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Monday, September 30, 2019

Incredible Train Journeys- Falling in Love with South



The war with Pakistan had just ended and there was an all-around euphoria for having won the war with the surrender of Pakistan in East Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh. The fervour and nationalistic spirit were at its peak. One of the best solo trips came my way when I was still at school! I had qualified the written examination for the National Defence Academy and was required to appear at the Services Selection Board at Bangalore(now Bengaluru) in the month of December. I had never travelled that far alone and the journey involved two nights of travel. There was no direct train from Delhi those days, so I had to change at Madras Central ( Chennai now) and take an overnight train to Bangalore Central. The thought of undertaking a long journey was exciting beyond words. The onward reservation was done and on the day of departure, my parents and brothers came to see me off at the New Delhi station from where I boarded the Dakshin Express.

After bidding adieu, I settled down on my 3 tier seat with many passengers hailing from South India region. It was the first exposition to a different culture, though while at school my best friend was a Tamilian. It was an era of diesel engines and the train rumbled along with the familiar sights till we crossed Agra. The terrain was unfamiliar from here onwards so I kept looking out most of the time appreciating the geographical beauty of our country. When the train entered the ravines of Chambal including Bhind, Morena and Gwalior, I could almost feel that any moments the dacoits mounted on their horses would begin a chase of the train as the areas were still infested with dacoits. The train passed along peacefully till my thoughts were interrupted by clanking of steel utensils and the aroma of idlis and curd rice filled the air. The family seated next to me opened their lunch boxes and generously offered me some. It was delicious! We struck a small conversation and I learnt that they were travelling till Vijaywada. By late evening, the train stopped at Bhopal junction which was very vibrant, compared to the smaller stations we had passed by. Once the train left Bhopal, I climbed atop on my berth to settle down for the night. The sleep was elusive as the constant rocking motion made it difficult to get a sound sleep beside the frequent stops like Hoshangabad, Itarsi,  Nagpur and Wardha, with a constant cacophony from the platforms.

When I woke up, the train had reached the Kazipet junction. I climbed down from my berth and found that the other passengers were already awake. The sound of vendors shouting, "Kapi Kapi" ( Coffee, Coffee, was music to ears). I bought a cup of filter coffee which was very refreshing. The aroma of the chana dal vadas prepared in hot frying oil was a temptation difficult to resist. It was a long halt where some bogies were being detached so I leisurely, indulged in these heavenly pleasures with dollops of fresh coconut chutney. After, a while I lost track of how many vadas I had polished off. The train blew the horn and I quickly scampered back into the compartment with a copy of the morning newspaper. It was disappointing to see that most of the news in the local newspaper was the same that I had already read in Delhi!

The contours of the landscape changed dramatically and so did the weather. My woollens had been packed on the previous evening itself and I was sweating in the heat. First-Hand Experience of the vagaries of weather in our huge country where it was bitter cold in Delhi! Almost all people had a shorter build and a chocolate complexion and spoke in an unfamiliar language. After some time I was jolted out of my siesta as there was a huge rattling noise. I looked out of the window and realized that the train was crossing the huge metallic bridge over the River Krishna and entering the Vijaywada station. The gleaming river with ebbing water had a gigantic span and looked overwhelming. My fellow passengers were ready to disembark leaving the cabin a little lonely as the train halted. It was a bustling station and by now the familiar sight of steaming idlis, upma and other southern snacks had a magnetic attraction. These were becoming my favourite. The huge canteen of the station was very enticing, but as the occupants of my cabin had left, so I had to make do with passing vendors. Just before the train was to depart, a newly married couple, entered my cabin. The lady was draped in a golden-red saree and had a huge bunch of jasmine flowers tucked on her braid of hair. Her husband wore a spotless white kurta and a dhoti with a vermilion mark on the forehead. They kept conversing in Tamil all along and I was a mute spectator. In a few hours, the train passed by small towns of Ongole, Nellore and Gudur before reaching the outskirts of Madras. The sight of small twinkle of a never-ending streak of lights from the shanties looked pretty. It was late in the evening when the train arrived at Madras Central,  that was buzzing with activity. It was still more than 3 hours when my next train was to depart. It was dinner time and I spotted a dosa vendor, preparing crisp dosas. On enquiry, he told me that three dosas will cost me 60 p. I thought I heard him wrong! It was one of the best plain dosa with pure coconut chutney, that left me asking for more. I took two more and rounded off the payment of One Rupee! It will make most of the readers appear that I belong to the Victorian era whereas this happened about five decades ago!

After a hearty fill, I waited for the Bangalore Mail patiently at the platform as I slowly assimilated a different culture. As the train came on the platform I managed to scramble in one compartment and hopped on the top berth, as I did not have a reservation. I never got off as there was no place to move in the crowded compartment/. I managed to catch some sleep en route and by the time I woke up the train had reached the Bangalore Cantonment station. Another 20 minutes of run brought me to my destination, Bangalore Central.

I still relish the memories of this train journey that helped me immensely in the following years in boosting my confidence and ability to rough out.  It was also the beginning of a  long love affair with the South which endures to this day!

PS 1.Images kind courtesy Google
2. Stay tuned for another memorable adventure on the train next week

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