The other day while riding across town with the Hubby we passed by a railway crossing… as expected a train passed from there at about the same time… it whistled…and IT WHISTLED…it whistled it’s way through the inner depths of my soul … and I immediately knew what this generation missed… what my children would miss… A Journey By Train in a Three Tier Compartment (read non-AC) complete with bedding, trunks and a separate basket for food and even beverages 🙂
Train – Image Courtesy: shevlinsebastian.blogspot.com
Rewind to early 80s’. I still went to school in a blue uniform and red pair of socks…yeah absolutely that… and my brother still trotted half asleep to his class and most of India still cooked on ‘Junta Stoves’ and or Pump Stoves…seriously. At the clang of the school bell announcing the start of the Winter vacations, my brother and I would run home… excited that we were also like most kids in our class going on a vacation. We would enter home to see frantic activities around our luggage to be packed, about all that mum would cook to keep in the fridge to last a day or two at least for those not travelling and last minute ideas for gifting purposes for the relatives that we would be meeting. We were too little to help around the packing et al, and we were more than happy to revel in the happiness of the moment… to be travelling 🙂 My brother and I would pack our school books (I still see kids carry text books to vacations), take along our Ludos and Snake Ladders and cards, and may be once in a while chide with Mum to let us pick our own clothes for the trip… Since in those days the markets were still very region specific, a lot of things weren’t available everywhere unlike today when everything is available everywhere. So yeah, since our trips would usually be to cities in Uttar Pradesh (that’s where my maternal side of the family hailed from), we would carry items that weren’t available there… so in would go five to six boxes of Shrikhand and Aamrakhand, fried shrimps and prawns, cakes baked by Mum and other inedible stuff that were actually for gifting purposes 🙂
pro_amul_shrikhand image courtesy Amul.com
Cut to the actual journey and that was the best part of it all. The luggage was usually a couple of trunks, an army khaki bedding and another case specific to carrying food for the entire journey, that would last us a good 18 hours or so. Mum’s food case would contain a variety that would hardly ever adorn anyone’s dining table in one go… fried rice, chapatis, a couple of sookha sabzi, curd or yoghurt, if Winter then a flask containing hot water and if summer then a flask containing ice, washed but uncut salad ingredients, bread, jams, butter, sugar and salt, wafers, biscuits and may be some sweets too 🙂 Scrumptious don’t you think?! My brother and I would wait for the train to chug along since mum would promise that all that food would only be served once the train wheels rolled…
Image courtesy indianexplorations.com
And then there would be the eternal quest to get the window seat… remember I said it was a 3-tier general compartment… so the experience of the window seat was the ultimate… peering out of the window to see the tail of the train curve into a C, take in the sights and smells of various stations, look in sheer amusement and hazel eyed at all the scenery… well, I for one always thought that I recognised all the trees moving past and that they were all going round and round and coming back in front of our window again and again, Baba buying tea in kulhads, bananas, magazines and sometimes some extra snack if we got too reckless. Baba with his passion for nature and Mum a geography teacher would engage us in rendering the knowledge of how the soil differed in every state as we passed through each one, how to identify a Chiku tree from a Mango tree, identify the changing clothes and attire of people across various states as also the way they all differed from state to state in how they build homes. They both were such amazing story tellers… and so knowledgeable. We played games like ‘Name-Place-Animal-Thing’ or even Memory game where baba and mum would challenge us to remember all the stations that we had crossed and repeat them all over again in a sequence… such fun, I tell you.
Early mornings would see everyone queuing up to use the compartment wash room and whilst Baba and Mum would accompany us every time we wanted to empty ourselves. Mum would wait impatiently for her hot hot cuppa of tea in a kulhad and vacations were only times when we kids were allowed to have tea as well… such a sense of adulthood would dawn upon us!
Common sights to behold were Wheeler & Co. publications stalls, mobile stalls carrying toys, and colourful shades for kids and even rattles and harmonicas, the few odd Drinking Water taps that would have everyone queue up to fill their Cool Kegs or water bottles for the rest of the journey, some odd Marlboro man getting off for his drag and some very helpless looking ladies with their children looking to find a seat in the compartment. The cacophony of the garam chai le lo salesman, to the off tuned iktara being played by the toy stall guy, to the bleeding techni-coloured Savitas and Manoramas and Champaks and Chandamamas, to the very frail TC or Ticket Checker who roamed the train and the station with the gait of a Royal Bengal Tiger and a crown of supremacy visible only to the train passengers… all of this lend a historical feel to it and it all came together like a confluence of the five senses.
We would squirm in our seats waiting for the journey to end and meet our cousins… the journey was too long for us seven -eight year olds to enjoy all of it.
But today, the journeys are different… train journeys are nothing but restricted to Second ACs and First ACs. So you can just minus the entire experience of feeling the breeze caress your face, the fragrance of flowers in some stations, the aroma of a hot elaichi chai in some stations or the enticing pakoras being fried in some stations. Highly santitized environs with industry packaged foods so you don;t have to lug around food for the journey take away the regional peculiarities of travelling in India. It feels disconnected. Kids no more get to see the difference of the red soil to black soil because of the tinted window panes and we are all too busy with iPads and iPhones to look around at what is passing by.
Sigh! An experience which was a gift from the 80s’ and were such an inseparable part of growing up… our children are sure missing this fun.