Warning: This one is tooo long… and may be a bit rambling at places considering that it was written during the month-end… when the madness actually begins…
The brat loves being on a train… As a small child, he couldn’t get over the fact that it stopped at every station… which his three-hour flight from Muscat to Cochin every year apparently did not… Not that he has done very many long train journeys… The longest I have taken him is from Mumbai to Cochin when he was six… along the Konkan route but sadly; most of it was spent in a fever-induced haze in a shivering AC compartment during the monsoons.
Let me not digress. The brat gets his love of trains from me… I can travel on trains for days… smug in the feeling that I will love every sight, sound and smell of every station along the way… That my stomach will withstand everything from pazhamporis at Palakkad, oily vadas at Erode, sliced cucumber spiced with red chilli powder and rock salt at Ballarshah, pulihora at Vijayawada or the kulhad chai in West Bengal… And also take in the long power cuts (yes, on the train), the lack of water or the dirty loos and the general disorder associated with a second-class compartment… Nothing, I repeat nothing, can match the joy of standing at the open door of the compartment, looking outside and feeling the wind on the face. And if you had a fellow-traveller whom you managed to befriend, the conversations at the door only got more interesting.
The longest I have travelled is from Cochin in Kerala to Sindri in Bihar (now Jharkhand)… crisscrossing Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal to get into Bihar where my maternal aunt lived. The journey took three complete days… with an eight-hour stopover at Madras (before it became Chennai and took the beauty out of the name!) where a compartment from the Trivandrum mail was shunted into the Madras Mail that would take us to Calcutta… and thereafter another train to Dhanbad and finally, a dirty pick-up would deposit us through the mine-fields of Jharia into the quiet and serene township of Sindri.
I have travelled by train umpteen numbers of times… mostly from Cochin to Nagpur in the two years I studied at Nagpur University. Regular journeys by the Kerala Express meant I got to know the pantry car guys well enough to merit a special hot breakfast or coffee on demand.
And then, the people who travelled along with you! Gujarati families may be all chatter and noise, but when it comes to food, you can never starve. When they travel, they transfer their entire kitchen onto the train (minus the gas stove) and make sure that the co-passengers they like are well-fed too… I have been the recipient of their food largesse many a times. Sometimes, certain friendships have been carried beyond the train journeys too… as pen-friends… (yeah, long before the advent of the Internet and e-mail and that’s food for another story!)
No train journey was without its excitement… Long signal stops, inordinate delays, some one pulling the chain as a prank or even a couple of thefts but the camaraderie was something that is hard to replicate in these days when you don’t know your own neighbours.
I don’t do long distances by train these days. Lack of time on a one-month annual holiday, a new affluence and budget airlines have contributed to the fact. But I do make it a point to take the brat on short-distance journeys… atleast a four-hour one to Coimbatore every year.
And maybe when I have finished chasing the golden pot at the end of the rainbow, I can take the Jammu Tawi Express from Kanyakumari to Kashmir with the brat… And watch his innocent eyes light up with amusement and exhilaration… For it will not only open up a whole new world to him… but reopen my eyes to the beauty of my own motherland.