I was travelling from Ernakulum to Chennai by an evening train. There were three other passengers in my first class cabin. I was feeling very hungry. Soon after the train left I placed my order for a vegetarian meal on the caterer who came to my compartment. I was told the dinner would be served at Trichur.The other three passengers were bound for Coimbatore and did not ask for meals. I immersed myself in the unfinished novel but frequently checked the time for the train to reach Trichur.
Within minutes of the train reaching Trichur, a man brought a very large circular stainless steel plate covered with a spotless white napkin and left it by my side very deferentially. He lingered for a while before he left. Being accustomed to smaller aluminium plates, I was surprised at the huge size of the plate. When I lifted the napkin a greater surprise was in store for me. It had about a dozen or more katories, big and small, filled with different varieties of sabzis,dhalls,hot chapattis rolled in silver foil, fragrant smelling fried rice, plain rice,sambhar,rasam , five different varieties of chips jackfruit, banana , alu,plantain and yam besides pappadams,curd,achaar,sweets and kheer.I instantly knew there must have been a mistake as I was expecting a bland Spartan meal of rice,sambhar and two side dishes. I knew this was a feast fit for a royal personage and not for a plebeian like me. I peeped out to see whether the bearer was visible. He was nowhere to be found.
Meanwhile the train started moving. I was not sure whether I should commence eating. My hesitation was obviously observed by the three passengers and they looked questioningly at me. I said with a sheepish grin ” I had ordered for an ordinary meal. I do not know whether the railways supply special meals especially a sumptuous fare like this. I feel there must be a mistake somewhere. But the bearer is not visible and I am famished.”
One gentleman replied “Why do you worry? You ordered for a meal. The caterer has supplied this. He is also not seen to clarify your doubt. You are hungry. Please help yourself. If he asks for higher payment, it can always be paid. Please commence eating as it is already past 8.30 PM.”
I said ” Thanks. All these items are too much for me. Let us share.” When they declined I persuaded them to have chips, sweets and a few other delicacies. This they did with much pleasure. We had become friendly by then and laughed over our windfall. A few minutes later we heard a commotion followed by loud noises and people walking in the corridor to and fro. We could not make out from the Babel of voices till a gentleman from the next cabin came and asked generally whether we had our dinner. The gentleman opposite confirmed that I had the dinner and that they are getting down at Coimbatore. He looked hither and thither and saw the large empty plate before he left. When the train reached Coimbatore, I saw some railway officials enter the compartment and crowding in the next cabin talking in an apologetic tone to a lady passenger there. I saw the bearer being beaten by one of the officials.
The three passengers who were themselves railway officials told me in hushed tone that the rich fare served to me was actually intended for the lady in the next cabin. She was the wife of Chief Commercial Superintendent. Due to the faux pas committed by the bearer, she was given the aluminium plate with the frugal meal intended for me. It appeared she who was accustomed to such fabulous free dinners was seething in anger at the indignity and the carelessness shown. I smiled happily at my good fortune and by the thought that “Every dog has its day”