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Sunday, 7 October 2012

A Perilous Journey

Mum, Munch (that was what Sanam was now affectionately called) and I left for Pune to pack up house for the posting to Jamnagar. We travelled from Gorakhpur to Delhi by train where my father-in-law was at the station to pick us up. He took us home to Sheikh Sarai to freshen up and say a quick hello to the rest of the family before dropping us to the airport. We unexpectedly bumped into Sandip's young cousin Akash, who was also on his way to Pune to join a college there and who turned out to be booked on the very same flight.
We checked in our baggage and were just hanging around waiting for further announcements when we heard our flight number being called as cancelled! There was an immediate mad rush of humanity towards the counter, all demanding explanations or refunds. I tried to elbow my way through the hysterical throng to get some clarity on the situation, but was quite unsuccessful so beat a dishevelled retreat with a wailing baby in my arms.
In all this confusion we found we had another attachment to our group in the shape of a Mona who was newly pregnant and joining her army husband to give him the good news. She was travelling alone, so nervously asked if she could tag along with us to which suggestion we readily and happily agreed.
After about fifteen minutes of chaos it was announced that those without checked in luggage could board another flight en route to Bombay. I made fluttery eyes at the hassled young man who was waving his arms around, frantically trying to get the attention of  irate passengers, and begged him to let me board as I was alone with my baby. He looked at me sympathetically and told me to quickly identify my baggage and go for security check. He was astounded when I looked over my shoulder and shrieked for Mum, Akash and Mona to quickly join up and we marched past a now glaring attendant to board the aircraft and plonk ourselves into our seats. We had no idea if our luggage had been loaded or not and none of us were familiar with Bombay so were nervous about landing there late at night, but when we finally deplaned we were relieved to see all our bags bobbing along on the conveyor belt. 
The people behind the help desk at the airport advised us to make our way to Dadar from where we would get a taxi to take us the rest of the way to Pune. We trundled off into the night and got a cab without any trouble so settled back for the next leg of the journey.
As soon as the last of the twinkling city lights faded into the distance our driver suddenly pulled over to the side of the road saying we had a puncture. Within minutes another cab pulled up behind us which made Mum and I stare at each other in frozen terror as  thoughts of rape, robbery and murder played havoc in our minds. Our chap quickly reassured us that it was just a friend from the same taxi stand who would help change the wheel. The task at hand was quickly attended to and without further delay we continued on our way.
Our sighs of relief were short lived because as soon as we drove into the winding hill roads of the Western Ghats we found ourselves stuck in the middle of a dreadful traffic jam. We were immobile for over an hour with the truck parked alongside blaring the latest Bollywood music. My little Munch decided to stand up in my lap and dance in time to the cacophony much to the amusement of the scruffy looking men in the vehicle.
Once we started to move again we realised much to our exasperation that our good driver was pulling off the road again, this time to help his mate whom we had met earlier, whose taxi  was now the one with a flat.
By this time we were quite numbed with exhaustion so when the cabbie said he would like to stop at a roadside 'dhabba' for a quick cup of tea we readily agreed. As he swaggered into the dimly lit shack we heard him bellowing at someone in the darkness to bring him some 'afeem'. Mum goggled at me in shock and horror and whispered that we had been travelling all this way with an opium addict. I just told her that he had bought us this far so it would most probably be alright, and in any case there was not much we could do about the crazy situation we were in.
As the outskirts of Pune emerged in the early light of dawn we dropped Mona off at the army base and then Akash was deposited at the bus stand to further make his way to college. We drove into Lohegaon Air Force Station at five o'clock in the morning and had to ring the doorbell vigorously for a few minutes before a sleepy Sandip came doddering out to let us in.
I stared at him in indignation and  demanded to know how he could sleep when for all intents and purposes we had disappeared off the face of the earth. He calmly said he had telephoned Pa when he heard the flight was cancelled and was informed that we had been safely dropped off at the airport. When there was no more  news he assumed we were making our way home and was not worried since he knew I would manage everything one way or another.