Growing up in a middle-class family in India in the eighties and nineties, travel, invariably meant train journeys. Thanks to inexpensive fares, trains were an integral part of vacations. Trips to Calcutta or Bombay from Bangalore meant spending a couple of days on the train. What wonderful times those were! Curling up on the upper berth with a novel for hours together, leaving the perch only for an occasional snack, or a meal was a delightful way of spending time. It still is, I would say, but, we rarely have the luxury of time now.
Hours would be spent looking out of the window, listening to the train chugging along. Craning our necks to see the front of the train when the tracks were winding, screaming in excitement while passing through tunnels, being a wee bit scared as the train rumbled threateningly over long bridges across rivers…the journey was an adventure in itself!
Making friends with fellow passengers was another way to kill time. Sure, Ma says don’t talk to strangers, but on trains, even Ma will admit that idle chatter is irresistible. Watching what the family in the opposite berth has packed for lunch and dinner, shyly accepting while they offer some of their chapatis or puris – it was all part of the experience. Of course, Ma would’ve prudently packed enough food to feed a little army for a week, but, it would be hard to resist the various snacks that hawkers would come selling. Masala dosas, tomato soup, pakoras, bread-omelettes, ‘cool-drinks’ like Maaza, Frooti– so much to choose from!
To all this, add the constantly changing scenery outside the windows – the rolling hillsides and the lush green paddy fields. Watching people on unknown villages going about their daily routine. Fascinating.
Now of course, we have cheap flights at our disposal. And lesser time too, of course. Why spend two days on a train when we could get there in a quarter of the time? We have SUVs for weekend trips. Modernization and more disposable incomes have changed our lives a great deal. Travel has become easy, fast and convenient, no doubt. But in a hurry to get to our destination, maybe we and our future generations are missing out on the wonderful experience of the journey itself?