Friday, 25 February 2011


I like trains.

I love trains. There aren't very many good things about them. They're cramped. The food is almost always awful. The non A/C compartments are liable to fry you alive, and the A/C compartments are likely to freeze you to death. The stations are invariably overcrowded, the toilets are stinky, the space underneath your seat never enough for all your bags.

Oh, how I love trains. The dagadagadaga of the wheels underneath you. The little bedside lamp that you never use, because it's just too bright. Looking out of the window, to see miles of woodland, or farmland. Going over a bridge, wondering whether it can take the weight of this giant machine. Stopping in a sleepy little town, or a not-so-sleepy metro, where vendors outside try to sell you plastic nothings. Reading your book, because you have nothing better to do, and let us be honest, don't want anything better to do.

Trains have character. Not like aeroplanes. Giant metal birds, sterilised, air-pressured, air hostesses saying please-sir-put-your-cellphone-off all the time, never willing to accept that if the most advanced flight systems of the world could be foiled by a mobile phone, Nokia would be marketing very successfully to Al-Qaeda. Even the food is tasteless. On trains, the food always tastes of something. The cutlets are sublime, the coffee is never bland. You only ever travel on planes because they're convenient. There is no other reason why one should travel by it.

Trains are most certainly not like cars. Horrible, cramped things with no space for your legs or for your head or for your arms or for anything. Wearing a seat belt, and not being able to move at all. The cars behind you insist on going at the speed of light, and the cars in front of you have probably never heard of Einstein or Heisenberg, and madcap motorcyclists trying to find new ad inventive  ways of overtaking and/or committing suicide. Horns everywhere, and people swearing at each other.

No, the train is a special thing. The locomotive's wheels, the steam engine, the tracks on which they ride, are far superior to any mode of transport that has ever been conceived. They are conducive to memories and conversations and a dozen other things. They are home in a way nothing else is home, for trains are the technology of the Old World of British India married to the bureaucracy of the New World of the Republic of Hindustan. Sheets and pillows and rough towels that you never, ever use, the almost forgotten sigh of 'I wonder what first A/C is like', and waving to people on platforms, on roads, on construction sites, watching their bemused faces as they wave back before going on with their lives.

Traveling on a train is a cathartic experience for me. It is a way of letting go of everywhere outside, my only contact my phone, which is inevitably deprived of signal and of charge. My space the upper berth that no one else will have because it is too painful to climb, my time the entire day it takes from Hyderabad to Delhi, or the short night it takes from Secunderabad to Madras, my world my own.

The best memories I have on trains are the ones I have of going to weddings, with my entire family. Playing bluff and 304 and Uno. Buying and sharing pakodas and mixture. Huddling underneath rugs to keep warm, and talking and laughing and saying 'DODDIK-PO!' to each other.

I love trains.

1 comment:

Sita said...

me too.
especially the weddings, when we booked entire bhogis! :)

trains always meant appa buying me a whole heap of comics from the station. and masala vadas, which had to be bought on the sly because my amma disapproved of them.

i miss train travel. this mamidipudi ticket curse has got to go, i tells ya. the last three times i planned to travel by train, i got stuck with an unconfirmed ticket at WL 2.