-By Brave Flower-
Back in the 1990s, the Indian Railways was still the go-to mode of transport for long distance travel. We didn’t have the internet or mobile phones to rely on to pass our time. We resorted to observing our surroundings and interacting with the people around us to keep ourselves engaged. The following is an account of one such journey.
It is 7:30 am in the morning, yet it is amazing to see how busy the railway station is. People carrying heavy luggage are looking for their respective platforms. Some people have come to see off their friends or relatives while the coolies are bargaining with the passengers in loud voices.
My train is to depart at 8:20 am. After checking the display board, I start walking to Platform number 4. I see the train already there and I walk up to coach S6. The Ticket Collector pastes the passenger list and I board the train after checking it for my seat number, which is 38. I am glad it is the lower berth window seat. I sit down after chaining the suitcase (for safety) and pushing it under the berth. I am now ready for the 29-hour journey ahead of me.
Just then, a magazine cart vendor came towards me and I bought today’s newspaper, some novels and weekly magazine. Some passengers have brought their transistors while others have small tape recorders.
After some time the train starts moving very slowly and I realise it is just the engine getting attached to the train. As the departure time nears, the platform gets busy and people are in a hurry to board the train. The platform is lined with people hugging their loved ones and saying their farewells. There are parents who are giving advice to their grown-up sons who are probably posted in a different state for their job. There are a group of Botany students, who seem to be on an educational tour and they are tensely waiting for a couple of their friends who haven’t turned up yet.
At 8:20 am the driver sounds the horn and the train jolts forward. As the train pulls out of the station slowly, I see the two botany students running to catch their train but fail to do so.
As the track curves ahead, I put my head against the window to see the train moving at a slow pace like a python. I enjoy the cool breeze and the morning sun. I see the city coming to life as the people commute to work and children go to school (in school buses) while I am on the train heading to my holiday destination. Vacationing while the rest of the town is working gives me a cheap thrill.
The train picked up speed sounding a long blow of its horn. It crosses the railway gate, past the road traffic, waiting for the train to cross. It looks like they are an army saluting the train as it crosses.
The waiter comes from the pantry car to take our order for breakfast. While some passengers start eating the packed Tiffin that they have brought from their home, the rest of them place the order with the waiter.
As the train reaches the outskirts of the city, vast green fields, lakes and small houses are visible. The horizon is lined with rocky hills or mountains. The villagers are ploughing the field and the shepherd boys are herding the sheep. They wave to the passing train.
In the meantime, my fellow passengers started getting to know each other by introducing themselves. Among the passengers, is a young mother with her sweet 3-year-old daughter. There are 2 soldiers, who serve in the military and a couple of men from a social service camp too. The lively three-year-old child keeps us engaged by asking a lot of questions to her mother and it is entertaining to see her curious mind at work. I learnt that the soldiers are on a vacation for 2 months and are travelling to their hometown. The other two men are heading to an area affected by floods, where they have volunteered to help.
Frequent travellers inform the children in the coach that the train is approaching a bridge and the children get excited.
The train driver honks the horn signalling that the bridge is approaching. The river is brimming with water as it is the rainy season. The train takes two full minutes to cross the bridge and we enjoy the change in the rhythmic sound of the train as it crosses the bridge.
The train reaches the next station at 1:30 pm. Young boys run into the compartment and sweep the floor. They then ask for money. People give them some coins for the job. Two more boys get into the compartment selling fruits, boiled egg, biryani packets, raw mangoes etc. Some passengers get down at the station to fill their bottles with drinking water from the drinking water taps.
Everyone starts having lunch as the train pulls out of the station. The passengers share their lunch with their newfound friends. At 2:30 pm, we set up the berths and everyone lie down for their afternoon nap. I start to read my novel as the train picks up speed.
Around 5:30 pm, the train reaches another station. Few passengers get down here and new passengers board the train taking their place. Vendors on the platform walk along the train selling tea and coffee and everyone buys the drink to get refreshed.
I get down to fill my water bottle and I buy biscuits. I feed the brown stray dog, which has taken shelter under the cement bench along with her puppies. I got into the train as the train sounded its horn; a signal of its departure.
As the night falls, there is nothing to see through the windows as its dark. The adorable 3-year-old child starts reciting nursery rhymes after which we all share one interesting memory from our life. Then we play snake and ladders. We then exchanged our contact information and promised to keep in touch despite knowing very well that we won’t do it.
At 8:30 pm we have dinner. The 2 army men bid us farewell as the train crosses their station at 3:00 am and they do not want to wake us up at that time to say goodbye. As they set an alarm in their watch, the rest of us retire for the night.
I am still drowsy as I wake up at 5:30 am. I go over and stand near the compartment door. I never miss the beauty of dawn during the train journeys. It is refreshing to see the dark sky changing into a blue hue very slowly illuminating the lands. After this, the golden rays of the rising sun shimmers in the sky. Today I see the sun rays piercing through the clouds.
At 8:00 am, everyone orders breakfast from the pantry since the next stop would only be at 10:20 am. We all spend quality time together as the journey is nearing its end.
It is 1:20 pm as the destination nears and everyone starts packing to make sure they haven’t left anything behind. The others are restlessly checking their watches to see if the train is running late. Everyone is glad that the train isn’t delayed this time and is running as per scheduled time. As the train completes its journey, we all bid a friendly farewell to each other. We all stand in line one behind the other with our luggage. Some of the passengers start waving and screaming to draw attention to their family members who have come to pick them up.
I get off the train with a happy feeling as this journey went well. Every time I travel, I see a new set of people and each journey is unique in its own way. I left the station happy to have experienced yet another pleasant journey.