Romance of train travel

It was ages since I had travelled by train. As my train chugged out of Kolkata, on its way to Shantiniketan, I dozed off. I opened my eyes when my ears heard the strains of Rabindra Sangeet, to see a blind beggar singing in the aisle. I also saw a stream of vendors selling a variety of items. Then, I fell into a reverie.

My earliest memory of a train journey was between Bengaluru and Mysuru during our Dasara holidays. As children, we would be excited to see the "rail chombu," a brass water container with a screwable lid, cleaned and polished, and trunks and 'hold-alls' dusted and packed. Mom would start cooking a variety of snacks for the journey and to be given to our hosts in Mysuru. The very thought of relishing them during the journey would make our mouths water.

Sitting in the train, we would eagerly wait for sellers of cotton candy, churumuri, unshelled peanuts and masala cucumber, hoping against hope that our parents would buy them. Toy sellers at Channapatna would fascinate us and if lucky, we would get a toy. Soon, we would wait for Maddur where we were certain that dad would buy hot maddur vadas, which we would relish till Mysuru.

During my college days, the focus shifted from food to young members of the opposite sex. At every platform, I would get down and walk the entire length of the train to scout for pretty co-passengers and on finding some, imitate Rajesh Khanna's mannerisms in the film Aradhana and hum the song Meri Sapno Ki Rani loudly and try to attract attention.

In fact, my appreciation for music started from these train journeys. A variety of beggars, carrying harmoniums and singing mostly film songs in their sad tones would always hold my attention. I had learnt two songs, Shivappa kayo tande and Garibonki suno entirely by listening to beggars.

I travelled long distance on a train for the first time when I went to give my interview for civil services in Delhi. I remember that instead of sleeping, I had memorise the names of places and rivers and the states in which they are located since somebody had told me that I would be asked such questions during the interview. That tip was worthless.

As the train approached Delhi, I was amused to see huge advertisements of Zalim lotion, a skin cream, and the sex clinics of Drs Hashmi and Harkishan Lal handwritten on walls. I cannot forget the name of Prof Arora who must have fixed thousands of matrimonial alliances. I am told that both the Lals and Arora continue to thrive in their business.

I remember the aroma of food being cooked on railway platforms. The mere thought of samosas, kachoris, pooris with aloo, omelettes, sweets like jalebi and petha make me salivate just like the smell of Maddur vada. I cannot forget drinking tea in Kullad's and appreciate their hygienic way of serving tea.

My reverie was broken when my train reached Shantiniketan. As I got down, I kept thinking that whatever might have changed in India, the romance of travel by train hasn't changed at all.

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