Nothing was out of ordinary at Chennai Egmore Railway station last saturday night . There was this omnipresent nauseating odour, passengers tripping over the escalators, arguing porters, ear-splitting chimes followed by tri-lingual announcements. Anantapuri express was ready to rally on the country's longest lavatory.
Sleeping with strangers, (well .. in the trains and you have no other choice but to) always make my skin crawl. Having got a middle berth, I had to wait for everyone to fill their tummys , change into some attire that allows airflow, blow airpillows with all lung power. I felt that something was wrong, when the lights were on even after turning off all the switches. The train's rhythmic jerking movement and chugging lullaby forced my heavy eyelids close shut.
At about 2.30AM, the time when we drift to deep sleep, I woke up with a start, listening to alarming call of a fellow passenger, shouting "Fire Fire Fire " in his highest possible pitch. Short circuit in the electricity panel had resulted in a heavy spark that started the fire. It took some time for the passengers to wake up from their sleep and dreams, to take in the situation. Then suddenly, the hell broke loose.
Someone had the presence of mind to pull the chain, bringing the train to stop in a noman's land. People, as if by the reminiscent acrobatic antics from ancestors, started jumping from upper berths, rudely pushing away fellow passengers and darted towards the exit. Even in the chaos of unruly evacuation, they carried their heavy luggages. I wonder what they carry in them when a middle aged lady jumped out with all her bags and suitcases leaving out her 10 years old daughter sleeping inside the train.
The flame was immediately put off using a fire extinguisher which sprays carbondioxide and a white powder mixture. People already in panick, mistook the billowing powder for smoke and once again went berseck.The railway officials after successfully putting off the fire, disconnected the power supply to the compartment and the rest of the journey was in the dark and no one dared to sleep again.