The other day in the lift I heard two 10 year olds discussing the coming long weekend plans for a holiday to a resort. They seemed excited at the thought of a break, like any other children of their age. The lift stopped and the two of them ran out. As I continued with my evening walk I started thinking about the vacations in my childhood and began wondering what today’s kids are missing and immediately ‘chuk ckuk chuk’ crossed my mind – yes the train!
Train journeys are becoming redundant fast, at least in the upper middle class of the society. Oh the pleasures of booking tickets months in advance, packing huge trunks, holdalls (they were giant bed sized sturdy cloth bags where the bedding was rolled up for travel) etc, the fragrance of home cooked goodies being prepared days in advance for the long journey. All these are things of a bygone era and very alien for the kid of today, who leaves the house for a journey two hours before the flight and reaches the destination in another two! The meals/drinks enroute are taken care of by the airlines with an array of branded/packaged delicacies.
A train journey was an experience – a bonding exercise, not only with the fellow travellers but also the towns, villages and states that chugged past the train. The weighing machine at the entrance (which gave you a ticket with your weight when you stood on the dancing disco lights studded gadget – your fortune at the back of it was a bonus!) of the station was the first tryst with fun. As you entered the station a bookstall was ready to entice one and all – there was something to interest the varied age group that was travelling.
The boarding was done with the assistance of a very helpful soul – the coolie, who carried the heavier bags in his bright red attire while smaller ones were handed over to each member. Once the coach and seats were sorted everyone chose the best possible options for themselves (there were invariably a few friendly neighbourhood exchange of seats that happened!) . As the journey began, the train halts at stations presented the culture in the form of delicacies like samosas, laddoos, kachoris, oranges, mangoes and whatever that particular place could boast of, every bit of experience was everlasting. I still have the taste of all of them on my taste buds. People ate to their heart’s content without any fear of the kind of oil/water used in its preparation. There was so much to learn from what was prepared in which part of the country and why. Chai was served in earthen pots – kulhars and food on leaf plates. Can anyone question the sanitary and bio degradable qualities of these indigenously made cups and plates? Another aspect of this journey on the train was to collect trinkets being sold on the stations – at the end of the journey there was a bagful of wooden and leather toys, paper crafts, bead jewellery, hand embroidered wallets and countless others depending on which part of the country one was travelling to and from. This cultural pot-pourri was an inexpensive and enjoyable experience to treasure and I’m sure people from that era may still be holding on to some items bought years and years ago (I’m sorry to say but the fancy outlets at airports today are no match to those artisan centred locally crafted trinkets!)
The co passengers in these train journeys were another highlight that remained close to the heart long after the journey ended. For the 24, 36 or 48 hour journey the fellow travellers became family. They shared your food, jokes, games and even pains, if any. People knew that the journey would end after some hours but those hours became a lifetime and were lived to the fullest. On a few occasions addresses were exchanged as well and letters/cards sent/received later on. There was no security risk in disclosing these details (today we teach children not to tell personal details to anyone during travel or share their food).
One of the things my father told us as children on a train journey was to ‘talk to nature’. That was the most meditative experience – just staring out of the window seeing the trees, huts and streams run past. The colour of the soil, the flora and fauna, the hills and crops in the fields changed after a couple of hundred kilometres and all of it was fascinating. The children were getting lessons in Geography without a text book!
As night settled in everyone would open the berths and make a comfortable bed for each member. Younger ones had to share the berth sometimes, but that was fun too! All had their bunch of comics, magazines and books to last till sleep took them over. Once their own stock was done with, the neighbours were more than eager to exchange. The lending/borrowing continued till the end of the journey.
People kept leaving as and when their destinations arrived. Goodbyes and handshakes cemented the bonds that were made during the journey. The experience stayed, making the kids richer. In the fast paced lives of today we are unknowingly depriving a generation of a taste of life.
How I wish I could ask the two boys in the lift if they had travelled long distance in a train and if not ask their parents to do so.
This post is written for the #BachpanWithFlinto blogger contest on Women’s Web
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