The most efficient way to experience India, if time happens to be a scarce resource is to hop on to a train, those which take three days to go from the source to the destination. A microcosm of the entire nation is duly represented in those 20 odd coaches. I am not talking about those AC coaches, which I believe are used only by snobs, but the more proletarian sleeper class. You see families, mother trying to control their kids, teenagers acting as if they do not give a damn, single travellers who mainly try to stay out of the way, bunch of college kids generating noise enough to derail the train, old people annoyed by the constant shrieks and whinnies of the aforementioned college students, hawkers trying to sell their wares and the mandatory “Pardesi, pardesi, jaana nahi” croon by beggars trying to make a living. All in a couple of days. It is an interesting experiment which a train puts people through every day. The initial suspicion of your fellow passengers, followed by the awkward and stuttered conversation and by the end of the journey, more often than not, you would have told your entire life story, your fears, joys and sorrows, while listening with interest-feigned or otherwise of their story. I believe many life changing decisions can be made when you talk to strangers, who hold an impartial view of what you are and what you do in life. I yearn for those days – when life was slower and flights were out of reach monetarily and the only way to travel were these trains.
My father worked in a bank and that meant only one thing-Transfers. I have had more than a fair share of travelling by trains with huge suitcases carrying our clothes and other worldly belongings. I was a slow kid – I started talking around four and since then I have never stopped. My dad used to joke that for four years, they were trying to make me talk. Since then they have been trying their best to make me stop, albeit unsuccessfully, of course. Once I was travelling with my mother and uncle to Bombay from Bangalore. Bothered by my incessant questioning about every train which used to pass us by and mainly to shut me up, my uncle bought me a railway timetable. Ever since then, I loved trains. Or rather loved railway timetables. Almost every afternoon after returning from school, I spent hours pouring over the book, imagining myself as a tour guide planning a trip for imaginary foreigners, while my mother was busy with her afternoon siesta. For a year or two, my aim in life was to become a guide. Places like Sawai Madhopur, Jalpaiguri, Guntakal – places which no 5th standard kid should know were at the tip of my tongue for they were major junctions. Some places like Kharagpur known for its long platform, Bhawani Mandal – a station half of which is in Rajasthan, half in Madhya Pradesh became some of the important tourist destinations in my mind. My house in Ahmedabad as well as in this small village near Hospet called Hulgi used to overlook the railway track. Countless afternoons were spent with me counting the number of bogies on the goods train. During Kargil war, it was the number of jeeps on the train meant for transportation to the front. There ought to exist some special relation between me and the train. For gods sake, come to think of it, the house I currently live in, in Bangalore is right next to a railway track.
Thanks to the tyranny of the likes of DDLJ, Jab We Met, Saathiya and hordes of other movies which I grew up watching, the notion that it is mandatory to meet some one interesting on a journey is ingrained in my sub-conscious brain. Everytime I take a train from Bangalore to Chennai or vice-versa, I get into the train expecting that I will meet “interesting people” and get aquainted with them and well, you know…Everytime I take a train from Bangalore to Chennai or vice-versa, my seat is always next to an old couple travelling with their grandchildren. Usually it is a 8 year old kid. I generally like kids, but I loathe kids of this particular age. I sometimes wish that kids of this generation weren’t introduced to the marvels of modern technology bringing with it the attention deficiency, so that I can just buy them a railway timetable, introducing them to that magical wonderland. Of course, it would also shut them up for sometime at the least.
Now that I am at crossroads over what I should do, I can’t help but wonder how my life would have panned out, if I had been a tour guide.