Caught up with meetings and power point presentations i didn’t click on it till late in the evening. Google celebrates 160 years of Indian railways shouted all the headlines and i felt ashamed.
How could I have let this momentous occassion pass me by?
Well to make up for it, here is my railway story…
I fell in love with the Indian Railways very early in life, much before I got acquainted with the wonderful Paul Theroux and that redoubtable guard.
Hazy memories come streaming through as I sip my chai and surf the web reading stories from other lovers of the indian railways composing odes to the snake that trails this great country uniting people in a common cause: travel for whatever reason.
Even as I browse through images and read posts I am a pony-tailed, scrubby-nosed kid again and chaos reins in the joint family household composing a nanimaa, nanu, maasis, maamas, chachas and chachis not to mention the innumerable cousins. It’s the summer hols and we watch as some members of the family set out on their annual pilgrimage.
The customary preparation began with a visit to the South Western Railways. A younger maama would take us along to the ticket counter to fill up forms. A clutch of forms and long lines later we would head back home in the afternoon sun happy for getting reserved tickets.
At home, preparation for the long journey ahead was like watching a traveling circus.
Cotton mattress were rolled up and belted in tarpaulin sheets; kamandals polished and kept in front of the household deity before they were considered fit to make the journey; cotton sarees; lungis; stacks of comic books if we kids were lucky to accompany the adults; steel containers filled with condiments for the long journey; leaf plates stuffed with curd rice and pickles, puliyogare, lemon rice, roti and aloo subzi; steel pots filled with water; tumblers; serving spoons and news papers were just some of the interesting items that made part of the 12-16 pieces of luggage.
Finally, our merry coterie would accompany the departing adults on scooters, autos and cars. I’m surprised as I recollect these scenes that we didn’t have a mini tempo or a movers n packers or even the brass bands assist us in reaching the railway station.
On reaching the station, there would be a scurry to get platform tickets. These were treasured as the stubs would be used in board games during the long summer vacations.
While the kids held on to each other forming a chain with the eldest adult being our guide amidst the jostling crowd ferrying us safely to our platform, the rest of the junta would manage the luggage precariously balanced on their heads or shouldered; the ladies would carry the steel containers and parcels of food; nani would carry the kamandal and nanu would generally shout directions at anyone who cared to listen.
(Courtesy: Google Images)
Strong scents or smells, depending on your sensibilities, hit the nostrils. The smell of piss and fecal matter were the first to win the race in reaching your nose much before the smell of sweat, flowers, fish, dung, chai, samosas, vadas and people could hit you hard.
A veritable fear of missing the train always made us reach the station atleast an hour and a half before the train was scheduled to depart. And to this day, that habit has never left me. (And I still get confused between the old station and the new one.)
The South Western Railways, their motley crew of engine drivers, guards, TCs, porters and the platforms they ply on deserve another post dedicated to them.
Those days the stations danced to the tune of tea and biskuut vendors selling and shouting chai chai kaapi kaapi kaapi instead of the TV screens playing the latest dinchak hits.
Last minute purchases included boiled sweets (Parry’s coconut bar available for 10 paise was a favorite); parle-g biscuits; oranges; books from Wheeler Book House or Higginbothams depending on which station you boarded the train from; Parachute coconut oil and comb.
Finally, as the coaches of the train arrived at the designated platform we kids would be shephered back into the waiting arms of a maasi, while the men fought their way into the coming train as soon as the doors were flung open. With 12 and more pieces of luggage, they deserved applause for securing baggage space for every single item including the kamandal which never left my nani’s arm despite all the cajoling and pleading.
Some time later (it seemed to us forever) by what was nothing but a miracle the travelling circus had settled down and we were allowed to board the coach to wish the departing relatives fond farewells.
The whistle would sound in the distance and we would feel the faint jerk of the train as it began preparing to pull out of the station.
Squeezes, hugs and kisses and we were whisked out of the coach. The departing ones would squeeze their nose to the metal rods barring the coach windows and we would furiously wave running along side the coach shouting and cheering….
And so ended yet another journey to the Railway station till we became old enough to accompany our adults.
but that is another post……
P.S; And while you are surfing to read more on the great Indian Railway bazaar, check these out:
and this very intriguing….The Great Circular Indian Rail Challenge