The train to the Past

The train to Nowhere

Indian Railways – the lifeline of India have often been criticized nowadays for being too crowded, dirty and generally for being 2 generations behind every other national railway system. But for me trains have always been a source of something important – memories. Memories that have been stored in the deep recesses of the mind to be explored and nitpicked at in times of need, when nothing else suffices. Well, today I felt the desire to share some of these memories with you. Maybe some of these will wake up the traveler in you and urge you to travel those distant lands.

 

Growing up as a Keralite living in Gujarat, Train journeys were an integral and much welcome part of my life during childhood. Going to Kerala each year during the summer vacations was a big deal because of the cousins and the place in general. And since we went by train, the train journey was an exciting part of this experience.

First 8 years of my life the annual trip was Rajkot to Kuttippuram and back. The trip used to take 2.5 – 3 days depending on the route you took. I remember

  • The excitement at Rajkot station as we got onto the train with all our luggage. I was usually handled the responsibility to carry the Milton water jug. Before this I also remember getting water in those rubber bottles which were then hung out from the train with hooks
  • The scramble towards the corner seats. These were not only best for the view but also to put your hand out and feel the wind against it.
  • Those ashtrays near each window. Never found any cigarette in them. It was just fun to turn them around. They went extinct after the public smoking ban
  • Waiting for the different vendors to come and ask Dad to buy something from them. Come rain or snow I always succeeded in getting the pazhampuri coz my Dad loved it too.
  • Getting on to the platform at each and every station with Dad, just to fill water from the nearest water fountain
  • The change in the sound of the train when it passed over a bridge, especially a long bridge like the Narmada one or the one near Vijaywada.
  • The millions of questions to Dad
    • Where does the TT sleep?
    • Why are the trees going back?
    • Signal Kyu nahi mil raha train ko
    • Can I sleep on the upper birth?
    • When does the comics vendor come?
  • Taking bath in the train, coz the train journey was fucking long – 3 days..
  • The one time when our bogie was left in Palakkad to be picked up by some other connecting train.
  • The utter darkness and the peculiar noise when the Train passed through long tunnels
  • Making new Friends on the train, and finding ways to play cricket inside the compartment.

 

As I grew up, the journeys shortened and the memories changed, but the excitement was always there. When Sleeper Class journey was upgraded to 3rd AC, some of the magic was lost. How can I put my hand out, I asked? I had to settle for some lesser sources of entertainment, like switching the overhead reading lights on and off repeatedly to see how long till they burnt out. Even the vendors were limited now. Instead of the Kadak Meethi chai that was peculiar to each station, we had to be satisfied with the monstrosity that was the train caterers “DIP Chai” – Itne Paise mai itna hi milenga.. Even the Bathrooms were cleaner. Where was the challenge to hold onto the bars whie taking a shit in an Indian Toilet in a moving train in a sleeper Class. 3rd AC had Western toilets that too clean ones. One couldn’t even have a view of the outside when the train was speeding. But What to do – Papa k LTA mai 3rd AC milta tha.  Well, necessity is the mother of invention. Like any evolutionary human being I adapted. I began to spend more time reading books/novels. Thus trains too played an important role in cultivating my reading habit.

Railway Stations were also a constant treasure trove of things to do. Waiting for a train was tiring, but a railway station can never be boring. There was always

  • An A H Wheeler Book Stall to be found. Browsing through the latest editions of comics and sportstar magazines and selecting the 2-3 books that were allowed to be bought for that trip
  • A Chai ki Dukaan
  • Himachal Apple Juice Stall
  • Hundreds of Waiting Passengers who could tell millions of stories if they were observed properly

 

I might be 3 decades old, but every new train journey still carries some of that wonder. I still got excited my first time in a double decker train. I almost always check the reservation chart outside the door for any F – (21-31) seated near me, before every journey. The one time when I slept on the floor on newspapers when I didn’t have a confirmed ticket.

 

What do trains remind you of? What are your dearest memories regarding them? Am I the only one to be saddled with such memories? Share Away…

 

 

P.S – My last train journey was also memorable in that I sent back an entire dinner in a Shatabdi. I swear it will be the first and only time such a thing happens. And while I am writing this, I remember that I had put the Soan Papdi from that meal in my bag to be consumed later. Well, Later is tonight and now.. Adios.

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