Posts Tagged With: train

Railway rendezvous with Raju

Ma and I walk into the platform, lugging our bags along. There is a spare seat in one of those typical 3-seater benches you find in any railway station. Ma requests the two young fellows seated – Raju and Teju – to make place for a third and fourth, insisting that I do not stand for the next two hours (with due courtesy to the punctual Indian train system).

This is Bangalore and the boys seated next to us are conversing in Bengali. They appear to be in their mid-twenties, dressed in simple clothes and carrying a duffel bag each. With all the time to kill, Ma and me speculate on what could they be doing in life. We eventually conclude that they are cooks in Bangalore (broadly on the fact that the city has a lot of male cooks from Odisha) and are possibly going back home for a short break.

Curiosity gets the better of the mother and soon enough, a conversation commences with her asking them where they are heading to. Raju, the chattier of the two, also wants to know where we are from and what we do. Infact, he shoots off a string of questions about us and Ma suddenly gets cautious (we are returning from a wedding and she has some jewellery in her bag!). However, the guys seem affable and she continues to chat giving them enough information that should do us no harm. And then, it is our turn to ask them questions. Both of us in our Hindi best.

railway travel

I must admit that this pic was taken on the sly. In hindsight, I should have just asked their permission and they’d have gladly posed!

Raju tells us that they are farmers from a small town an hour away from Kolkatta. He has worked in the fields from a very young age and has always wanted to travel. Last year he made a solo trip down south to Kerala and Tamil Nadu, his maiden voyage outside Kolkatta. He further explains that he keeps some savings aside for travel whenever possible and this is his second vacation;  he has brought along good friend Teju to see the world outside Bengal. Our speculation proved wrong, we are now donning the interviewers’ hat and wanting to know what places he visited and liked, any challenges faced with language and of course, food. Raju tells us that while there were occasionally problems every now and then especially with communication, the overall experience was wonderful. And then he tells us something more. Nothing possibly new to you or me, but something good to hear every now and then.

“Every person must travel wherever he/she can, even with limited means. We meet people very different from us and learn something new everywhere we go. There are sights that amaze us and some that shock us but every experience is enriching and makes us wiser and more understanding.”

We chat a little longer and Raju and Teju are off to board their train to Chennai. They found the nippy weather of Bangalore a little too cold for their liking and are eager to discover a warmer city. And to devour idli-sambar.

Categories: India, Travelogue | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

The great indian rail journey

36 hours of free time.
Chai/Kapi-wallahs.
Packed food.
Cockroaches.
Green fields.
Brown rugs.
Smelly toilets.

Positive or negative, nothing can evoke a strong sense of nostalgia like that of a train journey. To me, the quintessential train journey of my childhood was that taken from Coimbatore to Bombay (yes yes, Mumbai) and back during summer vacations. Fortunately, for most of these 36 odd hour-long trips, we were able to afford a 2-tier air-conditioned coach (there were no 3-tier AC coaches then). Tamilians, Malayalis, Gujjus & Sindhis would form the majority of passengers travelling this route. Strangers would become friends by the end of the journey.

An interesting observation that sticks to my mind was the always-uniform food habits. The south indians would invariably home-pack their food. Tamarind rice and curd rice would be neatly wrapped in banana leaves & old newspapers alongside spoons and paper plates. A Bombay-bred family like ours would sometimes carry theplas (spiced Indian flat bread) in aluminum foil as well. Nothing, and I repeat NOTHING could replace Idlis (rice dumplings) smeared with chilli powder (and sugar at times) as the staple train breakfast. Buying from trains or stations was not the norm. In sharp contrast was the gujju family seated next to us. The mother (or better still grandmother) would first remove the knife, then the kairi (raw mango) which was deftly and finely chopped along with an onion. A quick mix of this with puffed rice and the masalas culminated in a delicious looking Bhel which was then distributed and consumed. And mind you, this was just the appetiser. While I recall it to be a great ‘timepass’ watching the fervour with which these folks consumed their food (and occasionally offered me as well), I must admit that it did not contribute much for the tidiness or odour of the place!

As years passed by, only overnight or half-day journeys were preferred, the one I now classify into the ‘insomniac’ and the ‘contemplative’ trips. The former being overnight sleepless train journeys where one hears atleast 4 different types of snores in various intonations and rhythms! And the latter which start early morning and reach the destination by noon/evening. These are ones where you read a book, take a nap, and contemplate life by looking at the countryside.

I think most of us Indians have gone through these varied emotions at some point in time on the train – cringing in disgust while visiting the loo, the thrill in getting off a station for a few minutes and rushing back before as the bell rings, the excitement at spotting your loved one waiting to receive you at the station or the deep-down feeling of sadness when you wave frantic good-byes as the light goes green and the train slowly chugs along to its destination.

Categories: India, Travelogue | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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