Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thoughts on a Train

We, Neel and I, just ended a 56 hours journey on a train, travelling from Bangalore to Guwahati. We decided to travel by train as we had time on our hands and it was long since we train travelled. Also, as Neel pointed out, it would be our first train journey together (silly :D, not taken into consideration those Mumbai locals). So, we set out for our three nights’ long journey across the south-eastern part of India, cutting through Karnataka,Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal.

As they say, train experiences are experiences one would never forget. Each person travelling on the train has a different story to tell, I am sure. Our story is also different; humorous, frustrating, irritating and loving in equal measure. A three day story of us in a train can be an extremely long blogpost (one realizes because one is still unable to finish writing that), so here are some of my thoughts/ observations while I sat on my side berth in a 3AC compartment atop the Guwahati Express.
  • Cockroaches can crawl on ceilings, inverted, defying gravity. Guwahati Express gave us plenty of cockroaches to observe and conclude our findings. So many baby cockroaches were around that it made Neel “google” the word used for baby cockroaches. “Nymph” apparently. Sorry, ahimsa guys, but we went totally “nymph”-o-maniac on the train, killing, stamping, stomping all the nymphs.
  • Books can be purchased for three reasons. 1. Kill Time 2. Kill Cockroaches 3. Make a table on your berth and eat food. (Sorry, Jhumpa Lahiri, I mean it.)
Jhumpa Lahiri: your book served a lot of purpose
  • With a side view, watch the aunt from Andhra Pradesh wearing a saree, her hair dripped in oil and in a behaving braid, give the girl from Arunachal Pradesh wearing hot pants and dyed hair an awfully disapproving look. It was comic to see them sitting side by side, yet the disparity between them was a surprising blow. One realizes there are all kinds of people in this world.
  • When girls have too many luggages, they fill up every nook and corner and then an entire berth and later on, two of them share a berth the entire journey! I envy their slimness; I had trouble fitting one body in a berth!
  • There’s always a guy who never came down for 56 hours from the top berth!
  • There’s always an unmarried couple who are stuck together in a berth for 56 hours with so much love and coziness it makes you wonder if love is body-odor too.
  • It is compulsory to have a funny guy in your compartment, to lighten things up.
  • It is not compulsory, but it is almost irresistible to let go the wares of any hawker who passes by. Everything looks better in a train… from bhelpuri to coffee to fruits to torchlights to saree… you get the flow!
  • It is important that you know what is famous in which station and quickly go and buy. Like, mangoes in Malda and biryani in Andhra Pradesh. 
  • A Glimpse of Godavari
  • When the pantry guy is Assamese, you receive an open invitation to join them for drinks. If you are not Assamese and they didn’t invite you, worry not, hang the railway blankets from the high-ceilinged rods, thus blocking other passengers’ view from your enclave, call your friends and quickly have a pass-the-bottle session. Only the smell is the proof and anyway, no one would bother to smell your cavities at 1AM!
  • If alcohol didn’t bind your bonds of friendship, smoking would. That daring activity that everyone fears getting fined, yet everyone can’t resist. At midnight, half the man’s population are out of the AC compartment and standing next to the doors; crowded, jostling rhythmically and smoking cigarettes. Girls, if you can’t find a place there, try going two-at-a-time to the toilet with a room freshener in your hand (at first, I thought she was concerned that the toilet will stink after she shits; na├»ve me!)
  • Don’t bother putting an alarm; not that you have work to do on a train. You will be woken up by the constant rumpus of “Chai, Chai” and “Breakfast, Nashta” of the hawkers.
  • Understand that Hindi is our national language and you will hear different accented versions of it. By the way, even Bhutanese can speak Hindi, can you believe it! The reaches of Ekta Kapoor and Indian TV!
  • Your lunch from the pantry will have a sabzi and a curry of the exact same colour. Same colour, different raw materials. In most cases, it will be a red hue and a lot of masala shall be put in it. Yet, I can’t help but wonder how the food, with so much masala, can be with absolutely NO taste! On second thoughts, don’t bother with the pantry. There may be “nymphs” there considering how many are lurking around in our compartment! Elementary mathematics of food v. cockroach statistics. Just eat from the hawkers or at the stations (I am presuming their level of hygiene, though low, will not be worse than the train’s pantry)
Entertaining us@Shantiniketan with his enthralling voice
  • People are more accommodating in trains, willing to exchange seats. Especially if the Bhutanese-friendly guy is willing to exchange his 2AC seat for a 3AC seat. Aha… Upgradation… mann mein laddoo phoota! The Bhutanese guy and his friends liked our compartment so much, they exchanged seats with anyone who would come to sit there.
  • Hate all beggars in Howrah! They may appear hopeless but underneath that shawl or shirt the beggars carry stolen articles from passengers. Can you believe Neel’s Lumia 720 got stolen at Howrah?! We didn’t realize beggars would enter the AC compartment. Next thing you know the phone is nowhere to be found! When someone accidently picked up the phone while we tried connecting to it, we heard voices negotiating the price of the phone at a chor bazaar!
  • You restore faith in humanity as total strangers try to help you find your phone or to cheer you up or to generally ask you about any update. One guy came and told this funny incident of how his cousin had tea (mixed with a sleeping tablet) on a train and next thing you know, he woke up in his underwear! Everything stolen! He had to sweep the train floors to get a few cents to call his mother! Now, he doesn’t drink any beverage on a train! The way he narrated it was hilarious! He tried cheering us with this story and we are so grateful for that J
  • When Rasgullas are Rs. 20/- for four  (!), share these with the rest of the co-passengers in your compartment. In fact, share as much as you could. Food and anecdotes and joys and opinion.
  • By the second day, feel at home. I did, I also felt a bit sad to leave those fun-loving passengers yet the longing for a clean toilet and my own bed was also getting stronger.
Horror film makes the bond stronger!
  • To bond further, as a last and final act, watch a movie together, preferably a horror one. We watched The Conjuring. It was midnight and there was a storm outside; the train rattled and Annabel became alive… our co-passengers were glued to their seats, except the Bhutanese guy who almost jumped 2 inches everytime there was an unexpected scary scene! Oh… watching horror movies was never this fun!
So, after 56 hours in a rhythmic chaos, we reached Guwahati. Stinking of our own sweat, but with so many mixed memories. It’s not in a while that we shall do another long journey of this sort; not with the recent stealing of a phone that was so close to Neel (:D) but no denying, with all its shortcomings, train travel is fun in the end.

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