Indian Train Journey

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Childhood for one, always brings forth those mesmerizing memoirs, painful yet sweet. The train journey from Kannur to Ahmedabad during the month of May in the year 1990 was one such memoir. Kannur to Ahmedabad was a good long 2 day journey then. Middle class Indian; had no choice but to rely on the great Indian railways for long distance travel, which hardly kept time.  Adding to the agonizing journey, if the train is late, you have a lot of fun waiting for it in some railway station. For a 10 year old child the wait was fun filled, but for the parents the very thought was a nightmare, especially if there are connecting trains and lots of baggage’s to be carried.

The train whistled off.

The piston moving to and fro pulling the bogies behind, the marvel of British Engineering, and the train whistled off to Trichur from Kannur.

One could feel the wind bringing along the smell of earth, delicious dosa’s being cooked in the hotel along the side of the rail, the fragrance of flowers and also the stink of garbage’s. The sunrays slowly rising up and trying to peep through the window made it a very pleasant morning. On the sides we found, the mist floating over the top of the river, the coconut trees swinging, a beautiful lotus in the river, the water bubble on top of the lotus leaf, the lush green paddy fields while the train passed through the country side.

The rest rooms in the bogies were generally used as a smoking bay, by the co-passengers until in the recent past when the Indian railway ministry banned smoking on the trains. Despite of the law being brought in; many of the passengers still do so in the latrines. Recollecting a train journey of the recent past, few bachelors used it enormously for a drink party while ignoring the fact that many others travelled with young children.

On arriving at Trichur we learned that the train to Ahmedabad was 8 hours late.  Unlike today during the 1990’s Indian railway never kept time. During Lalu’s regime; (2004 to 2009) the system had undergone a lot of revolutionary changes and cleansing activity. But later the railway minister himself was caught on camera dirtying the railway premises. That’s the irony of our culture.

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As the wind blew, it brought us a lullaby; a lady with a small baby was singing, she held her baby on the left hand, while on the right hand she held a device to beat the rhythm. As soon as she finished, she started extending her hand towards the passengers for financial help, In fact that was the Indian way of begging.  This was followed by the clanging sound of the coins. A series of beggars, book sellers and chai wala’s passed through the platform frequently.

The usual second class waiting rooms were over flowing with people and the latrines required immediate cleansing. The plight of the waiting rooms made us stay away from it. Those days many of us carried large trunk boxes while on long journey’s. The initial stand and wait strategy slowly turned into sitting on the baggage which predominantly used to be the trunk boxes. Eventually people started using news papers as a floor mat and sit on the platform; as time went by scene turned out to be sleeping on the platform floor.  Tired of sitting on the baggage we took seats in a bogie which was halted in the next platform. These seats were cozier when compared to the trunk boxes. Even before we could enjoy the warmth of those seats the bogie was pulled by an engine. Not just us but many of them were seated in the bogie which started moving without any prior intimation or announcement.

In panic, I jumped off the train followed by my aunt who was accompanying us in the railway station. My parents who were still waiting in the platform were alarmed to see me jump of a train. The other on lookers dropped their jaw on seeing a 10 year old jumping off a moving train. Probably that was my first and the last adventure on a train, but of course it left a trail in the memories. Then on for many summer vacations; I continued narrating this adventurous story to my friends and relatives like the adventures of Tintin or the Sindbad.

Better late than never! Finally the Nagercoil express arrived which took us to Ahmedabad via all the southern states of India covering Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Karnataka, Maharashtra and then Gujarat.

The train whistled off.

The piston moving to and fro pulling the bogies behind, the marvel of British Engineering, and the train whistled off.

Those long waiting hours at Trichur station turned out to be a cultural observation class for me, which probably has taken shape as this blog.

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