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Train journeys aren’t the same anymore

Train journeys just aren’t the same anymore

There was a time when I looked forward to train journeys. Even if it meant going back to my school, without seeing the world for another 10 months.
Embarking on a train journey was like setting sail on a ship to a distant land. The journey spanning 2 to 3 days, and the preparations to be made accordingly. The caterers, who seemed to be traveling through the journey of life, rarely bothered with your requests and had to be coaxed and cajoled to fulfill their responsibilities.

Bundles of food in polythene packets, bread-jam-pickle, water in Milton camper bottles, bed sheets, air-pillows and blankets. Spare clothes for the night, towels and blankets, paper-soap packets with the creepy Bengali woman on the cover, snacks, fries and the uncle who hides his cigarettes in a shaving kit.

Newspapers, magazines, comics and novels sold at AH Wheeler push-carts. Hawkers streaming in with a variety of products – from Ludo-Snake & Ladders, to zippers and suitcase chains, to toys, wallets and flutes. A taste of every place you cross on the journey – fruits cut and peppered with salt and chilli powder, local fried snacks served on yesterday’s newspaper.

Climbing on, and clamouring over seats and berths. Lower berths were least preferred and given to the parents, Upper berths were coveted, and Middle berths fought over. Side Upper and Side Lower were preferred when there was a pretty girl in the compartment, for they provided excellent vantage points.

The thrill of running through the reservation charts to find girls – quickly scanning through their names, age, and destination. Once the target was locked down upon, walking this way and that, speaking loudly. Striking up conversations with the girls, promising to write or call, dreaming of life-long companionship – till the next train journey.

The frozen expression when eunuchs announce their entry with claps and screams. Pretending to stare into the distance when they nudge for a few coins. Sharing food with co-passengers in spite of rumours of robbers who offered you Frooti and ran away with your booty.

Talking to strangers, laughing over the problems of the country. Conversations, debates, and antaksharis that served as universal ice-breakers.

The hustle bustle of the railway station – getting down to fill water, stepping back on the train to feel older. The sounds of trains pulling in at the station, the asexual aunty announcing arrivals and departures, the ebb and flow of the sea of humanity.
Train journeys were planned for weeks, and then remembered for months.

***

Time and Tide wait for none. Neither do Tips and Ariel.

Everything I used to love about train journeys is a sore today.

To embark on a journey over an entire day seems like a punishment when you could fly across the country in a few hours. Five-year plans are no more needed for train journeys. Tatkal tickets can be booked on the phone in a few minutes. There is no need to pack in spare clothes, or food, pillows and bed sheets. The train staff are now alert, conscious of the fact that a complaint can be lodged with the Railway Minister in a matter of minutes.

Newspapers, magazines and comics lie untouched at the AH Wheeler pushcarts, their products having failed the test of the wheel of time. Phones loaded with movies, TV shows and Kindle-full on novels and poetry fit into low-rise pockets. Hawkers aren’t allowed on AC compartments anymore, and niche start-ups could deliver Ludo-Snake & Ladder at your doorstep. In place of new food springing up at every station, the government regulated, minimum-quality, minimum-quantity sterile food is served throughout the journey.

There is no more clamouring for seats. My body, semi-retired due to escapades, sexcapades, and alcohol, craves the Lower Berth. The Upper Berth is still alright, but under no circumstance will the Middle Berth be preferred. Side Upper and Side Lower are curses now, my limbs struggling to fit in, like teenagers in society.

I do not look at reservation charts for women anymore; I mock lifelong companionship. I am wary of talking to a woman in my compartment, for fear of featuring on Facebook the next day with the caption – ‘This creep tried to harass a woman, and got a fitting reply!’. I quietly fire up Tinder to swipe this way and that.

Strangers have gotten even stranger. Compartments of people staring into their phones, tablets and laptops – their worlds shrunk into smaller and smaller spaces, till it fits into their pocket. Loud music plays from different phones across the compartment, the only loud voices that of children, who will grow up and become disillusioned with all the fun they are having at the moment.

The hustle-bustle of the railway stations scares me now. The ocean of humanity, the crush of the rush. I scan through the platform, planning an escape route if a gunman appears and begins to shoot down people. I run to my train and enter it in a hurry.

*

Train journeys, they just aren’t the same anymore!

(Featured Image courtesy: www.studycopter.com)