160 years of Indian railways and more….

This fabulous doodle awaited me one fine morning….160 years of Indian Railways

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.

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(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.

Parry's toffee

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:

The Overland Chapati Express

Around India in 80 Trains

Grandtourism Travel

and this very intriguing….The Great Circular Indian Rail Challenge

Happy New Year ye all

Back to life, back to reality went my head as I landed at Bengaluru airport.

I miss the metro already, and the all-in-one travel card. I missed the Arabic singsong that went Al-habua Tuqlaq (from what my ear could make out) which translated meant the doors are closing. But most of all I miss the freedom to be where I want, whatever time I want, however I want, without having to worry about getting groped, mauled and leered.

I have the Dubai Hangover real bad.

P1000676

Fresh air and plenty of exercise I was living a modern Enid Blyton tale (only our picnics were at the Malls, and the pic you see here became one of my favourite malls – the Ibn Battuta Mall. So named for the explorer who traversed 3 continents). Nothing could have prepared me for Dubai. This hotspot isn’t all sun and sand and futuristic buildings that always seem to take me to Flash Gordon comics and Ming’s empire.

Morning, noon or evening, no matter what, i heard chirping. Hoopoes, munias, barbets, babblers, sparrows, indian roller, silver beaked munias, himalayan bulbuls, parakeets, crows, sea gulls, a falcon (the trainer said i could get photographed along with the falcon if i forked out 100 dirhams) and i think i even heard a peacock, perhaps that was just my over-excited imagination.

After 10+years of holding a valid passport I was lucky to get 3 visas stamped in a span of over 365 days. And in this case the first is still the most memorable. Beautiful Bhutan.

DSC03333i did not have the energy to climb the whole 900 metres to pay my obeisance to Guru Rinpoche and the other monks at the the Taktsang Palphug Monastery taking the aide of a mule and kicking a frenchman on my way up (inadvertently of course) but the short 3 kilometer walk was enough to have me remember there is a GOD.

my lungs used to Co2 cried for mercy as they inhaled fresh, pure oxygen. It was killing!

You can read more about that unforgettable trip here.

And between this ancient, constitutional monarchy and a modern, federal monarchy was my trip to that mecca of capitalism, the U.S.of A. Armed with my historic knowledge of federal political system, my journalistic grasp of the financial crisis, my media monitoring knowledge of the immigration process and my childhood knowledge of Archies I stepped into SFO Airport.

Serpentine queues, frisking and curt officialdom later I took a cab to San Jose, my destination. In the fortnight I stayed there I was just struck by one aspect we lacked. Punctuality. Meetings would start on time and end at the designated hour.Cabbies would arrive at the second and fume and leave if we came even a breathing sec late. IST was just not tolerated!

What I did not like. I had to wash my own dishes. I had to lift my heavy luggage. I had to clean the mess I made. I had to wait my turn.

NEW YEAR

Back to life, back to reality.

Even as I write this I have to finish 3 articles, draft an announcement, clean up a power point presentation and in the midst of all this finish eating dinner that mum has so lovingly placed on the table.

Photo0346And as I chomp I have a creepy hand crawl down my back.

Eerily, I recollect my first week back home after being overseas for a month and more.

An errant towing truck taking an illegal U-turn and a speeding driver busy talking on his phone caused this damage to our car.

We had to tow away the car. Ironic!

No, it wasn’t the towing truck that banged into us which towed away our car. That would have been a fairytale ending, isn’t it?! Rather like having the court tell the rapist to marry his victim!!

And to think that we were traveling at a sedate 30kmph and actually waited for the towing truck to complete the U-turn over the dividing intersection onto the other side of the road with heavy traffic both ways.

There would not have been an accident.

It would have been like any other day when 2-wheelers and trucks decided to take U-Turns at places where they cannot and are not supposed to.

It would have been like any other day when we would helplessly watch pedestrians rush to and fro with cars,buses,autos, 2-wheelers and cows swing away trying to avoid squashing them.

It would have been like any other day.

Only.

This time we were unfortunate enough to patiently wait for the truck to pass instead of cursing and swerving the car dangerously to overtake the truck and move past with no heed of other cars or people or cows.

We were patient to have a car ram us from behind as the driver tried to juggle his phone, his conversation with the lady next to him and avoid us (the car in front  – obviously his last priority).

And this isPhoto0350 the result.

 

 

 

Everybody who heard about this said, “Well thank God you are lucky, nothing happened to you. The family is ok. That’s all that matters.”

Well, yes, sure the family is ok and I thank God.

But this should not have happened. Had we not worn seat belts, you, my dear reader, would have read an obit in some of the popular local newspapers.

And I thank God, yes, Thank God we still have drivers who say, “Yaake isthake drive maadodhe bidbeku” (Translated: What you want us to give driving because of this?!) ; “Namma thappu alla, neevu yaake nillisabekaayithu. Bera jana thara speed maadi avoid maadbekaithu” (Translated: It is not our fault. You should not have stopped your vehicle. Like other people you should have avoided that truck and sped ahead instead of letting it pass).

Oh yes, I thank God for people like this and a country like ours where rules are meant to be broken.

Have a great year ahead dear reader. I just started mine !

Cheers.