Saturday, September 23, 2017

THE HINDU SEPTEMBER 23, 2017


Tundla, India, November 26,2012: view of the the station platform where a vendors wearing blue shirt, trousers and cape, are selling food to the passengers of the leaving train. 



There is something in a train journey that has fascinated a lot of people and I am one of them. Maybe it has to do with stories like the ‘The Little Engine That Could,’ that I read as a child. It could also be Ruskin Bond’s tales on trains and tunnels, or it could even be ‘The Railway Children’. There’s something really wonderful about the sound of a train and the journey itself that makes me feel extremely nostalgic and excited. Being an inveterate tea-drinker, I really don’t pay much heed to the way the railway chai is made, nor am I too worried about the samosas being a storehouse of bacteria: I think the dust coating makes it tastier. Today, the pantry car has made life easier but I remember the immense preparation prior to a journey. The longer the journey, the more the number of packets that needed to be prepared.

This love for train travel I acquired from my father. He was game for travelling, saying that ‘god and railways willing’ he would reach his destination on a particular day. Given the Railways’ opaqueness and proclivity for ‘unpunctuality,’ my father would reiterate that rail services were not under god’s control. Some things have changed for the better and the romance hasn’t waned.

I look forward to the hustle and bustle of the station before boarding the train and the noises of the intermediate stations. I enjoy observing the drama going outside the window of my compartment. If at all I worry about anything, it is the worry that I would get stuck in that ‘newly designed, miniature-sized excuse of a washroom’ in the train, where you need to enter like a crab, crouch to do your job and slither out like a snake! Sometimes we do share space with an occasional cockroach or mouse, but the charm remains.

I always carry with me a book but most of the time the book is left unread for I find the facets of human beings more fascinating. Braving the ‘doctored biscuits,’ I have been fortunate to travel with interesting co-passengers who have left an impression on me; I keep in touch with a few of them.

I have travelled with a just-‘started’ journalist and I am on the lookout for his byline some 20 years thence. I have had companions who needed my help to fetch them something from the station to companions who had helped me and my children disembark. I have sought help and have offered my services. I have had as companions lawyers, students and a young reality show winner. Her grandfather was miffed I didn’t recognise her.

Recently I met a young 17-year-old. In the so-called ‘self-obsessed’ generation, this young girl was like a whiff of delight. When the young are often criticised for a ‘myopic vision,’ she was completing her science record in the train, thus saving herself some time to visit her aunt who was recouping from a major illness. Belying the almost symbiotic relationship these youngsters have with technology, she used her phone but sparingly, just to take a call from her parents and to inform her cousin travelling in another coach that she was safe with a ‘nice’ companion! We spoke about her cousins and their get-together, her future plans, her interests — and it was such an eye-opener. Only at the end of the journey we exchanged names. I wish we can make our life safer so that more people can develop good interpersonal skills.

chandrika1306@gmail.com

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