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 had read when I was 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 train 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 store house of bacteria. I think that the dust coating makes it tastier. Today, the pantry car has made life easier but I remember the immense pre-preparation prior to a journey. The longer the journey, more the number of packets that needed to be prepared.
This love for train travel is something I have taken after from my father. I remember my late father always game for traveling saying that ‘God and railways willing,’ he would reach his destination on a particular day. Notorious for the opaqueness in its administration and proclivity for its ‘unpunctuality,’ my father would reiterate that rail services were not under the control of God! Some things have changed for the better and the romance has not waned.
I look forward to the hustle and bustle of the station before boarding the train and the noises of the in-between station. 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 strange bed-fellows in the form of an occasional cockroach or an occasional rat, but yet the charm remains.
I always carry with me a book but most times, 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 indelible impression on me, so much so, that I keep in touch with a few of them. All such experiences reiterate my faith in mankind.
I have travelled with a just ‘started’ journalist and I am on a look out for his by-line 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 as the case maybe. I have had the companion of lawyers, students and a young ‘winner’ of a reality show. As a fact of the matter, the grandfather of that ‘sweet girl’ was miffed that I had not recognized her. He felt that is was sacrilege that I don’t watch TV as much as I should!
My recent companion was a young 17 year old. In the so-called ‘self-obsessed’ generation, this young girl was like a whiff of pure delight. When the young are often criticized on possessing 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 traveling 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 inter-personal skills.
I also find that somewhere in the travel between the land and sky, this friendliness is lost. Maybe the price of the ‘chai,’ or the price of the ticket or maybe, after braving the security, the people who travel by air school their features to become one of the ‘world-weary’ travellers
I prefer the chug- chug of the train any day!