguing with the TC, showed him that the ticket was mine, showed him my name, the destination station name etc. (everything except the date) Then the TC showed me the date, and I tried my best at looking confused. I managed a frightened, innocent look, and quietly asked the TC, 'Now what should I do uncle? I didn't know it works like this.' I am not sure now, but I think I also managed to squeeze out a tear or two as well.
Now the TC looked confused. Perhaps my acting looked so genuine that he was convinced that I wasn't lying. He said that I'll have to buy another pass. Said it's called 'renewal' of the pass, and I should check the expiry date each time and make sure to buy a renewal when the date is nearing. I thanked him a lot, said I'll never repeat this mistake again. He smiled, then asked me - 'New to Mumbai?' Of course yes! I would be a fool to say no now. Guess what, I told him that ever since I've come here, I have not met as helpful a person as him - explaining everything about tickets to a poor village fellow like me. In the village in Bihar from where I come, people are not this helpful. 'But how did you realise I wasn't from Mumbai?' I asked him just for the sake of asking. 'Well, the way you hid your pass told me that', he said like a wise old chap. I wasn't sure if that was a compliment or not. But I was relieved that this stupid habit came to some use at least.
'Tickets please', and he was moving ahead. 'Uncle, what about the fine?' I asked again innocently. 'Never mind', he said, 'In Mumbai, we welcome Bihari baabus as guests - I cannot accept fines from our guest. Namashkar'.