Saturday, May 10, 2008

Soft Luggage, Hard Times

As I boarded the Shatabdi Express recently - from Delhi to Chandigarh - memories of an earlier trip flashed by - a trip I would rather forget.

Some years back, as the Shatabdi Express rolled out of the platform early that morning, I swung my luggage onto the overhead rack and proceeded to make up my lost sleep.

About an hour later, my blissful rest was disrupted by a big commotion.Policemen were all over the train, scurrying around and shouting. I looked up to ensure that my blue soft luggage had not vanished in the pandemonium. Oh, it sure had! Baggage theft must be the cause of the commotion I quickly surmised.My heart pounded as I jumped out of my seat and rushed to the policemen, saying that my luggage too was stolen.

"Stolen,indeed!" scowled the policeman, "what kind of luggage did you have? Something that can blowup everybody here, including you?" In my sleepy and agitated state I did not understand what he meant and why he was being so rude. But,I made a valiant attempt to describe my luggage.

Meanwhile, a large number of people gathered all around, all with hostile looks. One person said, "look at him coolly admitting that he is the culprit." Another volunteered with , "arrest him before he can detonate it!" An elderly passenger, pointing his walking stick at me said "do you want to enact the Burning Train here?"

Finally, the policeman caught me by the arm and took me roughly to the last compartment of the vestibule train.I just went along in a confused state of mind."That is my luggage",I exclaimed as I lunged to grab my precious possession.

The policeman said " not so fast, my friend first your identity". He was bemused to see my business card, driving licence and credit cards. He then wanted to know what was inside the luggage. I described the contents as well as I could, because it was really my wife who had packed. He then asked me to open it, and cautioned everybody around to keep away. When I opened it nonchalantly, he was nonplussed.He rummaged through the contents gingerly but appeared satisfied.

Then, it was my turn to take the upper hand. I asked "May i know what this tamasha is all about?".That angered the policeman again."We have been trying to identify the owner of this luggage for more than an hour",he screamed. "What were you doing all this while?". I meekly told him that I was fast asleep and was not aware of any procedure for baggage identification on the train, for I had passed through the metal detector and baggage screening at the New Delhi station itself.

For it was during the time when Punjab was troubled.Policemen and sniffer dogs accompanied trains.Dogs looked for explosives while policemen sniffed for suspicious characters and abandoned baggage. I was happy I was able to get through them all, with my luggage intact.

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