Did you try sitting by the open door of a train?

My heart’s sold to trains. As I oft described before. U-Bahns that I now take make me feel like I own my urban world. U-Bahns that incidentally inspire Favicons of this blog. Metro train lists that I compare to see how many cities I’ve travelled to, smug-ly. Trains in bustling Delhi like metros, with closed doors. Doors that sometimes shut when my sister is not done following me inside yet. I spend thirty seconds making disappointed faces into the glass window that I am not supposed to lean on when they miraculously open –the driver notices our sudden separation. We sigh, reassured. 

indian railways and train journeys
We pushed our noses next to the iron bars looking at the next train station
Some Indian trains talk of summer holiday arrivals to Grandmother’s town. Mother would wake us up an hour or two before reaching a station that meant so much more to her. Sister and I would then start our beauty ritual of washing our faces in train bathrooms that didn’t really warrant mentions and be combed up into prettiness, plaits (mine) redone. We never wanted to wake up. Especially after the night of looking at books with intermittent glances at small insects getting attracted to the train reading lights. This much after a family on a neighbouring seat would announce lights out after filling the whole coach with the smell of packed parathas and pickles. Also after father had gone out one last time to see what’s new on offer at a station we stopped at, in mother’s sandals and come back running claiming how sandals are so uncomfortable. We would have laughed through the fight and worry that mother had mounted thinking he were left behind at a non-descript station. We would have staked claim at the seats on the top-played ‘challenge’ and not just ‘antakshari’, with the grand ideas of getting a half hour of extra morning sleep on the top bench. Before Samba arrived. We would not know what blogs were, and that they spoke of Samba over Jammu-Tavi, in the future.

small indian train stations and jhelum express
Some strange stations appeared
Indian train doors also carry memories of 26 hour journeys from across the West through to the North, a night and several books caught in that space. Some that I shrug away from like old posts on this blog that I do not want to associate with anymore. When fingers dipped with greasy chicken biryani at Daund (with a Y fork making the train go backwards) used old pockets of jeans over Kleenex or Tempo. Long train schedules would make me bend the head through the windows with iron bars to see the curve of the train and the changing terrains. I’d often think what people in Raja ki Mandi did during evenings. Who came from Bina and Babeena? Why did guavas from Manmad come with pink interiors? At 19, these journeys seemed like a perfect place to have our own Dil Chahta hai settings. A few of us would cross the train coaches from within (I’d follow and copy father in my head in sandals), and sit by the open train doors. Like movie stars. Except that in real life, the polluted air and Indian mud left us with black (not racist, factual) faces and muddy unrecognizable hair. We didn’t look like film stars but we felt so. Expansive and on top of our young worlds.
I see open doors of trains everywhere. And insects still get attracted to lights when I choose the higher rail berths. At times, I’m just scared to look dirty and be amidst spiders. But I’ve always felt it’s largely worth the muck. Those extras just make the blog memories glossy, in hindsight.

ThinkTonk gave images to my memories. Indian train journeys, like all else, needed sensory descriptors from artists.
  1. @car stranger conversations is another post altogether. It’s amazing how 20 hours of boredom would open up people so much 🙂

    @Neeti- Yes! and Window seats are still important in aircrafts even 😛

  2. Trains are the best! 🙂
    Indian trains better than all.. (insects and paratha smells included)..
    Non-AC trumps AC ones!

    Open doors are awesome!
    Windows even better 😀 and the fight for the window seat!

  3. Excellent write up. Although your nostalgia did gloss over the dirtiness of the trains in India. Bugs hovering near lights were the least of my problems. However, the variety of foods and the strange conversations with strangers always balanced it all out. Your post reminds me that we were always on the same tracks, only directions varied.

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