Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Railway Stories

I like to travel a lot, especially the unplanned ones; that too in train. You can experience a lot of things if you travel in Indian trains - the slow, crawling ones vomiting thick smokes.
Some of the journeys had taught me the virtues of patience. The journey in general compartments of various trains from Chengannur to Payyanur (during engineering days) is an unforgettable one, especially the night journey we used to take in heavily crowed Malabar Express and spend the entire night before reaching the destination.

The moment we give the concession form (college authorities gives the form) to the person in ticket counter, the argument starts (especially if the person sitting there is 'he' and not 'she') - he believes that engineering college students always forge documents!
The journey is supposed to take 10 hours (which never happens) and always used to take a good 1 or 2 hours extra and used to cost Rs.90 (Rs. 45 with concession).
After delay of 1hr (average), the malabar express stops in moonlit (curse the powercuts) Chengannur station with screeching noise. People in plarform starts running insearch of proper compartments. When we get into the last compartment silently (general compartments are always in the last and first positions), an ocean on passengers welcomes us with a sigh!
Anybody will think: 'Oh god! so many people in India?'

The old, yellow lighted but thickly coated compartments with wooden seats, births and luggage racks make all sorts of noises to keep you awake through out the night.
There were instances in which we (unfortunate engineering students) had to stand on one leg from 9PM to 4AM in cramped general compartments. Well, standing for that many hours may not be a difficult task, but add these constraints - you cannot move, you cannot put both legs on the floor simultaneously!
During these years we had made company with lots of people like ashraf (self proclaimed customs officer), Mr.x (who told about his tales of all india tour for hours without break), Mrs. y (an elderly lady with lots of luggage and wanted my help to put them on the luggage rack), lots of students from across kerala, the list goes on...
People will form various groups and start discussing about anything under the sun! a good way to kill time when u cannot even think of reding some junk book. Even in night journeys, getting a place to sit with space to spread your legs was like more than a luxury.
Of course, reserving a birth is the best option, but during the engineering days, it was always difficult to book the tickets in advance, that too one month prior to journey.
Even in the congested compartments of Malabar Express, the tea vendors will squeeze through the available space (better word is unavailable space), calling loudly "chaaya, kaaapi", breaking the entire discussions going on and adding to the pandemonium. Somebody buys tea and struggles to drink, some others curse the vendor and continue with whatever they are engaged in.

Every vacation we used to curse the journey, but see ourselves doing the same in next journey, and it continued for 4 years. Only hope for us was like at the end of the journey fruitful results are awaiting us - stay in the home for few days.
Looking back now, feel like those journeys were really worth experiencing - those have added various perspectives to our lives. Now a days long train journeys are a rarity and if at all required, there is scope for booking in advance, so that general compartments can be avoided.

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