India has a great rail network. Nearest railway station is never far away. There has been many changes to the way we travel now compared to my childhood. Here is a slice of my memory.
Trains have fascinated me since my childhood. Not the working or mechanism of the locomotive, but the excitement of a train journey itself was an adventure.
We, my mother, sister and me, and sometimes my dad too, would travel from Bangalore to Jamshedpur. That journey had to be made in 2 parts. The first part was from Bangalore to Madras (now Chennai). Then we would take another train from there to Jamshedpur. My dad would come up to Madras, see that we were comfortable in the 2nd train and then go back to Bangalore. In the return journey, sometimes he would come to Madras and then we would all travel back to Bangalore together.
My grandmother lived in Jamshedpur. At that time Jamshedpur used to be in the state of Bihar, now it is in Jharkhand. This journey would mostly be during the summer holidays. We would spend 20-30 days there.
The way we used to travel as compared to how we travel today is completely polar opposites. The journey then would take us 3 nights and 2 days. Can you imagine that kind of travel in these times? Now we try to find the fastest way to get to a place. Going would be 3 nights and coming back would be 3 nights, so 1 week on the train! Oh! God!
But we were most excited to do this journey. The packing too was exciting. Children now-a-days have no idea about a “hold-all”. Are you familiar with a hold-all? Two days before the journey, Amma would bring the hold-all down from the attic. Then this would be rolled out on the floor. A hold-all is a canvas with large pockets on both ends and flaps on both sides.
Now all kinds of things like bedsheets, dresses, saris, and towels and such like were either pushed inside the pockets, or spread out between them. Finally when everything was done, the side flaps would be closed, and one end of the pocket rolled up to sit on the other end. The final end product would look like this.
Pic copyright: irfca.com
The hold-all could actually hold ALL. If something had to be put in, you just roll it out, stuff it in and that’s it. I used to feel you could do this endlessly. The hold-all would just bulge out and take it all in!
The final thing would be to tie it up tightly and lock it. It was a multipurpose thing. During journey, if you had to sit and wait for the train, and there was no seat empty, the hold-all became a seat. It could seat 3 kids comfortably. If you needed a bed rolled out onto your hard wooden berth while travelling, roll out the hold-all, and viola! there is a soft bedroll for you! I bet you can’t find wooden berths on long distance trains now.
I have lost count how many times I have slept on such a bedroll. Well we had to spend 3 nights in a row on the train, so we needed a soft bed! 😉
The journey would invariably begin with us getting to the station and trailing off with Dad or Amma to the Higgin Bothams stall in the Madras station. Here my parents would buy us books to read in the train. So many of our (me and sister) “library” books are from those bought at the station. Every journey HAD to have a book or two from the station! That was a tradition. Now, not so much. Even if I read, it will be on my phone.
Another thing I distinctly remember during those childhood journeys is the water can. We used to have a 5 litre (I think, not sure) can that we used to fill water in whenever we needed. Amma would just jump on to whichever station the train stopped at, fill the can up at the tap there and get back in before the train left again. In these days of packaged drinking water, we don’t see these anymore. In fact, just thinking of drinking water from random taps itself is nightmarish! I used to sit at the window and watch my mother do that and every time, I would pray that the train wouldn’t leave before she came back!
The journey to Jamshedpur took us through almost 4 states. With each station, there would be a new language, new fruits, new vendors, new fields, new crops to see from the window, new costumes, and new snacks to eat. Amma would buy us whatever we fancied. Now, I doubt if I will indulge my kids with food from the street like that!
The coffee, tea and milk would be in glass tumblers. The vendor boys would carry the milk can, and a bucket with water. In that bucket would be some glass tumblers. After drinking you had to return the glass back to him. In these days of paper cups, the glass tumblers are long gone.
Rivers Godavari and Krishna would come on the way. The crossing of the bridges was a great fascination. Watching the boats on the river, the bend of the train on the bridge, throwing of coins as a reverence to the river Goddess, all of them are etched in my memory.
In the early years, before all engines were replaced by diesel and electric engines. there used to be be only steam engines. We always traveled in the non-AC (another unthinkable of today’s times) coaches. Both me and my sister would hog a window each and sit at it the whole day, sometimes, with our faces stuck to the window grill to see how long our train was! By the end of the journey, both of us would be black in the faces with all the soot from the engine billowing behind as the train moved forward! The soot would settle under my nails too!
After getting off the train, the feeling of still being in the train remained in our bodies for a whole day!
But the journey was worth it! We would be ready to do it again.
But that enthusiasm is gone now. I do enjoy train journeys still, but a journey that long?
May be not!
But that was another era!