Monday, October 20, 2008

The Great Indian Train

The stench of the urinals welcomed on-board of S4 compartment of Karnataka Express. CR could not take it even for a minute that I was traveling by train to Delhi. He was trying to convince me that I should ditch the Train and fly the following day.

I asked him to leave even before the train left fearing that he will force me till the last minute to take the flight, but he refused saying that he will give send me off like the way Shahrukh does to Kajol in KKHA, ah..ah.. how romantic!!!

To my delight the stinking toilets were getting cleaned and it was smelling better..if I may say that. The platform was filled with people of all shapes, color, size, religion age and culture. For a minute, I wondered how fearlessly they traveled in such large numbers with all the terrorist threats and blasts in the recent days. I remembered Godhra, as I saw the train there was a hesitation, but looking at people who seem to be less cared about what could happen or may happen or never happen I felt free and boarded the train.

Indian railways are as mighty as the Indian middle class; the contrast of real India v/s an aspiring India can be simply explained as Train v/s Flight.

The mighty middle class bares the brunt of it all; with pro-poor and pro-rich policies the middle class is forgotten conveniently at all times. The lower-middle class do not get the benefits of pro-poor reforms and the upper-middle class cannot “afford opportunities” of the rich.

Rahul Gandhi on the floor of the house spoke about a poor lady from Maharastra, Mamatha Banarjee is up against one of the richest man in India, and millions of middle-class are left for RK Narayan!!!…the common man….

No lower-middle class citizen wants to be called poor; the upper-middle class wants to be rich, this is the “class” that can question and think but does not have a voice, hence gets pulled between “compassionate terms” of poor and the “unfair terms” for being rich.

Anyway, as the train started moving the passengers settled down, since it was a late evening train very soon I could see people taking out the home packed food, the dinner table J almost had all kinds of conversations. We had a Fuji who had a RAC ticket and was waiting to get a seat allotted, TT had very little respect for the man who has been called to guard the country mid-way of his leave!! He was carrying a warrant (it’s a letter issued by concerned regiment/ army HO to report to duty), as per rules seat should be allotted on priority in such cases, but little did the TT care.

Early morning the train was passing through Maharastra, Pakni junction was when I was completely awake and watched the birds flying across the vast cultivate fields. I was trying to identify the birds and suddenly wondered why storks were flapping in the air at the same place, without realizing I am on a moving train. Its so true, many times in life, we do not realize that we are at a higher induced speed due to better opportunities or pure luck and have little respect for those who are not keeping to our pace. Suddenly I spotted blackbucks running across the fields……and few peacocks.

When I pulled myself out of the sleeping bag, passengers around wondered what the hell was it and were quite glad to see it; I wasted no time in explaining the usage of it.

One more full day and a night to go to reach Delhi, I was not really keen on the time anyways. As stationed passed I remembered my last travel on the same train 16 years ago…for the Republic Day Camp as an NCC cadet, quite a time since I traveled on a train. I sensed that I had lost in touch with the real people and real India, at some point almost felt like a foreigner in my own country.

People around were all talking and getting to know each other, the Fuji had still not got his seat, he asked for the newspaper I was reading and within minutes we started talking, I asked him which regiment he belonged and where was he posted….he looked at me with surprised smile and almost stood-up, asking me if I was from the army too, refusing to take no as an answer….I had to show him my entire wallet, and that I had no document that anywhere states that I am from the army. He was still not convinced; his convection was that no civilian could ask such appropriate questions. My eyes went moist for a second, would have been happy to be called “Maj Kavitha Reddy”, life is a bitch!!!! I thought…but….that what it is for me.

There was a calmness traveling on a train, the large green fields, and the changing landscape from state to state felt like actual divisions. Karnataka has large boulders and mass hills where as Maharastra had pinnacles and layered peaks giving sandstone kind of a feel. As the train entered Madhya Pradesh, stones almost turned to heaps of red soil, and barren miles of rocky ducts. MP once upon a time was famous for the dacoits, and even trains were not spared, but that was long long ago.

It was very interesting to hear people talking about many things I would generally not care about. One among the passengers was a pakka Tamilian woman now staying in Faridabad with her husband, her Hindi was so Tamil and she was talking about the various festivals and the reason behind each one of them. Couple of college kid who were in the next compartment rushed to check if their mother was ok, they were talking about the college and the fun they have which I guess was the same when I was in college too. One of them realized that I was carrying a book “Shantaram”, he asked me why the foreigners make India look so ugly? And as Indians we should stop buying or reading those books. I was quite glad about the thought he had, I told him that whatever the foreigner talk, think and write etc about India, its important to remember that they simply cannot ignore India. That led to a long conversation about our country, war with Pakistan, Cricket, Kashmir, America, Bush and the rest of the ingredients till their mother forced them out to let me sleep.

Morning got warmer and Delhi approached really quick, with 40 hours of travel I still felt fresh and there was a sense of happiness that I did what I always wanted to, travel simple and see real Indians.

- Kavitha Reddy

29th Sept 08