Jet lag Versus “Mal Gaddi –lag”
By Rashmi Talwar
I remember arriving back from America and facing the proverbial jet lag that could sap the strength out of anyone, but nothing could beat the “travel fatigue” after the”longest Train journey for the Shortest distance” in the world — from Amritsar to Lahore or vice versa .
Mind you, the distance between Amritsar –Lahore –the twin cities (before partition) is just 60 kilometers from each other and merely “3 Kms” apart from each others border and not thousands of Kms.
However when I arrived back from Lahore just before the deadly twin blasts in capital of West Punjab, my family heaved a sigh of relief. Seeing my groggy appearance for the second day after arrival they broke into peels of laughter and commented “lookan nu JET LAG honda hai tuhanu “mal gaddi –lag” (goods train) hoya hai ”
The Samjhauta Express train between the two countries may be the “train of emotions” for those who were separated during partition but surely the “Samjhauta-Compromise” is all for real on every front, even if it means the dubious distinction of being a train for smuggling. But for many of us the ground reality saw emotions of a different kind—of endless wait, rushing, grabbing, queuing, minor scuffles along with hunger pangs and hot tempers.
Due to the sizeable number of our group our journey from Lahore to Amritsar started at 6 am to reach Lahore station. Formalities of passports, tickets et al done, the train finally started at 8 am.
As the first “International” train between India and Pakistan chugged along the railway track towards Wagah (village in Pakistan on border ) the nearly 25 Kms of journey to border took more than one and half hour in a third class compartment .
On reaching Wagah, entire baggage of passengers was downloaded for immigration and customs.
“Helter-skelter ran people looking for baggage trolleys standing in long queues. After another set of formalities, people struggled to get back to their seats but nothing remained in the name of seats!” All were occupied or laden with baggage. The passage-ways full of sacks and assorted luggage.
Weary and hungry, a bottle of coke with pack of biscuits was all that I could manage to grab from the lone vendor at Wagah station. No sooner did some eye the goodies and what remained was the ‘transparent’ bottle and a biscuit cover. After that no one dared to open the “meager morsels” that they stored for onward journey.
Perched precariously on baggage it was a ‘rock-n-roll’ experience. Painstakingly, the train departed at about 2 pm to be again halted near border gates. Emotions ran high in fascination to see BSF personnel gracefully riding a horse alongside the train.
For those with cameras the snail’s pace proved a boon as pristine rural landscapes on either side were caught for posterity in ‘unblurred’ picture frames. Many prayed post crossing the Radcliffe railway line while many were amused as police personnel on duty offered them handsome exchange currency!
The situation was no better with cumbersome customs and immigration at Attari “International” Railway station on the Indian side. Again the race for trolleys–with only 200 of them for nearly 500 alighting passengers– Minor scuffles and hot words ensued– At about 5 .30 pm I managed to reach my waiting family outside the station. Ordeal of nearly 12-hours over, some aptly commented “what can you expect with a rail ticket on Indian side costing measly Rs 18 but surely the Pakistani side could do better with a Lahore to Attari ticket at Rs 100 (Pakistani)”, some smiled. My last remembrance would be the ‘mal’ arrived in the ‘gaddi’ and the ‘lag’ followed ……………..eom