My friends tend to look askance at my morals. Charges range from repeatedly flicking toothpaste from my neighbour’s room under the cover of dark to being the prime suspect in the mystery of the missing donut in the snacketaria (for an admission of guilt, read this carefully)
However, even my most fervid accusers would not believe that I would go so far as to arouse the ire of the custodians of the law. Ten years down the line, I may not be the model citizen that they point out to their children, but they will also not expect a call from me in the middle of the night asking if they could ride down to the nearest police station and help me out with the little matter of posting a bail. But creating that impression was a close thing. There was almost a time I was thrown behind bars.
It was to be my first weekend in college, and I decided to go home only in the last minute, and hurried to book the train ticket for my return journey before grabbing the last seat in a bus with a bunch of my friends for the onward journey. The observant reader, when told that I had purchased a ticket for Sunday night on Friday night, might immediately have wondered how it had been available. Aided by wisdom of the passing years, this is a line of thought I myself would now take, but that had been my first time booking a train ticket, and I didnt know the difference between a confirmed, RAC or waitlisted ticket. Although I was mildly puzzled by the fact that there was no clear indication of a berth number, I took it in good faith that the railways would sort that out once I boarded the train.
Aboard the train, that fateful Sunday night, I ran into a guy I’d met only a few days earlier at college, and asked him if he knew how I could locate my berth. He looked my ticket over and told me that being a waitlisted ticket, mine didnt qualify for a berth, but offered to locate the TTR (ticket checking, youth terrorizing, all powerful demigods of the Indian Railways as I was about to discover) and find out what could be done. When we caught hold of one, he was ready to get off the train, his run of duty apparently over. He wearily informed me that I would not be allotted a berth, and that I wasnt even allowed to enter the coach without a confirmed ticket. However, the other guy stepped up at this point and asked if we could share a berth. The TTR nodded, and stepped off the train, his destination apparently having arrived.
All this happened in a flash, before either of us could consider the implications. However, as the train pulled away from the station, it dawned on us that either of us, could have comfortably taken up entire berths by ourselves and still have an arm or a leg hanging out. A person of average common sense would not believe that both of us could fit into one berth. However, neither of us had average common sense, we were young, budding engineers and so did not give up lightly. After a sizeable period of considered thought and calculations (and a lot more twisting and squirming), we accomplished the miracle of fitting both our abundunt forms into his upper berth.
Luckily though, we didnt have to sleep that way for long, as a scandalized policeman who noticed us asked me to get back to my berth. But when I explained my situation, he grunted sympathetically and pointed out an empty berth and said I could take that one for the night.
I extracted myself from my friend’s berth, plonked onto the vaccant one, and promptly fell into a blissful, deep sleep. I awoke sometime later to find a policeman (a different one), flanked by an agitated TTR shaking me. As I cleared the sleep clouding my brain with great difficulty, I found the TTR asking me who I was. I offered helpfully that I was a passenger. The TTR immediately asked for my ticket. When he saw it, he fell into a fit of rage. He asked me to get off the berth and took me near a vestibule and began shouting at me for stealing berths and briefcases or something like that. I tried explaining how I’d landed there, but he just snarled and said I was lying, and asked the policeman with him to file an FIR against me at the next station!
It turned out that the TTR had been robbed the previous night aboard a train, and that was the reason he had the beefy guard with him, and also why he was so keen to see another thief (me!) punished. Normally, I might have even laughed at my situation at that point, but the prospect of an FIR does not allow a man any room for humour. He does not sit back, smile and shake his head. He feels an frantic urge for action, to do all he can prevent to save his backside.
And so, I ran to the bay where my friend was sleeping, closely followed by the cop, who must have thought I was making a dash for it. I shook my friend awake around 1 30 in the night and told him that ‘the TTR thinks I am lying’. Of course he didnt understand a word, and tried to go back to sleep, but I managed to drag him off to the TTR and got him to testify.
When he finished, I even suggested a simple fine to soothe the matter over, but the TTR was still not satisfied. He was apparently still in detective mode from when his things had been pinched the previous day. He asked us how we knew the person who told us we could share a berth was a TTR, I told him that he’d been wearing the same uniform. But this really pissed him off, because apparently not everyone who wore the uniform was a TTR- some sort of purity of heart and high class of intellect among other things was required. At this point my friend took over and assured him that we now realised that there were several other qualities one needed before he could hope to be a TTR, and it was our mistake that we didnt realise that earlier. Untill this point we’d been speaking the truth, but when we began ‘admitting’ to mistakes on the lines of Guantanamo Bay prisoners, the TTR began to cool off. Finally when the person on whose berth I’d apparently slept in came up and said it was alright considering we were just students (a card we would play several times to get out of trouble over the four years of college), the TTR relented and let us go, and even gave me an empty berth to sleep in.
And it took me a couple of days after that to lose the feeling that I was a hardened criminal out on bail.