Last November in 2011, my classmate Irshad, who is an alumnus of Aligarh University, told me of his plan to go for the annual day celebrations, also called Sir Syed Day, at Aligarh University. He asked if I wanted to come along, to which I readily agreed.
We decided to go to Aligarh in the morning of November 8th. I met Irshad in his room at the Jamia Hostel. Our train to Aligarh was at 4:30pm.
We reached New Delhi Railway Station at around 3 pm. I could see agents selling tickets, hawkers selling biscuits, novels, key-chains and so on; nothing had changed in the last ten years. The journey to Aligarh was to take about two and a half hours, given the 124 km distance from New Delhi.
We bought two tickets for the Farakka Express, unaware of the fact that there were two Farakka Expresses – one being Farakka Express and the other, New Farakka Express. After buying some eatables we boarded the New Farakka Express at 4:30 pm. We stretched and made ourselves comfortable and were all set to enjoy the journey. In about hour and a half, the train passed Ghaziabad. We were rather surprised at having crossed a station that didn’t normally feature on the Delhi-Aligarh route. An anxious looking passenger checked to see if the train was bound for Aligarh and we confidently replied that it was. After having travelled for three and a half hours, at around 7:15 pm, we reached Moradabad. On checking with hawkers at the platform, we were told that we had indeed boarded the wrong train – New Farraka Express in place of Farraka Express. In a bid to hastily disembark from the train, Irshad’s spectacles fell off his face and broke.
We then happened to meet some of Irshad’s friends from Moradabad who were on their way to Aligarh. They told us that the journey by road would take 10-12 hours as the roads leading to Aligarh were of very poor quality. When asked, the station master told us that there was one last passenger train for the day which was heading to our destination, at 8:30 pm. Left without a choice, we boarded the train. There was barely any place to stand and we were made to undertake the six and a half hour journey standing on one foot amidst people who didn’t smell all that great! After an hour and a half of this, our legs began to ache. We now got some place to sit, huddled together with our co-passengers, with no breathing space at all. However, what was heartening to see was passengers being courteous towards ladies and making sure they had adequate place to sit.
After three and a half hours, we got better places to sit in. Luckily I was carrying two novels, one of which I gave to Irshad while I read the other one. Irshad however kept blabbering about things and I was too exhausted and uncomfortable to even listen to him, but I found myself helpless and having to join him in this endeavour of his. We went on and on, quite like Basanti in Sholay, as we don’t have any alternatives to pass time. In passenger trains people just don’t seem to care about anything. Also, engine drivers with the Indian Railways will stop trains anywhere, for as long they please. It felt as though time had stood still. When we were just three kms away from Aligarh, the train stopped running and remained in a stationary position for an hour, for no apparent reason at 2 am. This irritated Irshad and me to a great extent. Finally we deboarded the train at 3 am. Once at Aligarh, we took a rickshaw to get to the university. One thing I noticed was that the rickshaw had no plastic roof, unlike the rickshaws in Delhi. My friend told me that that was the reason for Aligarh’s rickshaws being ideal for flirting with girls! Finally, we reached the university at 3:30 am, 11 hours after we began our journey from New Delhi Railway Station (something I shall never forget!).
Just as we were entering the university campus, we saw huge hoardings bearing images of Mayawati. Irshad told me that it is considered a crime to call Mayawati by her name here, only “behanji” is what she is referred to by. After “seeing” Behanji, whilst enjoying the cold weather that Aligarh had to offer, we spent some time in Irshad’s brother’s room at the hostel.
Some of the interesting things I found on campus included the tradition of suffixing a person’s name with “bhai”, for example Nayan bhai, Shahid bhai etc, and the norm of knocking on the door before entering a room, failure to do so makes a person eligible for punishment. Also, at Aligarh University, it is considered sinful to wear only the shervani, one can wear the same only by adding a kurta and a pyjama to the attire.
Before we set out on our journey, we had planned on doing many things once at Aligarh. What we only ended up doing was eating some good food at the annual day. We had also planned to roam the famous market at Aligarh but as we were very tired from all the unnecessary journeying, we spent a few hours roaming the university campus instead before going off to bed.
We wanted to spend quite some time there–the peaceful and open environment in Aligarh university is rare to find in Delhi. However, what I noticed was that in that sort of an environment , one can develop lasting friendships, which can be a very special thing, indeed also people there were very helpful and caring. The next night, we left for Delhi; we had professional commitments to take care of. We finally reached Delhi on the morning of November 10th. It was a memorable journey.
[Naveen Kumar Sharma is a postgraduate student in the Department of Commerce and Business Studies. He can be reached via email at: neo.abm [at] gmail.com]