Trains have been and will always be an integral part of my life. I wonder what life without trains would have been for me. My dad’s job is of transferable nature, so mom and I have had to travel a lot to meet my dad. Then came the time for me to join a school. I live in a village, so I had to travel about 17 kilometers per day to reach my school< a good school used to be a rarity back then>then I shifted base to the city to study in another school, so I had to travel back by train to enjoy my weekends at my hometown. I’m in the final year of college now and trains have been my tickets to freedom over the past three years. When it comes to freaking out with friends in the city or travelling to destinations across the city, I have not had the misfortune of looking beyond the eternal love of my life. I also embark on trips to various places of interest across the Indian Diaspora every year and the train journeys have made these extra special.
There is something magical about trains. The rhythmic and harmonious sound that’s churned out as a result of the propulsion is music to my ears. The quantum of activity that one gets to witness in a train is unbelievable. The cry babies, the garrulous old men, the irritating girls ceaselessly talking about lipsticks and make-up, the maamas and maamis discussing family problems, the loud businessmen shouting at employees over their phones, the taciturn dude enjoying the evening breeze and music on his I-pod, brainy middle-agers discussing business, politics and cinema, the locallu boys smoking beside the door and discussing something in hushed voices, female vendors spitting paan in between the pointing finger and the middle finger: well a train is definitely not short of characters.
The moment I step inside a train, I make it a point to get myself a seat and observe these characters (any other discerning observer mistakes me to be the taciturn dude type). After I am done with the fun, I get into the groove for some action. I mostly end up joining the brainy uncles discussing economics (banks, fiscal policies, economic reforms, recession etc.), a subject that’ll never cease to fascinate me. I put my hand up for the occasional dumb doubt or giggle at a pun-filled remark. I don’t listen to music when I’m travelling because I’d miss out on fun; I make an exception to the general rule when I travel with my family though.
The aforementioned characters are usually encountered in electric trains in Chennai or when travelling by a reserved compartment in an express train. It’s a different story altogether when I travel by a general unreserved compartment. I prefer travelling by an unreserved compartment any day and I’ve been doing it quite regularly. My friends keep interrogating me about it. Well one main reason is that it’s cheap. And I love the air of unexpectedness that surrounds an unplanned trip. That fizz motivates me! One doesn’t get to see such a variety of characters in a general compartment. In fact, there are only two kinds: the innocent, stupefied person, a common man in the real sense, not the common men the media goes gaga about: his eye sports the glint, the twinkle that you would notice in the eye of a 10-year old when you take him to a planetarium. Not a hint of self-consciousness is noticeable. Next, there is the arrogant transgressor who thinks smoking or drinking in public is cool; a brash youth with coloured hair that doesn’t suit him one bit: the type of guy who plays a petty thief in movies.
I love talking to strangers because it’s a way of making friends and I’d like to slap people who condemn conversations with strangers: every friend of yours was once a stranger idiot! Try striking a conversation with the first kind: its bliss of the highest order. They don’t understand recession, they care a damn about the political scenario, they don’t have to worry about corruption and its consequences, and they mistake you to be abusing them if you mention Anna Hazare or Baba Ramdev. But I have to admit that these people are generally conscious about their religion and caste. They are in love with their place of origin and their surroundings. Love for nature is instinctive. They can give you INTERESTING ten hour lectures (that sets them apart from our lecturers in college) about their kovil thiruvizhas (temple gatherings), oor sandhais(er, temporary malls in villages, not multi-storeyed though ), riots, relatives, marriages, food and children. They also come up with the occasional wisecrack about cities, culture and this generation. Trust me, these conversations are much more interesting than the “student politics, I’m gonna change the world” discussions. And when it’s time for you to get down, they paint their words with emotion, genuine ones at that!
I usually resort to sleeping when in a reserved compartment during night trips, unless it’s a youngster on the other side, preferably girls. The topic of discussion I’d prefer when I embark on a night time journey with girls is obvious, so I don’t have to fuss about it
I recently made my first proper long distance trip in an AC compartment. I hated every bit of it till I got a seat alongside an old fellow on his way to some meeting in Kerala. Apparently, he hasn’t had much education but **maaley! He spoke about everything that makes up the complex cycle of life! By mistake, obviously ignorant about the sea of questions that were to besiege me, I told him that I was pursuing mechanical engineering. And that was it! I am ashamed of the fact that I’m going to be in possession of a b.tech degree in a year’s time!
The writer of this post is also in awe of the MRTS in Chennai and the metro in Delhi. The speed, the grand structures and the network: they’ll never cease to amaze me. He is also eagerly awaiting the arrival of Chennai metro (there is a possibility of monorail making its debut too). But there’s one disturbing thought amidst the ocean of fond memories. I don’t mind the railways treating the AC compartment commuters to spicy food, newspapers, magazines and other privileges. Excusable discrimination. But I think the commuter in the general compartment deserves better sanitation facilities. A parryware toilet in the ac compartments and rusted mugs and soiled toilets for others is definitely unacceptable!