My childhood memories still hold the game of playing “train train” with the first kid being the engine and others holding on to the dresses as compartments. Train journey is always remembered with delight. Mainly terms are coined related to trains and train journey like in Tamil one time friendship which does not last long is called "rail sneham" (translated as rail friendship). Many philosophical thoughts have been derived from the locomotive.
My early memories of a train journey was the annual family trip to Trivandrum to my grandparents in a "kalkari theevandi" (coal powered steam engine). The smell of the burning coal, the unique sound of the engine's hoot, now only heard in cartoon series of "Thomas the tank engine". The journey was indeed I used to look forward to though the odor which it leaves behind used to take at least a day before it subsides. Then came the next generation Diesel Engines and now electric coaches & metro rails. Innovation has left behind indelible inscriptions in our minds.
When I talk about the trains, the stations, or platforms as we refer to it as, also come to our minds. There used to be a system of guards and the driver exchanging locks and keys in the olden days. Small lights in the hands of a station master clad in his white and white and a black jacket. The ticket examiner coming to your seat checking the validity of the tickets you have, those olden days card tickets punched with the unique number at the station counter, the policeman travelling in the coach, the coach attended in the air-condition car coming to ask whether you would like your blanket now, the canteen attendant who takes your order for the nights food and many more. Those yellow station boards and how you try and read the name in the regional language. The vendors and hawkers, the Higginbotham’s or Wheelers book shop in every station, the restaurants and each station having its own specialties.
Let us trace back and think of railway stations and what they were famous for
Virudunagar - Boli (Similar to puran poli of maharashtra)
Sankarankoil - Chicken biryani
Srivilliputtur - Paal kova
Manapparai - Murukku
Vijayawada - Bread Omelets
Kannur - Biriyani and Banana
Buying a book or a magazine from the Higginbotham’s / Wheelers book store, sipping the coffee from the vendor who calls out to you whether you want coffee (as sweet as your wife ...), while you travel with the jolt as if your mother was trying you to put you to sleep, you will come across the best of the sights outside the chugging train. The sunrises and the sunsets, the fields and farms, kids playing out in the sun beating the heat and sometimes waving at you, the rivers and lakes, the bridges and the roads you see outside, the dhobi ghats and the small shops - all accompanied by the rhythmic beats of the travelling train.
Have you not remembered to write to the friendly person who sat next to you in a long journey sometime in your life? Do you remember the office goers regularly meeting everyday in the train, the flower vendors, college students travelling back home, salesmen who sell pens and other utilities, poor kids trying to sell the packs of candies, those packets of peanuts, the blind man in the train singing songs with the beats of clattering wooden spoons in his hand. When we get down at the station, greetings are exchanged and promises are made to the co passengers being sure to write and addresses are noted down. I am sure letters are rarely written and mostly even the faces forgotten by the time you again board another train for another memorable journey.
Indian Railways...would narrate more stories than those can be made into movies which will touch your hearts...I am sure those who have used the Nilgris Express narrow Gauge train would have a different story to tell. Sadly thats the last narrow gauge steam locomotive, in India, still in use.