Sunday, September 16, 2012


I am travelling home to Bhopal. J I had big plans for this trip but as it goes with planning, most of my plans are bombed. So I thought a simple trip to home is always harmless. Let’s make it.

So here I am sitting in Rajdhani Express heading to Bhopal. Yeah, the best train in India. A lot of people, specially my parents and especially my dad, are not too fond of traveling in the AC coaches. They say that the tainted windows and curtained partitions rob the “experience” of traveling Indian Railways and you can get this “experience” only when you are traveling in the sleeper coach. I have a theory on this, though. You see, while a lot of Indians are making a lot of money, the “core” middle class “Indianness” remains the same. The “Third AC” is the new sleeper class and the “experience” pretty much remains the same.

Take for example, this trip. Being my dad’s daughter, I was the first one to get on the train after being almost an hour and a half early to the railway station. It is a matter of pride and habit to do so which I doubt I will be able to get rid of in this lifetime. Once I am on and comfortably settled in my seat (after taking the maximum space possible for my two teeny weeny bags), some others start getting on as well. Three young men get on first and one of them, unfortunately for him, has a broken shoulder. His friends made fun of him constantly and at the same time ensured that he's always comfortable. The young men are speaking excellent Hindi. At the same time, their informal tone is unmistakably “Bhopali”. And then the most interesting person of this trip boards the train. He must be in his late 50s and let’s call him Uncle ji. Our Uncle ji has graying hair but he has been given a middle berth, which he understandably doesn’t like. He asks the young man with broken shoulder if he can take his seat. That’s the first thing you always do in Indian trains. You exchange your seats. You “adjust”. Our young man’s plaster is hidden under his shirt and he explains why he can’t change the seat. Our Uncle ji gets very furious. Not because he is stuck on the middle berth, but because the young one was so callous to even think of wearing a shirt on when he has a broken shoulder. To shirt kyun pehen rakhi hai? Pardarsan (pradarshan) karo nahi to huemin kya pata ki tumhara haath toota hai. The young man did the pardarsan alright for the rest of the journey. Our Uncle ji decides to step out for a while. Everyone around me exchange meaningful glances to not “encourage” this Uncle ji.

As our Uncle ji is coming back, he stops at the adjacent aisle and asks a gentleman where he is going. Second rule of train travel – It is your primary business and personal duty to know where everyone gets down. The gentleman replies that he is going to Kanpur but he will get down at Delhi. Uncle ji doesn’t like that one bit. He literally shouts at the man and says getting down in Delhi is all wrong and that he should actually get down at Jhansi. And my aisle starts laughing uncontrollably.

Dinner is served soon (it is Rajdhani Express afterall). I refused dinner since I had a very heavy snack. Uncle ji is mad again and I am lectured on how I should never skip dinner. Well if he had the means to look into my stomach contents, his advice would have been to skip meals altogether the following day as well. 

I wake up very early in the mornings whenever I am traveling. I love watching the sunrise through the fields from the train. As kids, Sandeep and I would also open the window to breathe the fresh morning air. This morning was very beautiful as well. The monsoon greenery was all over. The best colors known to the human kind – bright pink, deep orange, sharp blue, soothing green – were creating the golden hour. The fields had new crops growing and I could almost feel the softness of the new leaves. I tell you, it is magical!

The day goes by with breakfast and lunch served. Uncle ji has a heavy breakfast, burps heartily. He then scolds me for reading in the train and then starts reading the newspaper. And I smile, in spite of myself. People are listening to the music, watching a movie or just idling by before the lunch is served. And then everyone sleeps again after lunch. Once the tea is served, people get ready for casual conversations. An aged uncle is searching for his chappal (footwear). Another rule when you travel – People will take care of your luggage, but your chappal is your responsibility. His wife finds it for him 4 aisles down. God knows how it got there!

And as I start noticing the conversations around me, I am surprised how much people have to talk about even to complete strangers. Tax, VAT, Corruption, Manmohan Singh, BJP, movie stars – it is all covered. Soon they also start talking about the young generation and how the whole family dynamics have changed over the years. 

As I write this, we have just crossed Maharashtra and have entered Madhya Pradesh (MP). The train passes many hills and the art work of monsoons is evident everywhere. I stop writing and bask in the beauty thoroughly. I realize fully now that I am going to be home. The feeling of being home is the most relaxing feeling in the world!

Times have changed. I have upgraded from the sleeper to the Third AC. People are carrying all sorts of gadgets with them in train now. There are even charging docks everywhere. They use a freshner in the compartment. I see a suave gentleman reading through the Wall Street Journal on his iPad. I am even surprised to see one young man from Bhopal speaking flawless Tamil (he has a business there). Another man tells that he is originally from West Bengal but loves working in Bangalore. Times, indeed, have changed a lot but it still is all so familiar. Like I have been through this drill all my life. The more things have changed, they more they really have remained the same.

I have refused dinner today as well. There is a hearty meal awaiting me when I get home. In the meantime, there are still some interesting conversations on and I think I will pay attention to them, maybe even become a part of some.

This is me signing off from B4, Rajdhani Express, India

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