Saturday, June 11, 2005

Smell of Life - Trains

One of my most enduring memories was a train journey from Mumbai to Chennai. I have done this circuit an umpteen number of times and always by general compartment. Very rarely, I used to book tickets. Somehow the train journey seemed to represent a journey from one time zone to another and one way of life to another. I was coming to Chennai after a year of hard ass working in Mumbai. It was Diwali time and I could smell moms avial in my dreams. The train got delayed after Sholapur and was re-directed via Miraj and Bellary towards Guntakkal instead of Raichur. 2 stations before Bellary, the train entered a non-descript station and stopped for a few minutes. It was 12.00 noon and the sun was scorching the brown earth. It was like before the rains came in Lagaan. Cracked earth and all. None of us had anything to eat since the dinner at Sholapur and the whole train was voracious. What was supposed to be a 10-minute stop became a 2-hour stop as all passengers stopped the train and refused to let it go unless food was prepared for everyone.

I had a few bananas and took a small trip into the near by field. There was one small agriculture well and a tree. A few people were sitting there and smoking beedi. As I approached them, they instinctively stood up (my trousers of course). I asked the to sit down and lit my own “Rajas”. The simple peaceful smoke calmed my mind and for a moment I felt that the purpose of my vacation was fulfilled. I felt re-charged already. I sat there for a few more minutes chatting with the farmers and I observed they were very very humble. I am still extremely cocky and self assured. I take a bad fall right on my face once in a while.I just get up and go. I am an expert at getting up and going. The equanimity and serenity these farmers possessed was amazing. Its not something unique and maybe most village people possess that sense of quiet. I was wondering and thinking up my co-ordinates (latitude and longitude).

It amazed me a Mumbai mole like me, standing in a village well and chatting with folks who had absolutely nothing in common. They were chatting with me and I was with them. Perhaps that’s what was common. It was an epiphany. I will remember that particular day, all my life. Nothing spectacular and life altering, yet spectacular and life altering. Simply !!!

Trains represent the slow but steady movement of life. Rarely does life move fast like a jet air craft or Does it ? I don’t know. And definitely life isn’t as easy as catching a plane. Neither is it as pamperous (I will stick with this word even if my vocab sucks) as a plane journey, fresheners, juices, entertainment and pretty little things they call airhostess. Life mirrors a train journey in a general compartment. The hard board sleeping quarters and the scramble for a place to rest your ass in peace. Goodwill is everything here, if you dont build goodwill, you cant even pee in peace (without forgoing your seat). Shitting for 2 days is out of reckoning. Still as the train moves from one station to another, people who you knew well move on and strangers come in (suspicios eyes, cautious glances and all). You have to build the goodwill all over again.

I love the chance of meeting new people, chatting with unknown folks on subjects of their interests. I love introducing myself to normal folks and explaining to them what I do sitting in a cubicle in a corner of a city and traveling to another corner by train. I love hearing their stories of life, trials, and tribulations. I love learning a different sense of humor much different from the city slick sardar bashing funny bone of mine.

I love the sweat, the grime, the dirt, the greasy poori baaji at Raichur. The soggy dosas with salty chutnis at Renigunta. I love the wonderfully happy sight of basin bridge junction just two stops before Chennai. For a long time the broken chimneys symbolized homecoming for the weary traveler into Chennai. I love the earnestness and nimbleness with which folks board and occupy every inch of train space at Arrakkonam. I love the sight of mango trees laden with green and golden fruits in between Puthhur and Tirutani.

My uncle used to say, there is great sense of calm and peace if you do a mundane and simple chore (his e.g. of jadu pocha / washing dishes). Something as simple and humbling as mopping the floor and doing it intensely, so intensely that you sweat and feel tierd. A train journey symbolizes the same kind of labour while traveling. Right from getting into the station and boarding the train (while it is coming in to the station) for a seat. I always managed to get an upper birth for myself. I would then chose a deserving candidate and share it with him. The logic was simple, if you don’t share it with someone, soon more than one would occupy it (to your misery). Why not share it with just one more tierd traveler and build some goodwill so that you get to lie down and he will be glad to just sit.

I have long watched the gujaratis/marwaris travel and eat. From chivda, to roti, gur dal, thepla and paan every thing is neatly packed with a lot of care and love. The whole families don’t just have dinner. They celebrate dinner !!!

Soon the ticket checker became a good friend. One particular checker used to say “enna Vasu sir”. He used to pride by the fact, that he remembers my name. And almost immediately he would quip “where is your sapna”. Though I used to be sick of hearing this “ek-duje-ke-liye” take on my name, I would smile and humor the ticket checker. You know why ;)

For my love of trains, I am a true Mumbaiker. Trains are a great equalizer. A metaphor of a public space, that belongs equally to all and not just a few rich. It’s a market place where one could buy and sell stuff. It’s a puja room, where one could do bajhans. Its my dining table, where I have my half pack (err.. full pack) “hide and seek” for breakfast. Its my singing room, where I sing on top of my voice and the dude pressing his sweaty back onto mine in a crowded borivili fast, doesn’t care. You see the rush to get last into the train so that one can hang free and breathe the smell of salty Mumbai air. There are the regulars, who play rummy on the go. Sitting, standing, leaning. If you stare long enough, smile and pick up a conversation one would get a place to sit and play too. That’s confirmed ticket in a Mumbai local. It can be had only by building goodwill.

It’s the heartbeat that never stops (only when it floods the tracks). Once in every 3 minutes. It’s the Dadak Dadak, with a harmonic shake that incessantly takes it to my destination.

As I am reading the book “Why everyone loves a good drought” by Sai Nath, My eyes adjust themselves to the incessant to-and-fro motion of the train and. My mind is amazingly still and is focused on the book. I hear myself say “Nowhere else can I do this but on an upper birth of a general compartment”. There is so much peace. I just close my book and drift into a dreamless sleep.

9 Comments:

At 4:25 AM, Blogger Smyta said...

I love trains too:)

My first time here..

Smyta

 
At 3:50 PM, Blogger Archana said...

Now I havent read something like this in quite sometime.... Its just too nice to know how a stranger lives his/her life far far and far away from our lives, how they find their peace in the simplest of places doing the simplest of things. I loved reading this!

 
At 8:00 PM, Blogger Vodka said...

hey vasu,you almost sound human!!

just kidding,always wanted to say that to you..cheap thrills,you see!

and yeah,its pampered,not pamperous..dont be so pompous to assume u can make up words!!

ha ha..guess who is back in town tomorrow?!!

and yes,its the simplest things in life that give you the most pleasure. like the cicada outside my window at 6 every morning..thanks for reminding me of life..

 
At 9:44 PM, Blogger Vasu the terrible said...

smyta - Welcome to my blog. I am an observationalist. Simply put, I like to observe things from a distance, analyse it, make fun of it, laugh at it, admire it and learn from it. Ever heard of sienfield ? He is the best in this business.

Archana - Thanks. I enjoy train journeyes. Its my lifetime dream and ambition to capture trains in a camera. I want to do the kashmir-kanyakumari himsagar express once when I have the time.

Vodka - Hee Hee Hee... now I knew you would say that. I am human man too :). I was like raking my piddly brains to get the correct word and then I said what the heck, let me innovate.

Guess why Airport road would be blocked by elephants and sounds of bands marching up and down from 6.00 reharsing ??? (just kidding.. I will let you come in peace)

you are welcome.

 
At 1:16 AM, Blogger Vodka said...

ha ha..thanks..i am looking forward to being back!!! cant wait for tomorrow..

dont let me come in peace!!! how mean..i really thought you were bringing the elephants etc etc...!!!

just kidding.dont you dare..i would die of embarassment!! can you even imagine?!!! i guess you can

 
At 2:51 AM, Blogger ada-paavi!!!! said...

i love trains especially stations...just watching people...the things they do...

sainaths book is good, actually kinda shocking....speaks about a divided india...one rich and consisting of multiplexes and the other poor where ppl r starving (unfortuanately this imageis glamourised and romanticised b media, which is sad)

the one good thing is tat despite the differences there is some thing that unites every1, the indian identity i guess
ad nehru called it'unity in diversity'

 
At 10:21 AM, Blogger Vasu the terrible said...

I think thats a cliche, I will leave it for a seperte post. My views underwent a sea change from the romantiacised idea of India and Indianness as espoused by the right wing, to an issuue of survival, justice and humanity.

Nehru had caused a lot of harm to india and this current mode of developement is totally unsustainable and is at the cost of the poor.

I agree sainath's book, a documentary series on dalit oppression and a lecture on alternate politics by UR.Ananthamurthy (gyanpeeth winner) all have greatly impacted my thoughts. Though I dont want to bore people by these ideas, I would love to provoke a strong and impassioned debate. Unfortunately many people mistake this passion for vehemence.

vasu

 
At 10:26 AM, Blogger Vasu the terrible said...

embaressed ? you ? I have never seen you embaressed. I have been tons of times, and I still survive you know why ? I dont carry baggage :).. some people call me shameless...

whatever..

vasu

 
At 9:31 AM, Blogger Vodka said...

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