There has always been a romanticism surrounding train journeys in India. Who can forget the evergreen song “mere sapno ki rani” where Sharmila Tagore is serenaded by Rajesh Khanna. Years later Sharmila's son, Saif sings another beautiful, romantic although less popular number inside a train ...”kasto mazaa hain...” in the movie Parineeta. Of course, normal people don't usually have such romantic encounters when we travel by train and here I would like to relive some of my more memorable experiences.
My very 1st train journey was when I travelled with my maternal grandfather & my brother to Rourkela where my maternal uncle was posted. I don't recall much about that journey except that I was thrilled about meeting my cousins especially my uncle's younger daughter who was closer to my age & hence partner in crime. After this 1st journey, there were many more journeys to Rourkela to follow and on one such journey we were accompanied by a boy (B) and a girl (G) who shared the same cubicle as ours. On this journey, there was four of us travelling together from our family (my mother, grandmother, bro & myself) and the other two berths of the cubicle were occupied by these two individuals, who, to begin with, were not acquainted with each other. The journey to Rourkela takes about 8 hours and soon after the train started B & G became very familiar with each other, sat on the same berth chatting & laughing and also shared their food with each other. They, in fact, went as far as coochie-cooing & cuddling each other ... can't remember if they kissed ... I think not. I was an impressionable and curious teenager at that time and these were the late 80s so such public display of affection (PDA) was completely unpardonable & frowned upon. My grandmother & mother were completely shocked by their behaviour & made some comments to that effect. I made a little note in my mind to tell my cousin & friends at school about what I had seen.
After my Class X exams, my mother & I accompanied with some of my friends, their moms and a group of men who belonged to some environmental group went to Madhya Pradesh to the Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary (it is now part of Chhatisgarh). This journey was especially interesting & exciting to me & my friends because we were travelling so far from home & in the company of men whom we hardly knew. This journey was spent in playing cards with, befriending these men and giggling among ourselves about nothing in particular.
In the mid-90s, my mother & I decided to go on a trip to Pune where one of my aunt's lived & also visit Mumbai on our way back. By this time I was in college and had developed to be an independent young woman who didn't hesitate to speak her mind. Also, although I wouldn't really call myself a feminist I had & still have a distaste for men who feel that they can dominate women because they are physically stronger. So, there were few men during this journey who thought that since my mother & I were “just two women” travelling by ourselves, they could casually use our berths for having their lunch and leaving the place dirty or climb on our berths with their footwear on & we wouldn't complain because we would be cowered down with their masculinity. Suffice to say, they were completely wrong. During this same journey, we were accompanied by a mother-son duo from South India. My mother & I were shocked to see the son (must be in his early 20s) gulp down a bottle of tamarind water first thing in the morning !!! Wouldn't he get acidity ??? !!! I'm still asking myself & anybody who cares to enlighten me, this question.
In the late 90s, I first travelled alone by train. I was travelling all the way from Kolkata, in the East to almost the Western-most tip of our country, to Jamnagar in Gujarat. This was for my first job and I had to travel by train for a total of 54 hours including a 4 hour waiting time in Ahmedabad. The train would reach Ahmedabad around 4 p.m. and then the coach that would go to Jamnagar would be severed from the rest of the train & kept in the siding area till the Okha Express came at 8 p.m. to take it to Jamnagar. This journey was both excruciating and pleasurable. As most of us know, travelling for 54 hours by Sleeper Class can be very trying. Thankfully it was winter, so heat wasn't one of the things that made me uncomfortable but the condition of the loos after 24 hours had become unthinkable !!!
However, I was really looking forward to my first job and that brought me some happiness. I was happy that in times when most of my compatriots were moving away from their core competencies to join the “software” bandwagon, I had got a job in my area with a comparable salary. I was also looking forward to the experience of working in a completely unknown environment and gaining invaluable experience, both professional and personal. On this journey, I also met this interesting young man, about my age, who kept me company and made the tedious journey quite pleasurable. He had just returned from a body-shopping stint in the US and was on his way to Baroda to meet some of his friends. We became quite friendly during the journey and also kept in touch for a few months after this but it finally fizzled away.
My next train journey happened only after about 9 months when I travelled back to my hometown for the first time since I started working. Since, I was now earning myself I upgraded slightly and started travelling by the air-conditioned coach now. I didn't realize till I boarded the train how tired the regular ordeal of travelling an hour each way to work and then working from 8 a.m. To 5 p.m. had made me. I spent most of this journey, comfortably settled on my top berth, either reading a book or sleeping. I only got myself to an upright position to drink the occasional cups of coffee or to eat. This journey was special for me since I was looking forward to meeting my mother and all other close family & friends after such a long time. Of course I had loads to tell them and was also laden with gifts for all. Fortunately, the train, which was infamous for always running late, arrived on time in Kolkata. Unfortunately though, my mom, bro & sis-in-law,who were supposed to pick me up, arrived late !!!
My room-mate in Jamnagar had her hometown in Nagpur and so we later started to plan our holidays in such a way that we could travel at least half the way together. On these journeys, we would carry cheese slices, bread, biscuits, chips etc. to last us till Nagpur & then when her parents came to pick her up at Nagpur, they would pack for me delicious sevai upma, keema mutter & puris. In one of these journeys, as we were lunching on our ration of cheese & bread, the Gujarati family travelling in the same compartment with us were astonished & kept asking us why we weren't eating. Let me mention here that Gujaratis don't compromise on food even when they are travelling. So they usually travel with their theplas or puris, with some veggie accompaniment, myriads of pickles, some sweets and some farsaan (snacks). Naturally, to them bread & cheese was no lunch at all !!! So they kept offering us food and we were sometimes a little lured too. However, since we were travelling by ourselves, and were warned about miscreants who make friendly overtures & then feed you stuff laced with sedatives to rob you, we resisted. I'm sure they had good intentions but better be safe than sorry was our motto.
Since I got married, train journeys have always been fraught with tension, at least for me, since my DH loves to board the train only at the nick of time thereby giving me numerous ulcers. So, alas, all fond memories of train journeys have now ceased to exist.