You can hear the whistle blow a 100 miles…

As the train finally started moving, I could barely contain my excitement. Pressed to the window, watching the people & the hawkers & the waiting room & the Wheelers Stall all pass by with increasing speed, my mind crowds with multiple emotions- excitement, anticipation, & somewhat strangely, a peacefulness.
I love train journeys. I am traveling with my dad to my native town in interior TamilNadu, and apart from the excitement of meeting all my relatives, the most awaited aspect of this vacation was this – the train journey! That I am traveling with my dad, after ages, brings back a flood of nostalgia…and the landscape outside changes to twenty five years of flashes of memories…

Train journeys – how much preparation went into them! Days before we (us kids) would decide what luggage to take & argue with mom about the clothes to carry, the number of books & comics, what games to fit in. Travelling games usually would be Uno, Memory, Ludo etc. There was this phase when all the kids in the neighbourhood, probably the country, went crazy after WWF cards, and Racing cards & what not & my brother was one of them. So these would be carried along too.

Food preparation used to be a huge activity in itself. Now that I have seen more of the world I have realized that every family has its own staple travel food- For example,My husband’s family, who are from UP, used to carry parathas or puris with a dry aloo ki subzi. In fact, we are carrying some of the yummy stuff with us right now. Many of us must have seen Gujaratis or Marwaris travel- boy- I don’t think they have any separate journey food- They somehow manage to carry the very same meals they have at home on travel too, from farsaan to salad to pickle!
For us, Tam Brahms that we were, Idlies & thayir sadham (Curd Rice!) was the most common staple. Mum would prepare idlies by the dozen & would carefully smear each with an oil & gun powder paste, instead of carrying the usual sambar-chutney which would spoil. Sometimes instead of idlies we would have puliyodharai (tamarind rice) or lemon rice. Curd Rice however was omnipresent. It was fragrantly seasoned with coriander & curry leaves, green chillies & ginger for a subtle bite with a sprinkling of mustard seeds & urad dal. If it were summer, we would have freshly cut pieces of raw mango with salt & chilli paste to go with- merely the thought of this combination is making my mouth water! Its true – curd rice & Tam Brahms are inseparable-whatever part of the world they are in or however many cuisines they enjoy! Now apart from the food we carried, there would be a lot of intermittent snacking going on, where every hawker who passed by was stopped, his wares examined, & more often than not, sent on his way lighter.. and what about all the chais & coffees?

“Cha—i—ya, chai-yya…” “Bhaiya- ek chai dena.” As I sip on my third chai of the journey, I can’t help but think how those days have undergone a change.
Those were the days when second class travel was the norm and AC a rare luxury. When train bathrooms didn’t give you nightmares from days before.When train food was fun & hygiene was simply a word in the dictionary. When hawkers added to the excitement instead of being a nuisance. When time was our own and no one was in a hurry….
You know we would usually reach the station about 2 hours earlier, because , well, my father is a cautious man , to say the least. So that would mean a good 2 hour time pass at the station – as a child I guess a railway platform is a fascinating place – there s so much happening! Now, all that I can see is an unbearably dirty station, stinking & smelling of the sweat of all the people jostling each other for space with railway carts, luggage, hawkers, beggars & the odd stray animal. Hair raising to say the least, but then, I am the one who has changed…

I like to simply look out the window… the whizzing varying landscape fascinates me…here field after field of sun flowers.. there you have mangroves for miles.. rice fields pass by now, with a solitary farmer trudging along side his crop…then a beautiful serene vast expanse of water- was that a crane that broke the surface?…then a bridge comes & the steady clatter of the wheels changes to a slower deep baritone & I look in awe at the river flowing beneath, always thinking, what if…? Here comes a city..a line of impatient lorries & cars & scooters straining against the level crossing….the window is actually like a bioscope..
There usually would be a mini World War between my brother & me- who would get the window seat? Usually, I being the elder one, always got to be the larger hearted one & had to give him whatever he wanted. The many sacrifices an elder sibling has to make for the ever-demanding never-satisfied greedy younger ones is not funny  Well anyway we would arrive at some kind of amicable arrangement for the window…I remember this one time when he & I were traveling all by ourselves for the very first time- from Chennai to Hyderabad to meet our cousins. Boy were we excited or what! I remember we kept chatting & giggling non stop throughout the journey….

Its getting dark as I am writing this now. I am snuggled beneath my sheet with my curtains drawn & my little over head light shining a little round spot on this page as I write…I think am sleepy now.

As I switch off the light & lie down, I am happy & peaceful as my eyes are lulled to a close with the soothing rhythmic movement of the train echoing in my sub conscious…


16 thoughts on “You can hear the whistle blow a 100 miles…

  1. Train journeys used to be so much more fun when I was in no discernible hurry to get anywhere. Now I guess, I enjoy the memories more than the train rides themselves.

    Nice post, I like the narrative of changing landscapes… possibly one of the few things that has hardly changed since we were kids.

    ~ Ashish

    1. Ashish…..glad to see that you got the window seat.
      I can see and feel the train rides you you took when you were younger. It’s amazing how those simple times are stamped into your mind. It seems like the more responsibilites you have later in life, return you to those quality times.
      I also used to ride the trains quite a bit. For me, I never had the money to ride inside, to sit near the window. Iwould lie in wait near a hill, so that when the train slowed down, I would jump on and hang on until I arrived home. This trip was about 6 miles in lenght. Needless to say, my hands and arms would be very tired by the time I found the right area to jump from the train. It was not always a good landing. Life for me was simple then, just like yours. Strange as it seems, my quality of life was great, as well as yours.

      1. Lonnie ! What a pleasant surprise to see your comment. This post incidentally has been written by Radhika.
        I was trying to imagine the times in the US when trains would slow down enough for kids to jump on ! Where and when did this happen?

        And I agree… as time goes by, the simpler things stay on longer than you ever thought they would !

    1. Thanks Dhruva..whats the odds of both of us rambling about train journeys at the same time eh? 🙂

  2. Oh yes! This does bring back lot of memories. I love trains. As a child never got enough chances to go out of town. 😦 How jealous I used to be of my cousins who went somewhere every summer. Sigh…it’s a bit unfortunate that I don’t get to do any leisure travel these days on the train during my short visits to India.

  3. Hahaha, I want the window seat 😛 sacrifices, my foot! It was your duty 😛
    You gotta mention the regulars on the train- they know the dishes that are famous @ every station on the line! (On Chennai-Dadar the first vadapav can be seen @ Wadi!)

    1. Hey yes thats true…vada pav at karjat & biriyani at daund & etc etc..there was even this station near Tirupati this time, where the chai fellow claimed to have the best chai- made in unadulterated pure milk ONLY- he didn’t realise thats the way to put me off completely 🙂

  4. After ages I am also taking a train journey from Mumbai to Kanpur in July with my sis & mon, oh ghosh….i ma so excited about it, well just as before we have done ticket bookings two months in advance :)……..i am more looking forward for it after reading this post.

  5. How lovely! For a long, I used to think train journey as an adventure. You know finding your compartment, making people vacate seats reserved for you, checking tickets 10 times etc etc….lovely!

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