Romancing with Indian Railways

#1 Nov 3rd, 2007, 03:40
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  • pranavganesh is offline
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Romancing with Indian Railways- Part One.

I am yet to ride any other Railway… even in Egypt (I have lived over here for almost two years yet use the the railways, somehow ... Roads in Egypt are wonderful and so the road transport… even domestic flights are dirt cheap, so have used them instead)

Thus I will not be able to comment about the Railway systems in other countries… but I am sure that they will never be able to capture the magic of Indian Railways… not in the field of vanity… (For, of course, they will be miles ahead of it)- But in the field of the lively chaos and experiential uniqueness.

I grew up in a small town in the northern part of India… called Allahabad. My house was within walking distance of a small railway station called Prayag. It used to be an important railway station, connecting Allahabad to Lucknow, Varanasi and Gorakhpur. With time however an alternative route was developed for Varanasi and Prayag Railway Station lost its sheen, barring two otherwise non-descript trains of Ganga-Gomti Express that connected Allahabad to Lucknow and Nauchandi Express that connected Allahabad to Merrut through Lucknow. Many other important trains like Chauri-Chaura and Bundelkhand Express were diverted from this station. Today, for all practical purpose, Prayag Railway station is a ghost station… coming alive for few minutes with the passage of two or three trains in a day… barring them it remains a silent observer of some passenger trains that never seem to move….

I grew up seeing these trains… My father used to commute to Jhansi for work through this station (earlier he was also posted in a small town of Deoria, but the train for Deoria started from another station called Rambagh Station)… and I used to see him off, with tearful eyes every week. I didn’t see much of my father…during the childhood. Railways, in my childhood, meant an extreme emotion- one that snatched my father away from me every week… or the one that took me along with him to distant corners of my horizons- to Deoria, to Delhi, to Dehradun, to Bareilly, to Jhansi, to Lucknow, to Kanpur. I remember how Papa used to purchase a load of comic books during those journeys, and how we used to fight among ourselves to get hold of Phantom's comics (Yeah! the long forgotten creation of Lee Falk. Phantom is an amazing character. His family has been protecting the world since 21 generations and roughly 400 years… the present phantom is the 21st Phantom married to one Diana who works for UN, has two kids Kit and Heloise- one day Kit will become the 22nd Phantom, carrying on the mantle of his father…Phantom, till date remains my favourite character and represents one of the best examples of an open ended story-telling)

Of those small little remembrances that I have kept secured in the deep recesses of my existence, are - walking with my Papa along the rail track. And putting a 5 paisa coin on the rail track, to be pulverized by the coming train. I still preserve that coin with me. One day, I remember, a train with a circus troupe came over and stopped at Prayag Station… I dodged my Ma and went alone to see the train… among the crowds that gathered to see the circus animals, somebody shouted that the tiger has escaped from the cage- I rushed back home, forgetting my new slippers in the process. And had a nice roughing up by Ma, at home.

In the process of growing, Railways changed its meaning for me. I was alienated from it… it was a loss of innocence, for I realized that Railways is just a medium and is passive to affairs in our lives… It does not take away my father every week, but my father goes to work to another city. I stopped frequenting to the Prayag Railway Station. The small stretch of road that used to take us to it became longer and longer… till it was lost. However, upon insistence from a few friends of mine- who found a perfect refuge within the confines of a deserted Railway station- to have a cigarette, away from the watchful eyes of their parents… I used to go to the Railway station.

With life, I moved… came to the soul-less city of Kanpur, studied Engineering- moved ahead in life- arrived at Bombay for work- went to Jamnagar- came back to Bombay… life never gave me opportunity to feel the magic of the Railways…. Till one day, when everything changed.

During my stint at a B-School in Bombay, I got tired of the rat-race… of how people back-bite for getting Summers in a good company… and how your transient failures morph your entire lives… of how your grades define your employability and how your employability defines you as a success or a failure in life… and took the last outbound suburban train from Kanjurmarg to Karjat. (For those who do not understand what I am talking about, Bombay has an excellent public transport system of local trains… that connect the Bombay Business district areas to far flung suburbs. Thanks to this excellent network, millions of people come to Bombay City every day and leave at the day-end, covering some 75 kms in an hour at a meager cost of 25 cents)

When I arrived at Karjat, it was well past midnight and there was no place to go… Impulsively, I chose to wake up all night- sitting on a bench on the platforms of this deserted station- observing human activities around. I stayed awake for almost five hours of stay, after which I took the first train in the morning, going towards Bombay.

That night was eventful- I saw the dark underbelly of cosmopolitan Bombay, the poverty stricken people being intimidated by Goons… met a pimp who offered his services to me… and met an old couple who waited amongst this angst, for the morning train to Bombay, and who kindly enough offered me some food from their own share. I lived an entire life in those few hours of stay at Karjat. (Perhaps, that is why, I am so fond of Catcher in the Rye… having lived the character of Holden Caulfield many times over in my life)

There is something magical about nights… the dark hours of night have the ability to reveal a lot, that otherwise is lost in the cacophony of the daylight. But there is something more magical about a night on the platforms of a Railway Station.

And this was just the beginning of my exploration of this magic.

Romancing with Indian Railways- Part Two.

Day before yesterday, I was watching Gulzar's Classic "Ijaazat", a beautiful movie. It is story of a Mahendra who loves an eccentric yet intense Maya… but circumstances force him to marry his childhood friend Sudha, a very mature and balanced human being. Mahendra is torn apart between them- he loves them both; he feels responsible towards both; And yet he has no idea as how to maturely handle both these relationships. His immaturity takes a toll of his marriage and Sudha leaves Mahendra, forever. Forever!!!! till they meet once again on a rainy night at a Railway station. When they realized that it was not they who failed the relationship, but the circumstances… but found out that it was too late to revive their relationship, once again.

Ijaazat will always remain one of the most sensitive movies I have ever seen. It would be blasphemous for some, to even compare it with Casablanca (the greatest movie ever made, by Hollywood)… but I felt the same intensity of emotions, same sense of loss- after watching it. The more important thing is that these two forlorn and estranged lovers met at a Railway station…

I am yet to forget the opening scene of "Dil Se" – a Shahrukh Khan starrer, in which he meets Manisha Koirala in a stormy night at a deserted North Eastern India's Railway station. Or the closing scene of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge… in which Kajol rushes towards Shahrukh Khan and joins him in a moving train. (Incidentally, when I used to work at a place called Patalganga- I came across a photo studio, where some impromptu photos of Shahrukh Khan and Kajol were displayed… I asked the photographer about them and was told that DDLJ's closing scene was shot at a place called Apta Railway station… some 6-7 kilometers from my workplace. The next day itself I went to see that place… and relished being there.

Bollywood therefore draws a very intense simile from the Indian Railways. You would never see it drawing similar such similies from a wonderfully endowed European train… (Barring an Aishwarya Rai starrer "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam", in which Aishwarya and her husband came close for the first time… and despite the fact that Aishwarya loved somebody else, she is drawn towards her husband). European trains draw an emotion of wonderment and desire… Indian trains draw an emotion of longing and a wish…. There is a difference between a desire and a wish.

One of the most intense emotions that I have ever felt was when I used to come from Kanpur to Allahabad… those were the days when I was deep in my first love… and she lived in Allahabad. I used to take Kalka Mail that left Kanpur at 2 in the afternoon and rush to Allahabad… and used to board the General compartment of the train sitting often at the foot board of the fast moving train… (Incidentally my favourite Hindi movie till date- Shahrukh Khan Starrer "Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa" has similar such scene in reverse, in which the heroine is coming back to her home town and the hero is rushing towards the railway station to receive her and singing along)

That night in Karjat… reopened the chapter of my experiences with Indian Railways… I started feeling the magic again… of even those moments bygone- when I was too alienated from it all and thus could never appreciate the magic.

For instance, going to Dehradun… in 1989, when the train passed through the deep forests of Rajaji National Park, there were many moments when I wished that the train stopped here and I just hop down and walk through the wilds…

Or when while coming to Allahabad from Kanpur by a night train, our train stopped in a non-descript railway station of Rasoolabad for an entire night… it was a chilly December night and ahead on the track an accident had occured … having nowhere to go, everybody huddled inside the train for the entire night… but a few daring among us went to the station started a bonfire and spent a night under open sky. I too did the same.

Or when in the summers of 1998, having graduated out of the Engineering college- I decided to pay a visit to all my good friends… before pushing off to the big bad world of earning a livelihood. I went to Dehradun, Muzaffarnagar, Bareilly, Ghaziabad and Lucknow during this journey. It was during an intense North Indian summers, while coming from Bareilly to Lucknow… I felt very very thirsty…. My water bottle had finished and even though I tried my best to procure a new water bottle- there was none available… finally, I decided and alighted at Hardoi Railway Station…. Searched for water and boarded the next train… to Lucknow, after 8 hours… for all this while I stayed and slept on the Railway platform.

Or when I traveled from Bombay to Allahabad in a general compartment sleeping on the floor… or when I took a passenger train from Allahabad to Lucknow, and covered 200 kilometers in 15 hours… and became very friendly with a school teacher, we exchanged our addresses to keep in touch and then forgot all about each other.

Or when I used to commute between Jamnagar and Bombay every other weekend to meet my friends in Bombay… stay back for a day in Bombay and then use to rush back… and then one day, I just said "to hell with it"…. Alighted at Surat, stayed there for a day… then went to Vadodara stayed there for another day, went to Ahemdabad… stayed there for another day, Rajkot another day and then reached Jamnagar and feigned an illness to save my skin (Hahahahaha)

Having visited Karjat, I could appreciate all these moments in retrospect…. They all were magical moments… they all touched my life in a special way… Indian Railways, I realized is not a passive mode of transport… but somehow, our entire lives have evolved around it. We always consider it as a part of our life…

I was now ready to experience the uniqueness of it all
#2 Nov 3rd, 2007, 03:53
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  • steven_ber is offline
#2
Interesting read Pranav.
#3 Nov 3rd, 2007, 05:38
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  • vir is offline
#3
Interesting...

One of my mama (Uncle) used to live in a city far away (24 hrs by train). To us he was "rail wale Mama".
#4 Nov 3rd, 2007, 17:35
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#4
Thanks Steven....

Thanks Vir..... guess what, people know my father as Prayag Railways Station wale Uncle
#5 Nov 7th, 2007, 18:32
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  • vsp27759 is offline
#5
Dear Pranav,

>Incidentally, when I used to work at a
>place called Patalganga-

>Or when I used to commute between Jamnagar
>and Bombay

##A very good narration.

##By any chance were you an employee of
Reliance Petroleum? Just curious!!!!
#6 Nov 7th, 2007, 18:37
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#6
Dear Pranav,

By the way, I am a hard-core Indian Railways' fan since 1969, that is, when I was 10 years old - the year in which I have travelled alone for a distance of 772 Kms.
#7 Nov 7th, 2007, 19:57
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  • pranavganesh is offline
#7
Quote:
Originally Posted by vsp27759 View Post Dear Pranav,

>Incidentally, when I used to work at a
>place called Patalganga-

>Or when I used to commute between Jamnagar
>and Bombay

##A very good narration.

##By any chance were you an employee of
Reliance Petroleum? Just curious!!!!
Good analysis...

Yes I was for an year or so....

Thanks for your appreciation and traveling alone at a age of 10 years... wow!!!!

You are sure very lucky

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