Rail...romance and the beckons of a new land..is what i associated with train since i was a kid. And it is mandatory to remember my neighbour cum guru in my young days Tutu Pishi... as she initiated me to all the games we played... and after she had this trip of South India with her parents our new game was train train as she was super excited about her first long distance train journey!! Invariably the mind would conjure up the long lost image of a tiny sitting room with a sofa with blue cover, orange embroidered flowers and a large window... my old home... and the green branches swaying mildly and the big green hill..yes hill was intact and the buildings did not block vision then. For those who can,t imagine my 'old' Guwahati home was and still is at the footstep of the lovely hill..only not so visible and not so green any more but still when the yellow flowers bloom and the new leaves shine...it feels almost the same. Anyway when we began ' train train' the big window with iron rods and the green outside..and the two seater sofa..the feeling was very close to real.I was not new to train either most likely i had undertaken this dream journey to Delhi and Jammu from Guwahati..so this continued to be our favourite game for a while..so much we started a doll game with trains... Tutu Pishi and her creative mind made well suited bunks where the dolls lied down..she had a couple of dolls and my single one which she explained was the saali( sis in law)!!! So far so good.. only just about when the train was supposed to move her goon of a brother would break into the home..and in a moment...our dreams would be shattered by the ensuing Sunami!! ( Well both of them are respectable persons in society and might just be reading this )
The first journey i remember with senses intact was by Awadh Assam express..which completes the journey from Guwahati to Delhi (approx 1900 kms) in a time not less than 52 hours officially and the delay infinite not to be mentioned.We were three women... me my aunt and her friend and we were supposed to get down at Jhansi and then travel to Shivpuri at my uncle,s place. It was a ladies coup in sleeper class ( we hardly knew of AC coaches then) another girl studying in Bhopal engineering college was there in the coup..and the compartment we were in shunted all night in Gorakhpur as Awadh Assam left her to be picked up by some Mumbai bound train in the morning!! I remember being pricked by Gorakhpur platform mosquitoes all night.. as we tried to sleep tight. Then next short distance trips like Guwahati/Kokrajhar ( which i don,t consider), but Guwahati/Kolkata in Kamrup Express and the winner Guwahati/Delhi in North East Express or Brahmaputra mail were indeed thrilling and much awaited. I don,t know why boiled eggs with pepper and salt, slit into two were so much mouth watering and a must have in train and then slit cucumbers with red chilly powder and salt, fried kala chanas with onion..as the train pushes its way through the greens of Assam... Nalbari, Bongaigaon, Kokrajhar.. Sreeampore to Bengal..the changed topography, pattern of wrapping saree.. Alipurduar Cooch Behar and in comes the 'mishtis' in earthen pots..Nabadwiper Mishti... Of course the ' Emergency Lights, Camera, Torch Chinese Balm, raincoat, umbrella vendors' in North Bengal kept us so busy and the 'Banglar Saree' wallahs were also tried many times!!
Guwahati/Delhi journeys..after Assam, Bengal.. in and around Kishanganj it is Bihar and the bengali script gives way to Devnagari. Bihar somehow always made me in sync with ' Aranyak' of Bibhuti Bhusan Bandopadhyay his extensive travelogue scanning Bhagalpur and Moonger..through the windows of train. Last state to be passed was UP...but i guess the filth of the compartment and the stenched or water logged wash rooms by then and the overcrowded compartment had its day and the romance has taken a back stage. But the yearning for the capital was too much to be subdued by these and i remember the Brahmaputra mail crossing the Yamuna in the early hours of morning and the beautiful red fort as it entered old Delhi Railway Station..whenever it entered at the right time of course.
Like all Bengalis i also traveled a lot with my family specially in the Durga Puja holidays, where most Bengalis crowded every possible tourist place and hence was into many train journeys. Our Chennai trip via Coromandel Express or to Mumbai via Howrah Mumbai mail or to Goa via Konkan Railways and it continued to fascinate me romantically as well though no ' Jab We Met' ever happened...there was always this anticipation as you scrolled through the reservation charts..may be this time!!
Soon the mode was changing with introduction of the suave all AC Rajdhani and the supposedly hygienic food...and with it the disappointment of closed windows and missing vendors..but gradually open windows were a big no no for hair and unhygienic food a big no no for the digestive system and the low cost airlines served a value for time and money deal.. and Indian Railways was not the dream machine it used to be rather overcrowded platforms and trains were a big turn off. But as it is trains continued to be a part of my life as i have to travel home or job wise as well...the romance faded, destinations known most of the times.. dreams gone, the mystery solved, aura nowhere.
The twist in the story..this holiday as we returned from Ahmedabad husband surprised me as we moved to the end of the train searching for coach and i screamed from behind what is the coach number as we crossed the pantry car to the only remaining compartment. Well here was my first journey in AC 1st class, mundane it may sound got totally overwhelmed by the luxury, imagining a well dressed man laying tables and serving food, comfortable clean washrooms...choice of sweet corn or hot and sour soup, hot rice and rots served in casserole for dinner and being asked for more is a luxury unimaginable for me....well may be someday the Palace on Wheels...dreams still being weaved around Indian Rail...a whiff of lost love in the air and distant dreams...
Long back there was this soap in Doordarshan ' Intezaar' (when TV was about middle class and not eerie saas bahus) somehow related to Indian Railways...and the title song had the lines...
zindagi ke rail mein har koi sawar hain
apni apni manzilon ka sabko intezar hain