There’s no journey like that of the grand old Indian Railways I’ve always been a bit of a romantic when it comes to travel, especially rail travel. Almost always, I tend to be more upbeat about the journey than the destination itself. Having toured across much of India and even a bit of the rest of the world, I have always been spellbound by the beauty and enigma of train journeys. That essence continues even today, and my peers often joke that I’m the only one in the country who becomes happy when a train runs late.
It is, however, not just about the trains themselves. India’s 163-year-old railway network has millions of stations, and some of them are as old as the grand old web that is the Indian Railways. With massive terminals plying so many trains every day, the chaos is inevitable. The magic lies in the stable rhythm that settles in well within the chaos, and all of this takes me back to my childhood days every time I take a train nowadays.
The Shatabdis and Rajdhanis still remain the most glamorous trains of the Indian Railways, and take me back to those days when I would fervently count down to our vacations. The Rajdhani Express, as I would see it, was an icon, the epitome of excellence that one could travel on. The rest was a mix of long distance juggernauts and local EMUs, leading to an eclectic ensemble of passengers. The massive halls that would greet us right before the journey was a cauldron of emotions in every possible way – you meet the regular passengers who are bored of tiresome daily commutes, many who are urgently rushing towards their destination with a perennial frown, holidayers with an embarrassing amount of luggage (us included), and innumerable more, interspersed with security and railway staff, and the lady announcer’s tenor voice that has neither aged nor wavered, ever.
The station was my prime interest before the journey, lined with food stalls and magazine outlets where I would bargain with my mother to buy me a Mango Frooti, and eye other kids of my age haggling for board games laminated in cheap plastic, their mothers being more interested in thin hand-fans in ridiculous neon shades. I would look up fascinated at the massive railway charts,wondering who ever cleaned the cobwebs, and if so many trains actually left the terminal. The blaring horns of the WAP-4 electric locomotives made the entire station feel like a single-headed eclectic humdinger.
Then began the journey itself. I would always wonder why my dad would get off after hauling all the luggage under our seats, and start panicking as soon as I would hear the faintest trace of the whistle. Dad would somehow always magically appear right on cue, and this would always reinstate my faith in him, the superman. The train berths were bunkers, and the ladders were the ultimate adventure to trek up on. The deal was to always find someone of my age, and the conversation would always begin with awkward silences.
Ah, the glory days! The compartment was our playground, and the vestibule, a volatile enemy that would rattle to scare us! TTE uncle was always the source of “train kitna late hai?”, and I would always try to persuade “food bhaiya” to give me an extra sweet, always ending up being scolded by mum for it. The relentless train engine, I used to think, was this tamed monster who was our invincible guard on the journey, and the entire aura of security became irrefutable when guard uncle would slam the doors shut for the night, and the entire train would doze off to sleep.
The train berths were bunkers, and the ladders were the ultimate adventure to trek up on.
The following morning was always a jeopardy of actions – a rush to collect luggage, coolies over-insistent on assistance, and amid all of it, the face of my cousin sister, whom I would meet twice in a year. As we would alight and the train would move on, I would always imagine the rest of the train’s path as an undefined infinity, vowing to one day sit in the train and go all the way to the end. “The day you grow up,” my dad would tell me.
Twenty years have gone by since those days of the fantastic journeys, but apart from the people around, not much has changed. Even today, I get the same feeling whenever I get off at my destination, vowing to one day remain in the train and find out the undefined infinity that lies beyond the railway tracks.
Watch here a video titled ‘My First Train Journey’ by Paper Boat Drinks:
-By Shouvik Das