Long long ago, i would look forward for the closure of school for summer holidays. The holidays would last for two months starting March 23- May 23. That period was supposed to be summer in Bangalore when we never even switched on fans. The whole city was naturally airconditioned with the various lakes and trees like sampige, margosa, gulmohar, laburnums and jacaranda. While many would head towards the garden city or air-conditioned city for holidays, i would look forward to travel to Madras for my grandparents place.
On the last working day of the final term, Compulsory kannada my third language exam would end at 10.30 a.m and i would board my train - Brindavan express at 1.20. This was an annual feature and it was a solo travel. My parents would drop me at the Bangalore city station and my grandparents or my uncles would pick me up at Chennai central when it reached there at 7.30 in the evening.
The interim 6 hours, the child in me indulged in the sights and sounds of my onward journey which must have sown the seeds of wanderlust in me. I generally got a window seat and so would rest my head and watch the train wind its way through fields and beautiful landscapes and enjoy the unending views of the setting sun and all other scenic sights that unfolded. Especially, I enjoyed the sight and sound of the winding train by sticking my head on the grills of the window.
If it was scenary outside the window, it was the constant chatter of the people inside that kept me entertained. As time and travel bound the passengers together, the people would talk politics, share stories, some would even fix the alliance for their son/daughter by exchanging horoscopes. Some would play cards and some would listen to the small transistor. I would be a mute spectator to all these happenings and watch with the innocence of a little girl.
All along my observations, i would wait for the pantry car to do its service, My favorite was the bun butter jam and cutlets/ samosa with tomato sauce. These things today i avoid on a train journey but not during those days. It did not matter to me about the germs, the dusty compartments , stench of the washrooms, poor sanitation , the crowd etc.
The 6 hour journey would end when my grandfather received me at Chennai central. After i reach home and when appa enquired over phone "Did you finish the book?" would i realize that appa had brought me a book from the Higginbothams book shop at the railway station. Also, the upma or idli my mom packed for the journey would be intact till it reached Madras.
That is the magic of a train journey where there is never a dull moment with food, people, smell, sound and sight.
The cries of ‘Chai chai, bisi bisi chai’, the mobile push carts selling books, eatables etc, the sound of the whistle, people running here and there to locate the compartments – if all these bring life to the platforms then the gentle rocking movements , the train friends, the hawkers inside selling peanuts, movie song books and their interactions are something that added vibrancy to the journey.
Years later i have traveled the Rajdhani, Shatabdi, KK, nizamuddin, Pallavan, rockfort, sabari ,intercity, vishaka etc., and added many many enriching experiences.Each journey can be a post of inspiring memories.
Tomorrow as i embark on another experience of train journey towards my hometown I will notice a few changes in relation to my childhood journey. Yes, the nature of people will never be the same. Some of us will be immersed in books, some busy with their laptops, some finalizing their business deals in a loud voice on their cell phone, some shuffling their i-pod list, some kids playing with the PSP or any toy but few things will remain unchanged like the guard showing the green signal, The porters in the red dress, the announcements will be on, I will hear the 'Chai chai' cries and more.
For these are things that makes the Indian rail journey memorable. Of course, I will not write about the sanitation and cleanliness which has grown from good to worse but i prefer any day a train journey over a flight journey when time is not a constraint. These train journeys have given me a wide exposure to food, culture, and people and i have seen much of India through the rail medium than by air or bus.