The Great Indian Train Journey

During our childhood, train journeys used to be really exciting, something that we used to look forward to for months from the day the father used to inform us that the tickets have been booked and reservations have been confirmed.

That was a time when we could not afford a first class or an air-conditioned travel and the journey used to be in three-tier non-air-conditioned compartments.

The excitement would start as soon as we reached the railway station; much before the train began its leisurely rolling, wiping way the station from our sights for the fields to appear, green under the mist, the electric poles running in the opposite direction and the  occasional sight of birds ferrying between trees.

As much as we would long for the food from the stations and the pantry-cars, the first meal would invariably be what the mother would carry packed from home.

The middle berth would be pulled up as soon as the early dinner is done and we kids would be tucked up on the upper berth; slowly but surely going to sleep with the lullaby of the caged fans whirring right over our head.

The mornings would commence quite early with parents waking us up to brush our teeth and freshen up before the bathrooms get crowded; and we would fight with our sibling to peep through the caged windows while the litany of stations would begin.

The chai that we would be privileged to have was only during the train journeys; with our parents buying us whatever hot, deep fried stuff was on offer.

The fat, round, semi-insulated water container filled with safe water used to be our companion with the father jumping down at several stations to check the quality and coolness of the water in the platform basins, for refilling these.

The only luxury drinks were Coca-Cola and Fanta, rarely cold; the bottles to be handed back as the train began to move, no matter how much was left.

I have tried to list out in the sequence of a train journey, as I look back at the nostalgia that these journeys used to be.

Pestering parents to check our weight

The excitement of knowing what we weighed was heightened by those attractive machines with loads of blinking lights was valid reason to pester our parents for that one rupee coin. Oh! Those were our Las Vegas slot machines which even had our fortunes printed on the backside of the tickets.

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Buying comics at the platform book store

These were the only times when our parents agreed to all our demands for the comic books that we always longed for. The Chacha-Chaudhary to the Phantoms and Mandrakes of the Indrajal Comics or the learning of our ancient history from the Amar Chitra Katha, each one was a prized possession.

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Using the trunk to make our own seat

The trunks were a definite accompaniment when our grandparents used to travel with us. When we never could find a seat on those platform benches, these served as our own special seats.

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Checking our names on the reservation charts

Finding our names on the reservation charts stuck at the compartment door was an excitement no less than our names being declared for a prestigious award. The names were the privileged entry pass to the pearly doors of the train which would mark the beginning of our exciting journey ahead.

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Counting our bags and chaining them securely

Once inside the train compartment and having found the seats matching with the names on the chart, the first routine was to count our bags to ensure that nothing is left back at the platform. Chaining them to the hooks below the seats ensured that they were secure till our destination.

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Hiding our chappals at night

During the entire journey, if there was anything that we needed to take care of more than anything else, it was our footwear. The chappal-chors prowled at night when we were fast asleep and hence it was inevitable that we hid it behind the luggage, assuming that the thief never could guess this place. Once we while, we felt it more secure beside our heads too.

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Fighting for the window seat

The window seat was the reason for the biggest of the domestic fights between siblings. Advance rulings of arbitrated settlements on who will possess the seat for what duration during the journey was a way out of squabbles during the trip.

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Praying for a window with no bars

This possibility was the result of the toughest of permutations and if we were lucky to be allotted one during the journey, it used to be the biggest thrill ever. Pulling up the grill for an open view had to be only when the parents were asleep.

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Temptation of pulling the stop-train chain

The mechanism of the stop-train chain was a scientific wonder with lots of imagination behind it. The temptation of pulling it down once at least in our life-time always remained a far-fetched dream.

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Opening up the middle berth

The magic middle berth was permitted to be lofted mostly during the night or sometimes on hot and humid lazy afternoons too. Climbing up and down these was definitely an adventurous routine.

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Walk through bobbing compartments

The biggest adventure in a moving train was to get an opportunity to walk through bobbing compartments to get into the next bogie or to reach the pantry car. This adventure was always under the strict supervision of parents who had the undisputed right to decide whether we qualified for it or not.

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Put paste on tooth-brush in a moving train

Being able to put toothpaste on our toothbrush ourselves was considered a sign of having achieved adulthood. Cajoling our parents to permit us to do so in those times when every drop of paste used to be squeezed out of the tube was no mean achievement either.

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Waiting for the Garam Chai

The shrill call out for the garam chai emanating from the platforms made everyone turn their heads. Though the quality of the tea kept deteriorating as the day progressed, a hot cup of the beverage was always a nourishing solace.

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Hungry for the meals-on-wheels

The newspaper spread on the berth and the odour of the food emanating throughout the compartment during food time was enough to make us hungry. As kids we mostly had to share our food packets with our siblings while our parents were lucky to have their own.

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The Porter and his superhuman strength

The railway porter definitely was the first superman in our lives. We used to always look with awe at his superhuman strength and his capacity to carry weight beyond our comprehension. The red-attired badged-man was definitely a superhero.

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I hope this would rekindle your memories to reminisce those wonderful and exciting train journeys. A toast to those days!

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Replies: 3

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3 thoughts on “The Great Indian Train Journey

  • Yes, the train journey takes us back to our childhood days when we were so excited to see the steam engine , its blustering horn and the smoke. The way you have described all the minute details we as a children enjoyed during such journey is awesome. Keep writing.

    Reply
  • Unfortunately I have not had too many train journeys when I was a child. All my relatives lived in Bangalore and I never really stepped out of Bangalore much as a child. I am now slowly getting into train journeys and experiencing little things. I know it is very different to childhood experiences. Lovely post by the way.

    Reply

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