Thursday, August 7, 2008

On the train

It was the 21st of December in 2003. I was on my way home from Chennai to Delhi aboard the G.T. Express. We were somewhere between Nellore and Ongole stations. The route wasn’t very familiar to us as we were taking that train the first time. There were four of us, me and three seniors from the hostel. It was to be a two day journey, thus we were all relaxing and getting to know our fellow passengers as is the norm in a long train journey. We were waiting impatiently for the next stop as we were really hungry. At the previous station we skipped the dinner because we had had some hostel sneaked snacks .We were crossing a bridge and the train slowly drew to a halt. Our coach was on the bridge. I was looking down at the beautiful moonlight reflecting in the water. It was a mesmerizing view. I threw some chalk pieces down at the water. My purse was a virtual treasury of chalks. I was in love with the wonderful manmade tidbits in various colors. The moonlight scattered when the chalk hit the surface. I looked both sides. The river wasn’t as small as I had thought earlier. Bored , I switched on my walkman. The Kal Ho Na Ho era had just begun. I had seen the movie on the first day first show, like every true SRK fan. Though I didn’t quite like the part of SRK dying in the end, the movie was a true commercial success. I loved the title song. Of course I had no idea that I was to know the true meaning of those lyrics in the next few hours.

We had been stationed there for quite some time now. Everyone was asking around what could
be wrong, knowing nobody had the answer, but still bent upon coming up with an imaginative
solution . 'Maybe there's been an accident' one of us claimed. Horrified, one aunty scolded her. 'Arre nahi beta shubh shubh bolo. Aisa kuch nahi hua hoga. Ho sakta hai ki signal ki koi problem ho.' All the elders nodded to that explanation. 'Par aunty, itni der tak thodi na aisi signal problem ho sakti hai. Kuch aur hi hai, pukka.' my senior justified her point.Being a fresher of course I had no say in what was going on, so I decided to keep mum. I have travelled all my life in trains, in fact I can arguably call trains my second home, my second most comfort zone after my own home. So it wasn’t much of a surprise to be stranded on a bridge like that for a few hours. It happens quite often, if not always with the Indian Railways, but probably that’s why it is said ' If you haven’t been on a train, then you haven’t seen anything of India'. I can’t agree more with the statement. Indian Railways typically signify all aspects of India.. the economic and cultural diversity being the most well personified. Its quite heart warming at times to see a well-to-do businessman and a laborer squeezing against each other for space on the seats. Aunty started distributing sweets to almost everyone sitting around. 'Lo beta, mere bete ki shaadi pukki hui hai. Aur woh bhi mere pasand ki ladki se. Aaajkal ke bachhon ka toh koi bharosa nahi rehta. Bhagvan ki kripa se mera beta aisa nahi nikla.' she launched into an unending description of how many girls in their locality had been eyeing her poor son and how she managed to ward them all off. This is another very interesting aspect of train journeys. In a day or two, people share so much of their personal lives and problems, sometimes staying in touch years after the journey commences, usually though never crossing paths again. But the entire process is however very captivating for an onlooker. You meet people from all walks of life, people whom otherwise you might have nothing to do with, but somehow the knowledge that you probably will never meet these souls again makes it safe to blurt out your feelings and opinions that under other circumstances wouldn't have been an easy thing to do. You learn so much and share so much more.

I remember once I had come across a man who had been in prison for faking his death to claim the insurance money. It was unbelievable how much we had in common, in terms of thoughts and interests. In another incident there was this scientist uncle from South Africa who told me , to my horror ,about a poison spitting-snake that spits directly into the eye and blinds you instantly. He had been very successful in scaring a 10 year old me and I was constantly haunted by those nightmares for a long time after. I also have a long time friend Gopal in the Kerala Express who is a pantry guy and would make sure I had no problems whatsoever in my journeys when I used to travel alone from college to home and back.

Now getting back to my story, we had been stranded for almost five hours .We were all losing out on our patience by now. One of the uncles got up and announced that he was going to enquire with the TC and almost instantly the train launched into action, to everyone's delight. The lights were turned off and all proceeded to sleep. I was hoping the train would pick up speed in the night ,we were five hours behind schedule, and I had just a weeks leave. However, to my dismay within thirty minutes, the train stopped again, in the middle of nowhere. It was pitch dark all around. We were all really pissed off by now and when after some fifteen minutes the TC appeared, we all pounced on him. 'Arre bhai, mujhe kuch bolne toh do.Humari baal baal jaan bachhi hai. Sab bhagvan ko shukriyah karo. Hum log jis pul par ruke hue the, woh abhi abhi toot ke gir gayi hai. Hum 10 minute aur wahan ruk jaate toh pata nahi kya hota.' Shocked ,we were all shaken out of our sleep. The whole coach was now in chaos, urgent discussions started on what could have happened and how lucky we were to be alive.Ours and the adjacent bogie had been completely on the bridge so we would have definitely plunged into the cold river, dragging possibly another three four bogies along with ours.

It was then that I thanked my P.T teacher in school for forcing me into learning diving, something I completely detested. I couldn't understand why I should be under water when I could be very well on it. Although in a deep cold river with strong flow, it wouldn't have really kept me alive, but its often under such circumstances that you realize the value of small skills which seem totally insignificant otherwise. Atheists turn believers. You are not old or young then, neither students, businessmen or daily laborers, you become mere humans. You begin to think of yourself as small pawns in the game of destiny. Its when you realize your love for your parents, the need to hug them, to express love physically, things which you stop doing when you enter your teens. When all good and bad memories of your life flash before you, in a moment, you learn so much more about yourself. When you realize that all your dreams and ambitions could have been washed away in those cruel waters, you are humbled by all means. After an hour or so however, the excitement cooled down and everyone slept off like nothing had happened. The next morning was a new one, the experiences of yesterday only a memory to be talked or written about at a later stage. There were a lot more journeys I took on the train succeeding the same, but every time the bundle of experiences never ceases to amaze me.

If you have time to spare and money to save a train journey is definitely the best bet. Its
amazing how much you will have to take back home.


sashankj said...

Wow!! I finally saw someone who like me believes that Train is the second home.. :) :).. it has been a pleasure to roam the length and breadth of this country in those marvellous machines.. have loved each moment of it..

amit nambiar >> said...

i must say!, nice language, easy interpretations, sound script, narration skills.. wow!

it was one of the best writings i have read.

good work.