On monday night, 9.15 pm, I embarked on what I thought would be a boring journey at best and a mindnumbing torture of a long sleepless night. Obviously, It had been a long long time since I last went on a train. As a child, I would make the 3 day trip from Delhi to Chennai on the Shatabdi with my grandmother and I would take immense pleasure in eating my fill of "goodies" everyday that my grandmother would arrange for me in a plate carefully. The trip also involved making friends with other children my age and playing card games and learning black magic (the biggest con if my life and it took me 2 years to figure out the trick!)... The highlight of the ride would be bonding with my grandmother as she told me numerous stories and played bluff, rummy and ass with me (all three card games)!
But this time, I knew my disposition. I did not enjoy being in isolation for hours on end when everybody around me would be fast asleep and by some offchance if I did not get my eyeshut I would be cranky and stoned all the day following day.
With that jaded mindset, I entered the station. THe first thing that struck me about it was the characteristic odour. A combination of urine, sweat and food, it was not a pleasant odour, but so comforting that it was not hard for me to slip into the same warm, comfortable mood that train journeys incited in me in the past. More than anything else, it must have been nostalgia but at the moment i was not complaining. Just happy to be feeling content. THe next thing that I just fell in love with were those stalls selling cheap books and magazines, water and frooti. I used to yearn for those in my childhood. I would inevitably pick up a gokulam to read on the way, something that brought me hours of pleasure with the well thought out and always entertaining articles and facts. My granny too would read out stories for me from the book and that was an absolute pleasure always!
This time, my father bought me a book on Personalities of India, with the view of benifitting my GK for the upcoming law entrance exam. The book was so cute(for the lack of a better word) in all its flaws. The tacky printing, the glaring spelling errors and the grammar, or lack thereof, were all a source of delight for my exhausted brain. As we waited for the train to come, for around 45 minutes (indeed it had been late), our backs broke but it was all worth it because we now knew Joseph Priestley's middle name and Mr Arundale's claim to fame. Finally, 5 minutes after its departure time, the train chugged into the station! What joy and pleasure it gave our broken backs to see this harbinger of good times to come.
BOarding the train was also an adventure. With our suitcases in tow, my father the brave was the first to make the ascend and with success the rest of us followed until the time came for my grandmother to do the deed. Hard as it was for her to bridge the gap between the platform and the step which exposed a gaping view of the train tracks. That was the stuff my childhood nightmares were made of. Slipping into that precious hole and the train starting. I'd spend hours wondering precisely in which position to lie so that I would not be pulped by the moving train! Finally concluded flat would be the best.
After we'd made the walk into the corridor and landed our seats, I experienced the single best feeling I have felt in the past week. That feeling of the blue leather bed as I lay down and rested my poor broken back. The catharsis of the wait and the standing and lugging, and the cool leather(or plastic as it may be) to rest on. Sigh.. that was life.
After a 30-minute wait, the train's machinery kicked into place and then it began. That absolutely irreplacable, mind-blowing, soothing sound/feeling.. Chug chug chug chug.. and the Chennai Mail chugged away into the night.