Having briefly mentioned in a previous post about the opportunity train travel provides to meet with alien characters, I intend to write a full post about it. Moreover this series may feel incomplete without such a topic since train journeys are so much part of our real and reel life. Talking of reel life who can forget the Dada Muni’s Rail Gaadi … Rail Gaadi …
It is such a wonderful rapping ode to the railways. But you can’t spot a train in this song. Similarly, I had not seen one till perhaps I was thirteen and had not rode one knowingly or unknowingly till I was fifteen. I got the first opportunity when I traveled from Brahmapur to Sunebeda as part of our school NCC group. We boarded a passenger train at 9 in the night without knowing when we would reach the destination.
But, then who bothered about the destination? We were in teens. For most of us it was the first train journey. Next day also there was no chance of getting bored as the train threw us one spectacular view after another as it passed through the pristine landscape of Koraput District known for its forests, hills, brooks and tribal life. I have written about this journey in detail in an earlier post about a memorable meal.
The first goods train ran in India in Madras in 1837. Then in 1856 the first passenger train ran from Mumbai to Thane. Railways was introduced in India for the purpose of carrying goods for various commercial activities and to earn direct revenue by ferrying passengers. Thereafter rapid expansion started and by the end of the nineteenth century all the major cities and regions were connected by a network of rail lines.
The contribution of Indian railways to India’s freedom movement cannot be undermined. After coming back from South Africa Gandhi himself traveled all over India by train to take a first hand account of people of India. It became possible to organise huge all India congregation of freedom fighters. Print material carrying the atrocities of the British and appeals for united fight against the Raj could be circulated with ease across regions.
After independence the railways in India thrived while it collapsed in Pakistan and Bangladesh. But for the Indo-pak Samjhouta Express and the Indo-Bangladesh Maitree Express, the railways of these two neighboring countries would have become extinct. Of course the railway scene in Bangladesh is getting revived with the help of India and other countries. But, in Pakistan it is getting worse and may face extinction soon with the future of Samjhouta Express in jeopardy.
Like me, have you ever dreamed on these lines? You are sitting on a train. Suddenly the track vanishes. Or the train derails but you have escaped. Or, the train stops and then it would not move for hours and hours. Or, you missed the train but you are running and hoping to catch it at the next station. If yes, get ready for glimpses into similar real life train travel through this BBC documentary. If you are interested in documentaries this is a good one to watch to while away the idle hours of lock-down. It is about the last frontier train of Nepal from British era connecting India and Janakpur – the sasural of Lord Rama. Of course now Janakpur has been connected by Indian Railways with new tracks and trains.
After I joined the defense service train travel became frequent. It is not possible to recall all such travels but some incidents leave their imprint in memory. For example the first time I travelled with fellow recruits to the training centre. We had no reservation and two of us shared the upper berth of a general compartment for the overnight journey to next connecting station. My face had to adjust with his feet and his with mine. Of course such experiences repeated a couple of times afterwards when I had to travel without reservation on emergency.
I remember this occasion when the whole coach crowded around a lone radio to listen to the live commentary of a final match involving India and Pakistan. All of us behaved as if we had been neighbors for years. Coincidentally India won and the train erupted with celebrations. Those were the pre-cell phone days. Now a days everyone especially the young ones are mostly lost in their own worlds with their cell phones and earphones.
On one occasion I was sandwitched with Marwari Pilgrims who had booked all the seats in the coach except mine. When their group leader approached me I was as usual expecting him to request me to exchange my seat with his relative in another compartment. He said, “Sir, please don’t book lunch”. He did not wait to hear my response.
When the train halted at a station before lunch time, a group entered our compartment and distributed packed lunch to every one including me. They would listen to none of my protests with one elderly lady reminding me of my grandmother and how she used to force feed me. Though vegetarian it was no ordinary lunch packet. ‘Must have come from a star hotel in the town‘ I assumed. After the lunch it was desert time. Then there was a pan session too. The same thing was repeated at dinner and next day breakfast.
The people who brought lunch were their relatives who had settled down in the locality. One of the co-passengers told me that the railways had played an important role in the spread of Marwaris through out India. You would not find any town or city in India that is connected by railways but does not have any Marwari.
One of my paternal uncles is also an ex-military man. Once I narrated to him about a boring 30 hour train journey from Delhi to Brahmapur. He laughed and narrated to me about the seven day train journey he had from Assam to Hyderabad. In his time express and direct trains were few and he was further restricted in his choice of train because he was travelling with his family and his transfer luggage.
Indian railways is on a continuous path of progress. It has been able to connect with many remote and difficult parts of India. There has been marked improvement in services and cleanliness over the years. In spite of the availability of cheap air travel, trains continue to be the popular mode of long distance travel in India.
Do you have any train related personal anecdote to share? In case you have written a blog post about it you are welcome to share in the comment.
PS : This is alphabet T post of my April A to Z challenge 2020. My theme this year is ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh’ where in I explore various facets of India and also some places and events of India I have been closely associated with.
All posts of the AtoZChallenge can be accessed here.