(R)ail

It has been so long since I traveled in our Bharatiya Rail. Gradual increase in distance from home town and decrease in air-fare thanks mainly to Air Deccan, took me far from the Great Indian Rail. It is though the biggest institution of our nation. The biggest public sector employer in the world. It was the medium which took  us from our quaint little city to happening Delhi, bustling Kolkatta, pristine Trivandrum, vibrant Chennai, dreamy Nainital, splendid Mysore and so many more places. 

There is some aspect of the rail that seems very simple and humble to me. Something that reminds me of my grass roots. Something that reminds me of my childhood. Something that reminds me of family vacations. Something that reminds me of a time when technology had not usurped every aspect of life. (Not that I am averse to technology, I am a total technophile )

The start to a train journey would be always filled with anxiety. Hours prior to the journey there would be frantic calls to Enquiry desk checking if the train was on time. Train delays were a rule rather than exception. Most of the time, the number would be busy, but if fortune favoured us, we were privy to up to date information. If the train was delayed by a longish period say an hour or so, we could start a bit later from home. Not that it was of much use, because we would just sit all dressed up and really eager on the sofa.  Papa had this rule of reaching the station 1 hour before the journey began. He would call the auto rickshaw on time, while we three would get ready with luggage. Counting of the number of luggage was of utmost importance. (Seems silly now, but then simple days, hence importance of simple things :)  )Once all the luggage were loaded, the trip would officially commence. Once at the station, the most important thing would be to check the platform. There were some trains which were slated on a particular platform only. But still, Papa would view the list diligently to see any amends. If the list was not updated or did not satifsy a trip to the enquiry desk was again the norm. The next step was the haggling with the porter. The porters some unwritten contract with the driver (I hope that is what you say to one who drives a train :S ), and had some super natural knowledge about   the coordinates of your coach with respect to the platform. They knew exactly where the coach would be located on the vast stretch of platform. How they knew that? Beats me. Experience? Maybe.  But negotiating the right price with them was a trick. There was nothing which bothers the family more to learn it could have been cheaper. Platform sorted, porter sorted. We were nearly there! The last bit would be boarding the train. The porters had a knack to suddenly disappear when the train arrived. Many a times with the luggage. Many a times leaving you in the middle of no where with all the luggage. This is just as bad, because once you have negotiated with a porter, your mind tends to get a bit relaxed that all's well now. If suddenly the main guy disappears, boy you feel genuinely abandoned. But like most Indian magic tricks, this one too has a happy ending. They do reappear, sometimes with adjusted coordinates of your coach, sometimes with some additional information that there might be delays down the line and sometimes with a cheeky smile that they had gone to relieve themselves. :D 

So in side the train. What all the build up has been about. Now the mind has the liberty to spin images of the holiday ahead. Of the clean fresh hotel rooms or lovely meals cooked by granny, of the historic places to be visited or the aunts to met after a year. I remember being hooked onto Twinkle and Tales of Panchtantra. Those books made journeys of 28-34 hours seem like nothing. Which reminds me, journeys of 28-34 hours definitely needed food. 2 days prior to the D-day, mom would start deciding the menu and then cooking. It would definitely be meals which would survive the journey themselves :) And also edible even if cold. The choice of the day would be puri or ghee ke parathe with aloo matar. Hmmm... we call that typical curry 'Mommy's train aloo curry' (in fact I have asked Mummy to make that tomorrow :D ) Along with that, if we were catching an early morning train, there would be bread and butter sandwiches or ones filled with cucumber, onions and tomatoes. Mom had the talent making them in such a way that they would not get soggy by the time we had them.One trick was not to add any salt, and she would always carry a separate container of salt in case any one needed. She was the best in making it! Mom's touch. My sandwiches turn soggy even  if I make them in the morning to have by lunch :( It was a great bonding experience to sit around with paper plates and have those meals. It was also intriguing to watch what the other families were partaking. Some bigger groups would have a veritable pot luck going on. Some families would have mostly dry snacks. Some people would be running at every 'big' station to get stocked up. While other relied on the Rail catering system. Now that was a different ball game all together.No matter how stocked up we were, the aroma of the food brought in those teeny tiny aluminium containers to those who  ordered them were too tantalising. One was bound to succumb to them. Most of the times it was inevitable since there was no way we had home cooked food for a 2 day long journey.So the last and mostly penultimate meals would be thanks to the Rail. The portions would be minuscule and we would order in such a way so as to have a variety. But it was surely very enjoyable. What added further flavour to a days meals were countless cups of teas and coffees consumed from the vendors.

Sleeping was yet another aspect. The ritual of putting the bed sheets in a berth in a locomotive - there are few things that are as interesting. I remember there would always be an early retire-r, the one who would hit the bed first. As if on cue, all would follow. There would surely be some adjustments of berths. Someone would prefer middle (I loved middle), someone wanted top (Papa loved top) while someone would juggle for bottom (Mummy was always bottom). There would gentle negotiations and bargaining and at the end all would have their coveted place. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. 

No train journey was uneventful. Each was very different from another. There were a variety of experience depending on where we were going, with whom, and when. There would be sporadic friendship, card games and antakshari s. There would unwarranted delays in desolate locations. There would be sudden shortage of water. There would be so many myriad people and locations. And always it would end in us smelling ferrous and feeling as if the ground beneath our feet was still shaking, as if we were on the rail.

PS. The survey I posted yesterday, is totally anonymous. I swear. Go ahead, humour me please :) 

Comments

Ashma said…
Hehe... Good one, reminded me of so many interesting things associated with train journeys. Thanks to our home town not being in a big city,we still enjoy such trips twice a year 😃

A rather long 24x7 journey; sometimes fun, sometimes a bother (specially with the kiddo), but interesting none the less.

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