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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bonding thru train travel

Nothing can beat the fun of train travel, second class, sleeper. Travelling by air-conditioned coach is more comfortable, cleaner, quieter, but it does not have the warmth and camaraderie that the second class sleeper has. Booking my reservation even a month beforehand I was informed that no AC reservation would be available that I would have to travel to Chennai by Second Class. The route is hot and muggy and I will sweat, I told the booking clerk. Window will be open modom, not to worry, she said.

Actually until I discovered AC III a few years ago, the second class sleeper was a regular mode of travel for me especially when my kids were growing up. And they loved train travel. You could eat, you could move around, you had moving scenery outside any window, they found the toilets wildly adventurous, the people were interesting and all sorts of goodies could be bought and consumed without any hassles. A startling amount of cucumbers, raw mango, sukha bhel, monkey nuts and wada pao made their way into normally fussy tummies.

Kids serve a purpose. They are a passport to fun times and allow you to lose yourself in the magic of childhood especially when traveling. During this trip to Chennai however, I was doing it alone. The kids had grown up and left and I solemnly checked out my compartment and found two foreign women sitting opposite me.

I hate the way my countrymen and women fawn on white skinned and fair-haired people, so I lean the opposite way to maintain some sort of balance I guess. I gave them both a disinterested look, but kept them firmly in my peripheral vision. The younger woman, sturdy in an orange kurta and black salwar had finished her orange drink and was making ready to throw the plastic bottle out of the train window on to the tracks at Vasco.

Why I did it, I’ll never know, but I gave her a frosty look and said, please don’t throw that bottle out, put it in the bin near the wash basin. Her jaw dropped but she picked it up and her bottle and moved towards the washbasin area saying, Wow, this is the first place in India there are rules against littering. Everywhere else, it’s throw it outta da window. She came back a good ten minutes later huffing and puffing. There was no bin near the wash basin she said and she had to gallop down the platform to find a bin to throw the bottle away and gallop back to the train. I felt bad but laughed instead and was laughing the other side of my face when I found that I could not throw my empties outta da window, but had to practise what I preached and keep them neatly in my bag until I reached Chennai.

It took an hour to discover that all prejudices disappear with train travel. A Tamil family using the bunks next to ours, the two foreign women, a man from Karnataka who knew facts about everything and myself bonded in a camaraderie that was warm, funny and alive with laughter. Especially when we all emptied out our collection of empty coffee cups, wafer and wada packets into a bin at Chennai Central rail station.

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