An Officer and a Gentleman..

An  officer and a gentleman. ..

By

Vivek Hande

The story dates back to the late fifties.  My father was a young officer (and a gentleman) in the Indian Army. Those were the days of train travel. First class coaches had independent compartments with attached toilets. Journeys were long and criss- crossed the length and breadth of the country. But one traveled in style as befitting an officer. This included being served tea and meals in porcelain crockery. It also involved changing into a night suit; of course one had to be in silk dressing gown when stepping out of the compartment.  One usually sank into the upholstery and enjoyed the countryside passing by in style. There were no smart phones or laptops to distract you; so one indulged in catching up with ones’ reading.

M father was travelling between Madras(Chennai now)  and Calcutta(Kolkata now). It was to be a rather long journey and he was travelling along with a course mate in a first class coupe. The reading material had been exhausted and most of the problems of the world had been sorted out over animated conversation between the course mates. The train stopped at Bizwada( Vijaywada now) around eleven at night and my father was pleasantly surprised to see the AH Wheeler book stall open  through the window. He got off, rather jauntily attired in his black silk dressing-gown to arm himself with some books for the rather long journey yet to go. Engrossed in selecting books, he was alerted, a little late in the day (or night) by the rather bored vendor that the train was half way out of platform one! The young officer threw the books and sprinted not so jauntily to catch the fast departing train.

He managed to get onto the railings of the last coach which was the unreserved one. Barely clinging onto the foot board and holding on for dear life as the train hurtled into the darkness of the night. He could see the coach was packed with passengers stuffed like sardines but all seemingly oblivious to the world and definitely unable to hear his shouts for assistance. The train gathered speed and the steam engine roared into the night and was sending billowing gusts of soot into the air. The dressing gown was flapping wildly with the wind; soot and dust was settling into every pore on the face and eyes. He was fighting sleep; the winds and the momentum of the lurching train and quite literally, blowing in the wind (Bob Dylan would have approved!).

It was a nightmare by any standards and at the end of two hours when the train rolled onto the next station, the young man had numb hands and wobbly legs and a very black face and a very very tattered dressing –gown. He managed to make his way back to the coupe on very unsteady legs. The course mate emerged from deep slumber oblivious to the excitement. He asked, “Where have you been? What happened?”  The young officer replied,”I had stepped out. I think I need a new dressing –gown!”  The officer and gentleman was ready for more adventures…

Author: vivekhande

A gastroenterologist who writes from the gut. an observer ; a learner ..

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