Kids Corner









As my mother is a school teacher, our trips to India to visit family are timed to coincide with the summer break at her school.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, there couldn’t be a worse time to visit India.

For example, on one of such trips about five years ago, I remember thinking that New Delhi closely resembled an excavation site. The streets were even more packed than usual due to the construction of buildings for the Commonwealth Games. Between the construction of arenas and stadiums, and the renovation of existing city streets, there was an immense build-up of dirt and garbage that clogged the already congested roads.

It was a wet and sticky mid-August evening in New Delhi. Our month-long trip was nearing its end, when we found out some devastating news.

I still remember that evening as clearly as if it was yesterday. My mum, maasi (mother’s sister) and maami (aunt; mother’s brother’s wife) were sitting in Guru Maama’s (mother’s brother; the younger one of two) bedroom in the ground floor apartment that we had rented because my Naana and Naani (maternal grandfather and grandmother) were renovating their house.

All three women were huddled together and hunched up, busy deciding on what  salwar-kameez suits should be given to the master ji (that’s how we referred to our tailor; an abbreviation of tailor-master) for stitching, so that my mom could take them with her back to Canada. (This was a typical close to any trip. All our trips to India always ended with numerous trips to the ‘Master ji’).

Guru Maama who had taken Amma ji (the family’s long-time nanny) to the doctor’s that afternoon, came in shrouded in sadness and told us that the lump on Amma ji’s breast was possibly cancerous.

Amma ji hadn’t told any of us about this lump till just that morning. When asked why she had kept us in the dark, she said that she really believed that it would go away. Guru Maama had booked an appointment with the family doctor for that afternoon itself.

The news changed everything so quickly.

Without saying another word, the tailoring plans were put aside. Since I was still young I did not really understand the magnitude of what was going on. However, I do remember waking up that night to find my mum sitting on the living room sofa crying inconsolably. I remember the heat in the living room being oppressive, and when I approached her she asked me to go back to sleep.

The next morning Mom decided to take Amma ji to visit The Golden Temple (Harmandar Sahib in Amritsar, Punjab). My Dad, Guru Maama and I said we wanted to go as well. We booked the first available train tickets and prepared for the journey.

Maama had to see after some work and said he would get someone from his office to pick up the tickets and that he would meet us at the station directly.

The ride to the station was harrowingly long. On the best days, New Delhi’s roads are congested beyond belief. Then, when it rains, the sewage systems blocks up and people have to wade through a knee-deep mixture of garbage and water the colour and consistency of molasses. As a child, even though I was horrified with this slow-moving river of dirty water, I still remember being somewhat fascinated by it. Since the roads of the entire city, had been dug up for the Games, we were perennially stuck in chaos. The traffic just wouldn’t move in any direction. There was no escaping it.

My already tired and frustrated mother started to panic.

I remember my mom calling my Maama at every five-minute interval to check his status quo. He was stuck in traffic as well. With every phone call, Mom was getting more and more anxious. I pitied my Maama who had the job of reassuring her. It was either because of his optimism or his desire to keep her calm, but he kept saying he was but ‘five minutes away‘.

I remember running through the railway station with my backpack on, forging my way through a sea of people with my dad. My mom, who was holding Amma ji's hand, was not far behind.

Frantically, we searched for the train compartment number my maama had given us on the phone. And just as we entered our cabin, the train started to leave the platform. The temporary relief at having made our train quickly evaporated as we looked around and realized that my maama had not made the train and he was the one who had our tickets!

Now, the four of us sat on the train which was filled to capacity, travelling ticketless. Our nerves were rattled; the heat and the stress of the ride to the station did nothing to help. My mom was visibly shaken and travelling without Guru Maama made her feel vulnerable and unsafe.

None of the four of us (my Mom, Dad, Amma ji and I) knew how to conduct ourselves and handle or negotiate with the train staff. Half an hour into the journey, we saw the ticket collector checking and scanning all the passengers’ tickets a short distance away, gradually making his way towards us. A shiver went down our spines and our adrenaline was through the roof.

Soon, it was our turn. The ticket collector approached us. The man curtly asked for our train tickets. My dad took him aside and started to explain the situation. We had bought tickets, he told the man, except … The man flat-out refused to listen to my dad who was trying to be as reasonable and composed as he possibly could.

“Bhai Sahib”, I could hear Dad saying repeadly, “Please try and understand”.

Another ticket collector joined in. The same questions were asked and the same explanations were given. Their voices were getting louder. Other passengers in the compartment had stopped what they were doing and were listening in on the conversation. People sitting close by started asking my mother what the problem was. Some were sympathetic to our plight; after all, we looked pretty respectable. For others, we were entertainment.

When I saw my mother leave the seat to join my dad, I knew it was a terrible idea. Her stress had been building since yesterday. I knew she was in no condition to negotiate. And it soom became evident that neither of the ticket collectors appreciated a woman’s interference.

Soon enough there was a full blown confrontation and the men were yelling at mom and dad and were threatening to throw us off the train at the next stop. All the while my mother insisting that she didn’t want to wait, that she wanted them to stop the train right there and then, so that we could get off.

I was in a state of panic now. Amma ji was trying to calm me down by holding my hand in hers. I really didn’t think getting off the train was a good idea. It had started raining. The dark sky made everything look menacing. I hadn’t travelled much in India. Being stranded in the middle of nowhere was not my idea of adventure.

I did the only thing I could think off. In fact, I think it was Amma ji’s idea … I called Guru Maama on the cell phone and told him what was happening. He asked me to go to the train staff and give the phone to him.

As much as I disliked approaching those adults, I had no choice. I headed to my mom and gave the phone to her. After listening to her brother, she handed the phone to the cantankerous train employee.

It is still a mystery what exactly transpired in that conversation. To me it seemed like magic. The man didn’t seem angry anymore. He was listening very intently. He took out some slips of paper from his satchel and scribbled on them -- they will work as temporary tickets, he said, looking at my dad, pointedly avoiding my mother’s eyes. My mother was still struggling with her anger. But thankfully, she was quiet. We all were.

The other passengers looked on for another moment and then went back to their own private conversations. 

Everything was figured out in that phone call. We were finally on our way to the Darbar Sahib.

I was sleepy now; the tiredness from the day’s events was setting in. I think it was about three or four stops later that I woke up, as I heard someone calling out my dad’s name loudly.

My mom was on the phone with my older maama, narrating to him what had transpired and what exactly she thought of the men she was dealing with, when a young, slim Sardar entered our train compartment and called out my dad’s name.

He handed us an envelope with four tickets in it. He shook dad’s hand and as he left, the train started to move again.

To Be Continued …

August 31, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), August 31, 2015, 4:21 PM.

Gatika, what a whiff of fresh air! You are probably among the rare young girls to wield the pen so effectively. Now, Gatika, still biting nails - How did the young slim Sardar produce the tickets from thin air?

2: Malinder Kaur (California, USA), September 01, 2015, 12:58 AM.

Gitika, I'm impressed by your attention to detail and your choice of words. Your writings paint a picture in the reader's mind. I see a great writer and journalist in the making here. Keep it up.

3: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), September 01, 2015, 8:41 PM.

I think we've all been there. Anyone who travels to India is met by this extraordinary anarchy and surreal nightmare of seeing and meeting zombies who have no manners or decency. It's no wonder they've turned a breathtaking part of the planet into a gigantic toilet and torture chamber.

4: Ishnan Kaur (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), September 02, 2015, 11:00 AM.

Lovely story, Gitika. I wait impatiently for the next instalment of the scene you put on hold. What an "adventure" and a treat this trip must have been.

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