Sunday, July 10, 2005

Train memories

This post by Annie has brought back memories of my college days, which were not so long ago. I have travelled a lot of times along the Kanpur-Delhi route, mostly to go home and come back to the place I studied. It is an overnight journey as most of my readers would know and I would not eloborate on the trains that ply between the route.
The first time I travelled was with my parents and that was an entirely different issue. The first time I travelled alone on a train was with Gaurav Pandey in the first mid-sem break of the first semester and we had decided to get into the general compartment, which acording to Gaurav is usually empty. Boy, how wrong he was! I had never ever travelled in general and the first time I did, I resolved never to travel in general again, a resolution that I never kept. It was cramped with people and there was absolutely no place to sit! I ended up sitting on the floor and by the end of the journey, I was very, very tired. My back hurt and I was kind of pissed at having subjected myself to it. Of course, the future held far more masochistic deeds, like travelling from Kanpur to Delhi in a bus in December, one of the coldest months of the north. Of course, it was a trip I never repeated as I felt that it would be detrimental to my health (I was literally blue by the end of that trip).
Being in a college which was far from the city and in general, being a lazy ass, I never really got around to booking railway tickets. I would usually buy a general ticket and bribe the TT 50 bucks for a berth in the sleeper compartment. Sometimes, there would be no seat in the sleeper too and I would have to find my own space much like Annie had to do on her trip. But it usually gave you a sense of how cruel and inconsiderate people are. I remember being one of them when I used to travel with my parents with a ticket purchased by my father. I would feel guilty and ashamed of myself at the same time whenever I hogged somebody else's place. Guilty, because I was encroaching and ashamed, because the behaviour the other person exhibited was not quite unlike my behaviour before. Once I had to sleep on the floor and I felt about how countless people in this country go to sleep on the floor somewhere, which is a public space and I was more ashamed at my own feelings toards these poor, homeless chaps before.
Yes, travelling by trains those days in that manner gave you a very realistic picture of our country today and made me feel empathic towards those thousands of travellers who use the trains to travel ticketless. I mean how could people find the money to buy tickets when they cannot even afford their next meal.
So, when a new train was introduced between Kanpur and New Delhi that started in Kanpur, it gave me an opportunity to travel by general again. That I did, yes, that I did. And this time I connected with the people on the general. I noticed that in most cases they were humble and quite nice people with no pretentions of superiority or affability. I would make space for them and they for me. I knew that there is a great majority of people who travel by general and without tickets. They could not afford it. The general ticket costs 100 rupees and this is still a very large amount for the vast majority of people in India. Sad, but true.
When the train was new, I could easily get onto the general compartment without any trouble but as the news of the new train spread, it became more and more difficult to get onto the compartment. As the train approached, there would be a mad rush to get to the doors of the compartments. And there they would wait till the doors were opened and after much jostling, you would get on the compartment to find every place was occupied and the only place one could find was on the floors. As the rush increased, I found myself back in the sleeper compartments.
But I still remember those days of travel by general... Those days were amazing.


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