Poor boy! Yousuf, four-year old with Chinese features falls off the middle sleeper and is looking for his mother, lurching from side to side, half asleep. While Mrs.Cheena, his mother is fast asleep on the top most sleeper. I, the only witness of this sad, yet amusing incident, helped him sleep again in the chilly night.
Mr. Sodawater, my husband is freezing with cold. It is mine and Mrs. Halai’s first journey by train and I didn’t know in advance that we’ll need one blanket per head on every sleeper. I had kept a double blanket for us which is with me.
Our journey begins from Cantt Station, Karachi, Pakistan at 10.00 p.m. on Friday, 24th February, 2014. We are four couples with 7 kids. Our first train is from Karachi to Khopra Par, Thar district or Zero point. In this green coloured train, we have 15 sleepers but they’re too thin so three kids sleep in sleeping bags on floor of the train and two of them fall off the middle sleeper. Roots of this journey lay in 2006. When we 18 friend ( 9 couples ) were newly married and few were still engaged. We were gathering a certain amount of money on every meeting in the form of a fund. Amusingly, we planned to materialize this journey when our kids would be beyond the age of toddlers. After eight years, we’re actually going to India, with two kids each but we are only 4 couples, we Sodawaters , Halais, Ghatillas and Cheenas. Other five couples couldn’t join.
We reach the Zero point, Immigration office of Pakistan at 7.00 a.m. We wait for many hours on the bench, in congested and barely shaded waiting lounge beside a women, dressed in red Ghagra Blouse and white plastic bangles covering her arm; big rounded nose pins on both sides of nose and long veil ( ghunghat) going down toward the abdomen, an embodiment of Rajasthani culture.
Here, we do our breakfast of boiled eggs, and mayonnaise sandwiches brought by Mrs.Cheena, a pretty woman with fair complexion, pink rounded cheeks, brown hair and Chinese eyes like Yousuf. Kids are unwilling to eat but my one fierce look at Nafisa, youngest and three year old and Ibrahim, six years old and they take sandwiches in their hand. Yousuf also surrenders. Rest of the kids also start feeling hungry and join in.
After breakfast and we have a nap on the metal benches and then we join the queue of immigration at 1.00 p.m. The Immigration officer, a sales man sort of person; asks rate of different product that Mr. Ghatilla , a lean, tall group mate in front of me in cue, has in his store. Mr. Ghatilla answers, agitated by the strange conduct of officer. He is father of Nafisa and Ibrahim.
After custom formalities, we again hop on the same green Pakistani train. This time it takes us to Indian Maona Bao border, Pakistan’s neighboring enemy. We have our lunch of Shami Kabab Cheese sandwiches on this train in just 20 minutes. These are treats from Mrs. Ghatila, lean, fair women with specs on her eyes.
The Indian station is well-maintained, we are worried about custom and the little Indian currency we have. There is no treaty for currency exchange between India and Pakistan. So one can’t carry more than 1 thousand rupees. We had a little more than that, 1.5 thousand. They check each and every thing, pockets, pouches, hand bags, physical checking is also done. We are enemies after all. The officers are professional yet friendly. The female officer finds something hard in my fleece jacket and tells me to show it, my heart’s pounding but I show only single thousand note . She asks me if there are more notes. I lie. She intentionally doesn’t pursue me further. And saved me.
In waiting lounge, we stay for 8 hours, sitting on the multi colored plastic mat and using sleeping bags as mat too. We make our tea in the large electric kettle, while kids have the tea with butter and toast. In the same lounge we have our dinner from packed tins, heated in boiling water of our large kettle. Dinner is Potato curry, Coriander chicken curry and left over Shami kabab with bread. After that we play board games like ludo and snakes and ladders, with kids to kill our time, to keep the kids busy.
Blue Indian train arrives after midnight which will take us to Bhagat ki Kothi station of Jodhpur, Rajhastan, India. The Ticket checker calls every passenger by name and then lets them in. We wait on our multi-colored mat at the platform, in front of the boogie with all sleeping kids in the chilly night for our turn; worried about our further journey in the enemy country. Read Chapter 2