Jul 18, 2011

A Train to India

         I was born in an Independent India, so the astute reader can decipher that I am not too old. I was born in an India whose economy was still Nehruvian. Now, my dear astute reader can  deduce that I am neither too young. I was born in an India when Indian Airlines was the only airline operator covering the "major cities" of this country and when the Indian Railways covered the length and breadth of this land through one of the largest rail networks of the world. Now, a couple of decades later, Indian Airlines might not be the only airline operator in the country (thankfully), but Indian Railways is statistically the fourth largest rail network in the world, which my dear astute reader, has many implications and explications.

           This post is not about the analyzing the track records of  the politics and economics of the Indian rail, it's more about cherishing a few romantic dates with it. True, the first railroads of the country were laid by the 'developed' rulers, in an attempt to travel  the country in the same blue-blooded comfort that they enjoyed in their motherland. Not unexpectedly, this is one legacy that has been fostered and held high  by every Indian even after the friendly foes departed. Every villager loved the passenger train that passed by the railway 'station' in his remote hamlet, even if it did not care to stop by. Every middle-class Indian knew the 'railway time tables' of all the major 'Express' trains that departed and arrived in their city , truly 'by heart'. Every high-class 'government servant' wanted to travel first-class in a train, just like his saheb putting his LTC allowance to good use. The rail was an integral part of many an Indian's life.

        The railway-crossing (manned or unmanned) in a village was always a rustic Keats sight. Picture this: bullocks and the carts, men and the tricycles, womenfolk with their burden( of all kinds), half-naked kids with their fun-games, all waiting eagerly to steal a glance at the all-powerful passenger train that passes by. If it was in a city, trains seemed to enjoy retrogressive popularity at the crossings.  One can see the impatient busy office-mongers trying to kill time looking at each others' frustrated faces. Some mathematically-inclined ones try to count the number of coaches in the train (especially if it was a goods train and had nothing better to offer than a few mundane-looking coaches). Kids spent their time at the crossings either preparing for some surprise quizzes or making some eleventh-hour attempts to finish a pending homework.

        A lot of India still lives in its villages.If you would like to discover the country, get onto the trains. Get onto the second or third class of a long-distance train, if you want to experience the "real India". You would experience a lot of unpleasant and unethical occupation of your berths or seats, chances are that you  might be pushed out of the  window by a  dirty looking woman and her two "healthy-looking" daughters-in-law. It is also highly likely that you might never want to answer any of nature's calls in your life again , after having taken a bio-break in a loo in the compartment. You might also have to forsake a couple of nights sleep, either because of an uncle in the upper berth who didn't stop snoring or because a few cranky kids who didn't stop crying or because a couple of couples who didn't stop bantering.

          And yet, my astute reader, if you observe, you are completely entertained.  As the train moves across the states, the transition in the languages, the attires of the local population, the complexions of the kids, the manners and demeanor of the people might befuddle you, and yet, everyone ethical gets the same kind of ticket to board the specific class in the train. Isn't it a startling case of Unity in Diversity ? Not only does a train journey give you enough time with yourself to ponder over your mundaneness, but it also shows you a rich heuristic display of colors that make you realize that the country is much bigger and much more stronger (strength coming from its diversity and adaptability) than you had ever imagined.

          The Indian rail might not be on time, might have unfriendly staff , might have not-so-healthy food to offer, might even collapse or burn  once in a while, and yet, it brings out the best in you! A train in India is certainly a train that takes you through the journey to the heart of India!