Being a defence officer is no joke, for it is not easy to get there and neither is it easy to stay there. It takes a lot of time and patience to leave your family, friends, love etc. behind and adjust to the difficult conditions.
Sometimes it takes a few months while sometimes it takes years before you get to meet your loved ones again.
Same was the case with me. I had visited my hometown in May 2017, almost 140 days ago. Fortunately, I was lucky to get this opportunity again. I want to share my journey back home, which was adventurous but with a happy ending.
I’d been posted to another state starting December, which meant that I wouldn't be able to go home for the next three years. This was the only month I could get my leave. I had been trying really hard to apply for leave to meet my family who was waiting for my homecoming. But every time it turned out to be a disappointment, as my leave application would get rejected.
I felt disheartened and had no option but to go to work, as I went every day, with my head held high for the job I’d been doing for years.
I kept trying for leave for almost 45 days. On 13th October, I had the early morning shift. I got dressed and went to work at 4.00 AM. I tried my luck again, as I’d been doing ever since I was informed about the transfer.
And thankfully, my leave was sanctioned for 19 precious days. My long-awaited wish was finally going to come true! My shift ended at around 2.00 PM and I rushed back to my room. I had not booked tickets to my hometown due to the uncertainty of getting leave.
I quickly freshened up and had my lunch. I tried to book tickets online and started packing simultaneously. By then, it was 5.30 PM. I had to take a train from Gwalior to Nizamuddin railway station and the only train available was the Shatabdi express. I booked it.
Then I booked air tickets from Delhi to Bangalore for the next morning at 5.45 AM. Everything that followed was totally unexpected.
My trip back home turned out to be an adventurous journey and a bittersweet experience like never before.
I had to board the train at 7.44 PM from Gwalior. I left my room and reached the main gate of the defence camp around 7.33PM. I boarded an auto to reach the railway station as quickly as possible. The driver was a familiar guy and I bribed him to jump all the traffic signals and take the shortest route, though I knew it was wrong.
When we reached the station, I realized that I did not have any change to pay the driver. I gave him my number and ensured him that I’d pay him by any means at the earliest. He agreed after looking at my helpless state.
By the time I reached the entrance of the station, I was sweating badly and my t-shirt had become wet. Just as I tried to catch my breath, I saw my train leaving at a fast pace.
I was almost in tears but I ran with my entire luggage in an effort to board the train. However, it was all in vain.
Several thoughts ran through my head as I tried to figure a way to reach Delhi. I thought of booking a cab to the next station to board the same train. Unfortunately, I knew it was practically impossible. So I decided to go by bus to Delhi and I booked the bus ticket.
I had almost boarded the bus when a stranger came by and told me not to take the bus, as it never reached in time. He suggested the Dakshin Express and also gave me the train details, which I still have saved on my phone. I took his suggestions and thanked him.
When I asked the conductor of the bus to cancel my ticket and refund the amount, he argued but I refused to leave without the refund. Ultimately, he ended up paying me 90% of the ticket amount.
As I headed back to the railway station, I felt helpless and disappointed. I was certain that all my efforts would go down the drain. However, I couldn’t quit. Instead, I tried various things to calm myself.
I sat down with my head bent low as tension overpowered my initial excitement.
Meanwhile, a guardian angel came and sat beside me. He patted my back and his gesture made me feel comfortable. I introduced myself to him and explained the whole incident. He told me not to worry and guided me towards another train that left for Nizamuddin at 10.45 PM and reached at 4.05 AM.
Since I had to board my flight at 5.45 AM, I'd barely get any time between the train and flight journey. I was in a messed up state. I was confused between cancelling the flight ticket and going ahead with the booked one.
But something within encouraged me to give it a try, hoping that things would work out. I didn't lose hope.
I prepared myself to have dinner. I bought some snacks and stuffed them in my mouth. Then I drank some water and tried to stay calm. I waited patiently for the train to arrive. Luckily, the weather was normal and the train arrived at 10.50 PM with a delay of just 10 minutes. I had not booked the ticket and directly boarded the train.
I was ready to pay any amount of penalty, as long as I could reach Nizamuddin on time.
I finally paid my penalty and managed to get a seat. I struggled due to lack of sleep. I had not closed my eyes for a single minute since 3.00 AM and my hectic day did not seem to end. Though my eyes were feeling the irritation, I did not want to sleep.
I washed my face a million times and even tried listening to songs just to keep myself awake. I kept tracking the train status to be aware of any possible delay.
Amidst all this, I met a gentleman, Kabir, my co-passenger. I introduced myself to him and narrated the series of incidents that had happened before I’d boarded the train. Talking to him helped divert my mind.
He was very helpful and I'll remain ever thankful to him. Around 10 minutes before the train could reach Nizamuddin railway station, I booked a cab. I called the driver and handed over the phone to Kabir who explained my situation and asked about his whereabouts in the colloquial language.
I knew how difficult my life would have been had Kabir not helped me. It would have taken me forever to explain things to the driver and ages for him to understand the same.
I thanked Kabir for his support and bid him goodbye with a hug. I noted his contact number and promised that I’d reach home and give him a call. The train reached my destination and I ran to find the cab.
I rushed like a storm and found my cab waiting for me. I sat inside and requested the driver to reach the airport at the earliest. He drove as fast as he could at 100 km/h. There was not much traffic since it was early in the morning.
Luck favoured me and I was able to reach the airport at 4.40 AM. My counter was to close at 4.45 AM. I skipped the queue at the airport entrance. I requested the CISF to finish my check in, as I was to board my flight at 5.45 AM.
He agreed and checked my ID proof and ticket. I ran to the counter and got the boarding pass. Finally, I breathed a sigh of relief.
I looked at myself; my t-shirt and jeans were covered with mud and dirt! I looked like a daily wage laborer who had just finished his duty and was going back home.
I felt completely drained, so I washed my face and drank some water. I took a deep breath and finally felt relieved.
I was happy and had a sense of accomplishment. I felt like I had won a war.
A few hours back, everything seemed impossible but it was finally happening and I felt good. Just as I reached my terminal, the gate opened. It was 5.05AM. I boarded the Volvo and reached the flight.
As I sat in my seat, I could sense the joy. I lay back on the seat, looked up and closed my eyes; I could feel tears rolling down my face. I knew that they were tears of happiness.
I thanked the Almighty for being there with me throughout my struggle - in the form of the auto driver, the stranger at the bus stop, my co-passenger Kabir and the cab driver.
As the scenes of my journey flashed across my mind, it felt crazy to have experienced such extreme situations. However, my forgotten excitement was back again. I had a wide smile on my face. To make things better, I had a cheerful, talkative young lady called Nidhi sitting beside me.
The flight took off and I shot a few videos of the take-off, the sun rising from the sky and the clouds going by. Nidhi was very talkative and wanted to talk but I badly needed to get some sleep. She explained that she belonged to Karnataka and was going home after a really long time. She was excited.
I was excited too but the difference was that I was unable to express it because I was totally drained.
She tried most of the food provided by the airlines while I wanted to use the time to sleep. I kept tossing and turning in an attempt to fall asleep but I couldn't, probably it was my excitement. Nidhi spoke non-stop and even showed me her family photos on her tab. I guess she spoke about her professional career as well but everything went over my head.
All I understood was that she was into some research and hence had stayed away from home. I never knew how but I fell asleep for around 30 minutes. I woke up and Nidhi greeted me with a smile.
I felt better after the nap so I introduced myself again and we exchanged numbers. I also managed to record a video of the flight’s landing. The journey wouldn't have been possible without the talkative Nidhi by my side. I thanked her for keeping me engaged.
We got off the plane and collected our baggage together. I bid goodbye to Nidhi and felt good. Finally, I breathed a sigh of relief.
I sat on the bench outside the airport and felt the fresh morning air, the birds chirping, the sweet fragrance of coffee and the tiny whispers of the people walking by.
It felt like heaven - calm and peaceful. I had finally reached my hometown, Bengaluru. I had not informed my parents about my homecoming. I wanted to surprise them since I had waited for so long to meet them.
After all the virtual interactions through sharing images, audios, texts, and videos, it was finally time to meet my loved ones.
I reached home and rang the bell. The joy on my amma's face washed away all my stress and pain.
The 28 hours of my struggle were worth this one expression and her unconditional love.
She grabbed me in her arms and showered me with kisses on my cheeks and forehead as she hugged me tightly. It felt that her long-lost son was finally back home. Her joy knew no bounds. And my joy elevated a million times after seeing her excitement. It made me emotional and I felt secure in her arms.
That feeling which I can never get anywhere, the feeling I waited to experience for 140 long days. I was on cloud nine!
I freshened up and sat to eat hot breakfast, which I’d missed every day ever since I left home. To experience this exact moment, I went home without informing anyone, faced extreme situations, spent a sleepless night, ran like a clueless psycho and took much tension; everything for this joyous moment.
I thank all those people who helped me through this journey - the rickshaw driver who drove me to the station by jumping signals and agreeing to take his fare later, the stranger at the bus stop who asked me to take the Dakshin Express in place of the bus and the man at the railway station who made me feel better when I needed it the most.
Kabir, who graciously explained my situation to the cab driver and the cab driver as well who drove at 100 km/h to rush me to the airport. And lastly, Nidhi, the stranger-friend who sat beside me and made me feel good among unknown people. Thank you all for your kind gestures.
I believe God exists and he exists in the form of people like them, my guardian angels. I'll always be grateful to all of you.