It is impossible to get a ticket in May for Mumbai.
The story begins a little earlier though. It was in March that we tried to book our tickets to Mumbai from Goa. No tickets in sleeper class were available on any of the direct trains, viz. the Matsyagandha, the Mumbai Express, or the Konkan Kanya. These have always been our preferred trains since they depart from Margao in the late evening and reach early next morning.
I decided to take a devious route when there were still tickets available. So I booked on the Goa Express to Pune. I also booked a connecting train from Pune to Panvel. From Panvel it is a short ride on the Harbour line to Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, where we have a small hideout of our own.
The trip was fraught with misgiving. Considering the uncertainty of the times, the reigning wisdom about the journey was, ‘We’ll see.’ The assumption was that we could always try Tatkal quota. However, going by past experience, I had scant regard for Tatkal as it always seems to be rigged - which is why ‘GE’ was my Plan B.
When May came around and it became clear the trip was on, I kept checking the Indian railways website for more options. No tickets were in sight.
Tatkal was the only option left. On the previous day I sat at my system at 10.30 a.m. keeping vigil for the internet booking which begins at 11 a.m. for the sleeper class. Just before 11 came around I received a terse message saying ‘Timed out.’ This meant I had to log in to my account again. When I tried to do so the captcha (access code) was so complicated that several attempts went by unsuccessfully.
Precious minutes ticked by. I was about to book my ticket when a line in red informed me that only two tickets could be booked for Tatkal between 10 a.m. to 12 midday from any given internet address. This defeated my purpose as we were three of us travelling. My sister in Pune called to say the ‘Master List’ of passengers failed to open. When it did we were already waitlisted at 21. She asked me if I wanted the tickets. I said ‘No.’
I was thanking my stars we had made alternate travelling arrangements. Flight tickets were in the region of eleven thousand for the three of us, which did not make any sense.
The Goa Express reached Pune at its scheduled time of 3.55 a.m. Instead of the connecting Nanded-Panvel Express on which we were booked -- and which was scheduled to leave at 6.20 a.m.-- we opted to head out to Kharghar by road. The ride on the Pune-Mumbai Expressway was exhilarating. We left at 5.15 a.m. and were home by 7.15 a.m. This included a 20 minute tea break at Lonavla which the driver decided he wanted, while we sat fuming in the car. The train would have got us into Panvel station at 9 a.m.
Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 28 May 2017. Pix by self of dawn breaking on the Pune-Mumbai Expressway on 22 May 2017.