Train to Marikuppam

Train to Marikuppam

There were seven of us going back to KGF during the summer holidays. We always travelled third class. If there was a fourth class, we would have opted for that. The journey by the Marikuppam passenger train took many hours with friendly stops at whichever spot passengers wished to alight. Bowringpet – now renamed Bangarapet - was a long break to allow them to visit friends and relations scattered around the railway station. Every one on that train knew everyone else. The guard, the station master, the ticket collector, the engine driver. And of course, most of us who belonged to that small mining town. We were one large family in that train.

When we left Krishnarajapuram and entered Malur, our assorted tiffin boxes were opened. The friendly ‘achare’ in the hostel kitchen would have packed all the left overs from the morning, knowing we would be hungry within minutes of starting the journey. Once the food was eaten and the tiffin boxes scraped dry, the more talented among us would regale our co-passengers with a free concert. Noone felt inhibited. No one demanded attention. It was a spontaneous sharing of friendliness and joy. We emulated all the favourite filmstars of those golden years. KL Saigal, Pankaj Mullick, Leela Chitnis, Ashok Kumar. The four hours in that slow chugging passenger train just flew.

Once we entered the land of the gold mines, we collected our bags and got ready to jump out of the train at various stops. Bharathi and Nagaratna would alight in Oorgaum station. You could see their red roofed cottages from the train. Dipti and Premi got off at the Champion Reef to walk through the tram lines and reach their houses. Kshama, Ramani and I carried on to the final destination – Marikuppam, where the friendly guard waved his green flag to us with a broad grin.

“Has no one come to receive you ?” he would ask. But, there was old faithful Yakoob waiting for us on the platform with umbrellas and raincoats – in case it rained! The engine driver waited patiently until we disembarked before taking the small train to the train shed. The station master – a wrinkled ageless entity – ambled up to us asking when our holidays would be over. He knew we would return to the same station after twelve weeks. It was a happy homecoming.

When I read about the scare in the passenger train to Marikuppam this morning, I remembered the engine driver, the ticket collector, the guard and the station master of that time long, long ago. I am sure they would have gaped innocently if told there was a bomb in the train. Such things just didn’t happen in their small world.