So, it was a group of 19 students and a couple of professors who were bid goodbye by a small group of parents on a rather sultry day in January from Chennai Central.
The train moved on, we sang, pulled each other’s legs and had the usual fun college going students have. We had the dinner we had brought along. I started to feign sleep by 11 pm and told everyone that I wanted to sleep. Well I didn’t want to sleep actually because it was my birthday the next day and I knew a cake was eagerly waiting for me to cut it. But I didn’t want to spoil the surprise my friends had planned. So, with my eyes tightly shut, I tried to show off that I was in a deep sleep least no one suspect.
Just a few minutes before 12, people tried to wake me up but I didn’t budge. K moved me, B called out my name in my ears but to no avail. Slowly after many efforts, I got up, I yawned, stretched out my hands as though woken up from a deep slumber and then seemed pleasantly pleased and surprised at the cake in front of me. My dear classmates till date don’t know that I was awake all the while… Don’t you think I could be a good actor???. For the first time in my life, I cut my birthday cake in a moving train.
Cakes and sweets done, we all went off to sleep finally (this time in reality) unaware of what lay ahead of us at the camp. Morning we were woken up by the captain. Let me introduce Captain before I proceed. Captain comes from a family wherein the entire family is dedicated to serving the nation (Police/Army). No wonder now he is in the Navy himself. So before I say anything about him, I have to say the customary salute to him as we always do in our friends circle. So, with full reverence, I say aloud “Salute Captain”.
Now, Captain in college time was the taskmaster. He was the one who managed each and every IV beautifully. Every single detail from booking the bus, booking tickets, accommodation to food, sightseeing, used to be taken care by him. So, while we coolly boarded the bus/train to the destination, he did all the running around. Mind you, he enjoyed every bit of it. However, if we ever happened to get in his way/do something that we shouldn’t have done we got to hear the choicest of words, otherwise known as gaali in Hindi. Girls were spared up to 40% while guys were spared 0%. This tour too without exception, Captain managed everything along with T (T being the class rep at that time). A cook from the college mess was arranged to cook for the 6 days of the camp (the remaining four days were to be spent in Secunderabad). Groceries and all other supplies, including cooking also was successfully managed by the Captain without a glitch.
Coming back to the present, we woke up and by the time we could come to our senses, one of our rather “high profile” professor announced we should get down at the coming station and catch the local train to Bhongir (the destination for the Survey Camp) and then, there was mayhem. We had brought along many types of survey equipment for the 19 of us to be used in the camp and these equipment weighed a tonne literally. Have you seen these queer looking instruments by the roadside with people looking into them trying to detect a target.
We had similar ones. Captain took charge, all the instruments were brought near the door. Girls were advised to carry their bags and leave the rest, the guys would take care as the stop was short at this particular station. So, out jumped the girls followed by the guys forming a chain to pass on the stuff. (At that time, I really thanked God that I didn’t have to pass/carry those heavy stuff around).
Now, our same great professor told that we would have to go to another platform to catch the local train to Bhongir. This prof came year after year to the Camp and was well acquainted with the place and the route. So, with all bag and baggage and of course the instruments we moved to the one as directed by our Prof. We waited for another 1/2 an hour there. Finally, they announced the platform number and yes, you guessed it right “We were at the wrong platform”. You can’t trust Indian Railways to allow the train to arrive at the same platform year after year right. So, it was run, run again.
I was literally dragged to the other platform in spite of my legs not helping me in anyway and was almost out of breath by the time I reached the train door. I sat down in the train and came to normal while the guys were again loading the instruments into the train.
Finally after an hour of travel, we reached Bhongir. We got down, flagged down some share autos and reached the survey camp without much ado. The survey camp is set over a large area with no buildings and has only tents as the living quarters. The guys (13 of them) were showed one big tent and the girls (6 of us) were showed another smaller version.
We were told the bathroom was on the backside of the tent and the toilets were outside. The toilets were one big piece of cloth wrapped around 4 poles in rectangular shape and with a khula aasmaan on the top and khula gadda on the vertically opposite side. This is the girls toilet, for guys, I hope you will understand. They don’t need one right. With a lot of skepticism and not being used to such a environment, we tried to settle down. There was only one bulb in the tent and the floor had been layered with clay to even up the space. We chose our corners and put away our stuff and got ready for the day. The water had to be fetched from the tap a little away from the tent. So, we got our buckets and started to get ready for the day one-by-one. However, the guys had to take bath under the tap itself (no special treatment for them :)).
The cook had by then setup the kitchen and vegetables and other things had been procured from the nearby market. So, we got to have our lunch too. Post lunch, we were given a short briefing by the surveyor-in-charge about the plans for the rest of the 5 days. We were then divided into four groups and dispatched along with four instructors/surveyors to start our tasks. So, we marched to the surrounding hill tops (including the bhongir fort) to start the survey work.
Day 1 passed off without much problems. We called up our parents in the evening from the local STD booth (those were times when we didn’t have cellphones). The surveyor-in-charge. also took a class for us (Night time post dinner and class…. yawn!!!). We had some fun around the bonfire and winded up soon as it got chilly. Sleeping on the clay layered floor and added to it the chilly weather inside and outside of the tent, sleep eluded most of us 😦 but maybe the tiredness got the better of us and finally all of us drifted off to sleep unaware that we would be meeting a ghost the next day …
To be continued …
P.S. “Nee illai endral vaazhkaiyil illai vaanavillay.. Un mugam parthu sooriyan sirithu ezhunthathinggay….” This was a popular tamil song at that time from the movie Dheena.