Chhat Puja: 9 Hours With a PA System From Hell at the Chhapra Railway Station

Have you ever felt terribly sleepy and yet been unable to fall asleep? No, I’m not talking about the nights you spend heartbroken and crying. What I’m referring to is that night when you want to sleep so badly but you just can’t and you find others sleeping peacefully only to feel envious. This is what I experienced as I waited at the Chhapra railway station, hoping my train would speed up and knowing it wouldn’t.

It all started with my decision to visit a friend and join in the celebrations of Chhat Puja. Little did I know all the misadventures waiting for me. From waiting for a shared auto to move for hours to my suitcase breaking mid-way to my friend’s place, my stay in Chhapra was eventful. The puja itself was as beautiful as it gets and made me wonder about the sheer willpower the married women who do the fasting, following stringent rules, possess. After the final day’s rituals were wrapped up, my friend and I were supposed to hop on the same train to Kolkata and then catch our flight to Bangalore.

Women gathered at a river bank in Chhapra at sunrise for the puja

Like many things on that trip, our well-laid plans were for naught when Air Asia decided to reschedule our flight to an earlier time, forcing my friend to take an earlier train than me because she needed to report back to her office. I, on the other hand, cancelled my flight (and got a refund) an took the train I had initially booked. That was mistake numero uno. The result: I left for the station six to seven hours prior to the time my train was scheduled to arrive at Chhapra. We reached the station barely 20 minutes before her train arrived and departed.

I knew it was going to be a long wait and my work-from-home job was going to keep me company during the hours I would spend in the waiting room. Or so I thought. The plan was to finish up my work by 10:30 PM at the most and board the train at 10:45 PM when it was scheduled to arrive. With a good enough network in the town, I thought working would be a piece of cake.

Obviously, things did not go according to the plan…

Lesson number one that day was to never be over-optimistic about your network, especially in a small town. My network could not get any slower and turns out my train was no better. At 9 PM, I had labored through 30% of my work and hoped to get the rest of my work done in the train, where I usually get a great network, ironically enough. My hopes crashed when the PA system from hell announced a 2-hour delay of my train.

A fun fact about the PA system in the Chhapra station is that each announcement is repeated at least four times in English and Hindi, playing alternatively, amounting up to five minutes of the same announcement being made. Just when you think the torture is over, you have a man’s voice blaring from the speaker, announcing yet another train’s status, only for the PA system’s cycle to be triggered AGAIN.

Chhat Puja setup with all the offerings

Imagine sitting through this never-ending loop for around 7 hours straight and then hearing the crushing news of your train’s delay. And you don’t hear it just one time; it keeps going on and on until you feel like cutting the wires of the speaker out of frustration. Now, imagine listening to the announcement about your train’s delay (a thing of much inconvenience) over a dozen times, each stabbing you with a knife of increasing sadness, which turned to dread.

The dread of having to sit there for another two hours quickly turned worse when I checked the status of my train on the phone and discovered that the train was running another hour late. At this point, I was questioning my life choices that led me to Chhapra and to this railway station. Even though Chhat Puja (my sole reason for the visit) was beautiful, it could not make up for all the trouble it took me to get to and get out of this small town in Bihar. The Thhekua and Puri from the puja, which ended up being my dinner, certainly came closer to making things better.

Running the last mile

Three hours and several Thhekua and Puri later, I was happy my train was inching closer to the station, as per the RailYatri app. However, the platform at which the train was supposed to arrive remained a mystery, as the display board now left that column blank where previously stood the number 4, indicating platform number four. It was perhaps the delay or the unique way this station worked, but the end result was the same: me freaking out over not knowing the platform.

Puris, bananas, and Thekkuas being served to the goddesses during Chhat Puja

Several painful minutes later, the PA system announced the platform number, followed by the “train will arrive soon” announcement. Never did I think I would feel this happy to hear the jarring “ja-jangg” sound from the speakers, followed by the cycle of announcements, but I did. Soon enough, the train arrived and I was back to the one thing I love the most: being on the move.

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