'Chai Garam', 'Chai Garam' (Hot Tea), Thanda Cold drink (Cool Cold drink) these words bring back memories of train journey in second class compartment of Indian Railways. Train journey in India has always been quite a thrilling affair for me. Right from booking the tickets to catching the train, settling in your allotted berth, the journey itself and finally reaching the destination.
I remember standing in a long line in front of the booking window waiting for my turn to come. This was a time much before ticket booking agents came in to the scene. The constipated booking clerk chewing Paan who is a master of everyone's fate and the restless crowd standing in the line are just distant memories now.
I have not travelled in an Indian train in almost five years now and miss the constant throb of humanity, the sight sounds and the smells of the railway stations. The clack and clang of turning wheels, the fruit vendors and the cacophony of people hurrying off with their assorted luggage to different destinations.
The snack shops, book shops and people sleeping on the platform awaiting trains for their destination is a common sight on every station.
Added to the noise is constant hum of someone making unintelligible announcements over the speaker which no one pays attention to.
Once the train rushes on the platform, the coolies will be the first to jump in to carry the luggage out for the passengers for a fee. You struggle to get inside your Bogie with scores of people pushing you in each every way. You enter the bogie banging your suitcase and dragging your bags in search of your compartment. Finally after locating it you see that there is no place left to stash your luggage below the lower berth.
You manage to push and pull other pieces of luggage and squeeze in your suitcase, lock it with a chain to the berth and sit down exhausted even before the journey has started. All through this your nose has not forgotten the buffet of smells hitting your sinuses. If you try to decipher you can smell shit, piss, rotten fruit, sweat, bhajiyas, flowers and incense all thrown together to make a smell which is just so unique to railway stations all over India.
Most times there will be a crying baby in your compartment so you can safely kiss a good night's sleep goodbye. Then you will have a lecherous uncle who will keep his eyes constantly fixed on your face with his mouth slightly ajar. Each time you scan the compartment, he will be sure to be looking at you with a gaze which will make you want to punch his nose. Unfortunately you will have the top Berth and so will he, which will give him the whole night to give you sleazy looks. You're only option is to turn your back and stay put even if the side on which you have slept is numb and dead.
If your companions are Gujaratis then you Lunch time and dinner time are complete tortures since we all know Gujjus carry such amazing food that you will be drooling at their food and looking at the sandwich you have wrapped with total disdain. If you drool sufficiently and give hungry looks the kind people will share their yummy 'Theplas, Farsan and Achar' with you.
I am always fascinated by the villages and the farms rushing past my window. It always makes me wonder about life of the people who live there. The lush green fields and the farmer pulling a bullock cart gives us a true glimpse of India and that it still resides in our villages.
As night falls, people start preparing for bed. Shawls and Chaddars (Sheets) are spread on the sticky berth. A bag becomes your pillow. Lights are switched off and the whole train becomes like a peaceful cocoon rocking to the motion of the wheels. You doze in an out of sleep constantly keeping an eye on your luggage.
Morning hails you with a fresh round of smells which you wish you rather forget. You hurry up with your ablutions and are back in your compartment. A chappie selling tea sells you weak tea and you gulp it down to rejuvenate yourself. Another couple of hours and your destination beckons you. Getting down on the platform from the train is equally stressful as it is while entering. Harsh words are heard, there is an urgency to meet your loved ones who have come to pick you up.
At last the train stops, you get down with your luggage. You are not even aware of the smell now....your eyes are searching for your loved ones. You see them and a smile breaks on your face and you start walking towards them.
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