Voyage through Vardah


“You first.” Shubham said, rolling up his pants. Rahul turned and stared at him. “I have the maximum luggage.” He turned to Aayush. “You are tall. You go first.” Aayush shook his head. “Can’t you see I have the biggest bag? I am not going out there first.” There was another tremor in the train as a gust of the wind threatened to turn it over. All of them looked ouside at the track. Nothing was visible except the frothing brown water gushing over the rails. “Beat it. I’m going first.” All of them turned to me with looks of obvious relief on their faces. I started rolling my jeans upto my knees, knowing the fact that it wasn’t going to do me any good in the mammoth downpour. “Will you please stop staring and hold my bag? It’s a six foot drop after all!”

This happened on 12th December, 2016. The four of us; Shubham, Rahul, Aayush and I had to board our trains from Chennai Central in the evening. The cyclone forecast was well known, so we decided to depart early in the morning to stay out of the tempest. Little did we know that our underestimation was a little bit too much for our own good.

It started as winds and rain. We woke up and suited up for the rainy weather. Our trains were all after 4:00 PM so we didn’t have to worry. We planned on leaving by 9:00 AM to escape the effects of Vardah, which was going to hit at mid noon. We waited for a respite in the incessant rain and when it came, we ran from our hostel to catch the local at 9:15 AM. Fortunately, the train at 9:00 AM was running late and we boarded it with ease.

We thought ourselves lucky and settled awaiting our destination, Park Town’s. All went well till Chennai Egmore, with little bursts of wind and rain. Chennai Egmore was second to last halt in our journey, and we were relieved that we had reached our destination. I didn’t know how wrong we were.

As soon as we crossed the outer signal, the wind started to increase. The rain started to pour in sheets and frowns settled upon the faces of all the local passengers. They were quite familiar with the effects of a cylone, unlike us newbie northerners. The event that put a major dent in our journey and in our pockets was perhaps the halt of our train at Egmore for an hour. We didn’t know why they had stopped it, but we could have reached Park Town in 15 minutes if the train had kept going on. Perhaps they were waiting for the cyclone to calm down, or perhaps they weren’t. We waited and waited as gradually the passengers started to leave. 

The weather forecast wasn’t in our favour, because it showed a definite increase in the bad mood of the wild wind. Our only hope of reaching the destination was the train, or so we thought. Finally, after a tense pause of an hour, the train started to crawl out from the safety of the station. We were relieved, and felt at ease after a long time. The elation was however, very short.

As soon as we reached the outer signal, the train started to slow down. After crawling just 1/2 km from the station, it gave up and stopped moving. We still sat in the train, hoping against hope that it would move, somehow. But it didn’t. The passengers started to climb down and go back to the station. But we didn’t. We still had hopes for the train to work, and after all; our trains were 5 hours later. We decided to wait out the cyclone.

Now that I think about it, we could have deboarded at Egmore and could have caught an auto. But we decided to stick to the train instead due to our luggage, and the obvious cheapness of the train. Had we known that we’d be caught so bad, we’d have taken refuge in the most stout fortress we could have found. But we didn’t, and we didn’t.

We had boarded the train at 9:15 AM. It was 11:30 AM and we were still waiting at the outer with only a Gujju couple for company. It was around then when the Gujju uncle told us that the cyclone hadn’t even hit Chennai. It was about to. He planned on trekking back the 1/2 stretch on foot. Just about then we noticed something which made us scared for the first time. A tree fell on us

It fell on our coach, but it was an event that established a fact we all were trying to run from. The train was going nowhere, and we were trapped. The rain was turning into a downpour the likes of which we had never witnessed, and the wind started rattling the train itself. None of us had the guts to do anything at all, and so we sat, and waited.

It was aout 1:00 PM when Aayush broke the news to us. “Guys, the track. It’s… gone.” He told us while peeking out of the window. “What are you talking about?” I asked and leaned to take a look myself. We had shut all the windows and doors to keep dry, and weren’t aware of the view outside. The scene I saw chilled me to my bones. Where there used to be rails, now there was water. Atleast a foot of water covered the tracks, and it gushed with a ferocity that made me yearn for my safe, cosy hostel room. The water level wasn’t going down, and the train wasn’t moving. We decided then, to take our chances and trek back to Egmore instead of getting stranded here for who knew how long.

Local trains don’t have stairs for climbing down to ground level, and the total height of wheels, rails, sleepers and the ballast made the drop to a daunting 6 feet. To make matters worse, the water was atleast 3 feet deep at the ground level, and we knew nothing of what was down there. It might have been rocks, wires, pits, or simply a trench. We risked our feet if we jumped and if  anything went wrong, we didn’t have a second chance. It was a leap of faith, so naturally everyone was hesitant to go first. 

I am not ashamed to say that I was scared. I was afraid that they’d all jump down and I’d be left behind due to my cowardice. That made me decide to go first. Another factor that decided my jump was my conscience. I was a senior to them, in age and in maturity. I should have been responsible for them and I should have been the one to lead them. But as stated before, I was scared out of my wits. That guilt forced me to act and I jumped off the train.

My feet slapped water and continued to go down. I clung to the floor of the train with my fingers as I let myself fall, with at least a shred of control. When my feet finally found the bottom, I was barely able to touch the floor of the train with my fingers stretched. I am 6 feet tall, and that should give you the idea of depth of the jump we had to make. Just as I found my footing, I discovered the fact that water isn’t the worst thing in a cyclone. It’s wind.

A sharp gust of wind slapped me in the face with a barrage of stinging water droplets. If I’d not had been clutching the train with my fingers, I’d have blown off into the water. I immediately bowed down against the wind, with the water rushing against my thighs. At least there was a silver lining, the flow of water wasn’t that strong. The frothing was caused by water bouncing over the sleepers.

I moved my feet around and checked out the rocks beneath my feet. When I finally located the sleepers of the adjacent track, I waded back and asked Shubham for my bag. When I had it, I told them all about the footing and to be cautious against the wind. Shubham was the second to jump off. I saw him grab his bag and walked on to the sleepers to lead him. When he finally reached me, he grabbed my arm to support himself. The strength of his clutch made me wince. Poor guy was scared witless.

There was no way I could keep standing in the howling wind and the water bullets, so I started walking towards the station, walking on the sleepers. Shubham just held on to my arm and waded along somehow. He had a heavy bag but I couldn’t help him with neither of my arms free. After a few meters, the track became a little visible, and our footing became much sure. Slowly, desperately fighting against the wind, we made our way to the safety of station. About halfway, the track came out of the water and we doubled our speed. 

When we finally reached the station, my face was stinging red due to the hail of water bullets I had received, and my arm seemed on the verge of cutting off due to the weight of the 30 kg bag. I hadn’t noticed the weight during the adrenaline rush, but my arm and back were numb now. I looked back and found Shubham panting. Aayush was still halfway behind and Rahul… I couldn’t seem to find Rahul.

He had two bags instead of one as ours, and was the shortest of our bunch. I was worried. I told Shubham to roll my bag along with him to the shed since we were on the platform and doubled back to look for Rahul. Going back was easy, almost fun as the wind propelled me forward. Very much like running down a mountain. I crossed Aayush halfway, who thanks to his heavy bulk, was still steadily making progress. It was then when I spotted Rahul.

He was still near the train, struggling with his luggage and the wind. He took a step ahead and usually was forced back twice the distance due to the wind. I reached him and took one of his heavier bags. He was on the verge of giving up. Fortunately, he had the lighter of his luggage for himself and we forged on together. After guiding him through the unforgiving onslaught of the wind, we somehow reached the platform.

I still remember our condition quite clearly. We looked like castaways with clothes full of water. Only Aayush had his rain-jacket on, which gave him a bit of a protection against the raging tempest. The hard part of journey was over. We still had to go through quite a bit of struggle that night, but it isn’t worth mentioning here. We lost a lot of money that day. But we could have lost more than that to Vardah.

We might tell the story as an adventure now. But the Voyage through Vardah made us acknowledge the power of nature.


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