Southern Sojourn-3

The night before, we landed in Bengaluru on a chilly, drizzling November morning by 22692 Nizamuddin Bangalore City Rajdhani Express, we were concerned about conducting our morning ablutions the next day. Should we book into some Oyo outfit before jumping into the Innova for the day-long meetings? Or what?

Our two-hour-long wait at the Secunderabad Railway Station due to the delayed arrival of our train to the Cyber Capital the previous day gave us time to explore the washroom in the paid waiting hall on the concourse. “(It was) decent, neat and clean,” reported Syed Kausar Hussain, my travel companion. I did inspect and agreed with his assessment.

On landing, we decided to explore the paid waiting hall at the Bangalore City Station. There were two: one at Rs.100/hour and another at Rs.45. Not much difference in terms of facilities except the higher priced facility was near the staircase on the first floor. We opted for, you know, which one. All we need for less than an hour is to brush, bathe, change clothes, and scoot. One after the other, assuming there was no crowd outside the solitary washroom.

We entered, registered at the booking counter near the entrance, and found all seats were occupied. Many were in a deep sleep. Some were snoring. A few couples sat on the steel benches, unable to find a better place to park themselves for a few hours, perhaps.

We dumped our belongings, juggled out our dental care items, change of clothes, bathing soap, and a towel to dry ourselves post-bath. We strategically hoisted ourselves hardly five feet from the washroom door, so we could do a Usain Bolt the moment the gateway opened up! There was none in sight to compete. A big relief.

I was inside before the previous occupant could switch from a towel to a pair of pants and a shirt after exiting the washroom. Hot water was a blessing. Kausar rushed in quickly after I completed the task. There was a long queue when he came out. We managed to beat the peak hour rush!

While settling the bill at the counter, we noticed the rates were dirt cheap. Imagine you land in the city where you know none. An Oyo would set you back by a thousand plus, including 18% GST. Here, a neat, clean, airconditioned hall at Rs.45 for the first hour and Rs.30 per hour. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation revealed that at less than Rs.1,000, the stranded passenger gets a secured night stay. If one is lucky, they get the full sofa for at least 6–7 hours. Stretch out and sleep. Dirt cheap. Of course, no soft or hard pillows and no blanket to cover oneself. Who carries this stuff on travel?

Many who can unafford even this tariff can sleep anywhere on the station premises free of cost. The entire station is spick and span. I swear. I had slept at many junctions in the erstwhile Madras state while traveling with my maternal grandfather in the 1960s on landing at our destination at Godforsaken time. Our stuffed clothes bag served as pillows. No wheeled suitcases those days. No Oyos. No bed & breakfast model. Assuming such facilities were available then, we could not have afforded. India of the early 1960s with the Socialist Nehru occupying the badi kursi in Delhi and US President Lyndon Johnson dispatching shiploads of wheat under the PL480 to feed the hungry and famished Indians.

Even today, hundreds of them are spread on the concourse or platforms waiting for train hours together. Unmindful of what passersby may think. Who cares? Once at the Thanjavur station concourse, a stray dog ran away with one of my grandpa’s slippers. He left the other and walked barefoot until we knocked on the doors of his elder brother’s house after an hour’s ride on the town bus. It is not about cost saving but the joy of experiencing turning into an aam aadmi, brushing aside one’s ego for a short while.

Noticing a middle-aged couple debating which one to choose — Rs.100/hour wala or Rs.45 wala? — to freshen up before stepping out in the maddening Bengaluru city roads, I politely told them: “This one,” pointing to the Rs.45/hour type, “is good. Go for it.” Referral.

“Are you coming from railway station directly?” quizzed my host on seeing us at his door and added, “You look fresh. How come?” Kausar and I looked at each other and laughed to share our tale.

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