Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Journey of Sorts

We have often heard people say that the soul of India resides in the villages. I found that statement to be very true. But my impression is that one can get a feel of this extraordinary country by traveling for a day or two (is that too much?) in a general compartment of Indian Railways. What not can you find there? You get to see every facet of India. Ah Well! The elite class of the millionaires might be conspicuous by their absence. But that doesn’t constitute even a fraction of the population in India. So we will ignore them for the meanwhile. So let’s begin our journey of sorts.

It begins by arriving at the railway station 30-40 minutes before the scheduled departure for you can never depend on the irregularity of the railways. There you might have to make your way through camps which seem to have sprung up all over the platform. Finally, after a lot of shouting and haggling, you find a decent spot on the platform and then begins your ‘not so long’ wait for the lady of your dreams. And just like your girl friend, it arrives in all its glory right when you were about give up in a moment of desperation. Horns Blaring, Lights blazing; it enters its court in regal grandeur.

But the grandeur often doesn’t last long. For there is a stampede, not an exaggeration of course, to get into the unreserved compartments. I will leave the scene to your imagination for I had neither the courage nor the necessity to experience it first hand. I move to a more civilized section which goes by the name of ‘sleeper class’ and is obviously meant for people like me (read people who like to sleep a lot). After a lot of pushing, you get to your berth. If you are lucky enough, then you won’t have to fight to keep your luggage underneath the berths. But if you are not, then God help you. Now is the time to relax after all this hard work. I often get out to get myself a bottle of water and to escape the unbearable heat inside a stationary compartment.

Smiles lighten up the face of the passengers if the train departs according to schedule. They soon occupy themselves with various tasks (read chatting and bothering other people). But the bugging chats are often the most interesting part of a rail journey. One can find people from almost all sections of the society in a general compartment. There are the students, then the huge Indian Middle Class and then come the masses. So naturally the topics of discussion are very varied and range from reservation to superstition. But the best part is that the orator often considers himself to be the master of the subject. He will go to any lengths to emphasize that point. Reason for such a behavior may not be hard to guess and stems from the primal need to gain attention. (I remember reading a story named The Seventh Pullet which emphasized this very point in quite a remarkable fashion).

One can find people carrying their entire household with them. Beddings, quilts, mattresses, utensils withal. Babies cry and disturb peace-loving passengers like myself. Cleanliness may be next to Godliness. But Indians find it hard to resist not providing the railway cleaners with some real hard work. (It is a different matter altogether that the cleaners don’t bother either). One would know when it is the season for groundnuts from the shells decorating the floors. But in spite of all this blab, I may be the next one to dirty the same floor. That is the state of affairs here.

Even associations and friendships are formed in the blink of an eye. People, who hardly knew each other an hour ago, chat away merrily as if two long lost friends have suddenly found bliss in each other’s company. They bid each other teary farewells (not to say that I have not done that) and hope to meet again in some other remarkable journey!

That really is the crux of the matter. We can’t help hating this country for all the shit that it conjures up. But at the same time, we can’t help romancing with it for the same reasons! Maybe the problem lies in us. After all, what is a nation without its people? Just an empty shell. But whatever may be the state of railways or the traffic or the politics, one just can not help adoring this remarkable nation for all that it has given us. It seems to have some paranormal magnetic field which will make the prodigal son return; no matter how much of the world he has seen.


  1. rail journeys are certainly the most stimulating/invigorating experiences i have had...
    only thing that stains the beauty of exercising your observatory powers to d hilt is wailing children..oh how i curse them
    interesting read :)