For many journey is for a destination, but for Kannan journeys were destinations. If there was something that excited Kannan all his life, one of them would be travel. A time for himself to let himself loose in imagination, fly with the wind that gets his hair flying, the people around him, the new lands, new languages, new people and each journey giving him something to remember. The childhood was filled with the memories of the black steam engine with its snout sneezing huge clouds of smoke with the smell of charcoal. The railway stations were a sight to remember. As a child Kannan was fascinated by how the red shirt wearing uncles, porters, could carry so many trunks, bags and boxes all at once, the smell of the roast hot vadas in the station and the small cups of hot coffee.
The visit to the book store at the station, the fresh smell of the books which always took Kannan to a different world. As soon as he got a new book, the first thing would be smelling the pages... something only those who have tried it before could tell. The strange gadgets with red and blue lights and a red and white striped disc which would stop rotating indicating the time to drop a coin when standing on it to get a small card with the weight on it and the reverse to hold a forecast to the day. Till his late teens the weighing machine at the station was more of a ritual where he would need the small shining silvery coin slipped into the slot to get the weight card. Kannan kept a whole lot of such weight cards and railway tickets for a very long time, till he lost them all in transit or misplaced it except from his mind.
Trains where Kannan learnt a lot. They were moving institutions. Debates with other passengers, sharing a cup of the murky waters called coffee, the bread omelette in the mornings, the packed lunches and the way to adjust oneself to the tiny space called the berth in a position that looked similar to the child before the childbirth, shrouded into the space for a nap. The fans which never moved, springing to life with the edge of a comp tapping on the leaf through the rusty grills, the singers who would sing their own tunes to the very famous numbers popular for that time. The later part of his teens, trains and buses were more of
me time providers, the more he traveled he fell in love with the journeys.
Many trips during childhood were the six hour long fun time from Ernakulam to Trivandrum. Looking at old uncles and aunties sleeping while sitting, young uncles looking at the young girls without being seen, the ones who tried to hide their face behind the newspaper as if their life depended on what was on the newspapers, all were intriguing sights. The regular journey towards Trivandrum always passed through Amma's college.
"This is the college where Amma studied" she would point out to the red bricked building with white shades by the side of the tracks as the train approached the station.
As soon as she would say that no matter if it is for the 100th time, Kannan and Akka who always fought for the window seat would stick their heads to see the college as if it were a family monument. That became a regular sight. Once during such a journey Amma missed saying the oft repeated lines. There was silence and Kannan and Akka were busy in their comic, they had got from the book store. A person sitting next to them quickly asked
"Are you not showing the college to the kids this time"
Amma, Kannan and Akka had a hearty laugh the laughs remained in Kannan's mind for a very long time and every time the train would pass the college Kannan would remember the funny incident.
It was April of 2002 and a special assignment for Kannan ... to emcee a mega event in Chennai. The tickets were booked by the organizers and he had everything packed in order. He reached the station and boarded the ac coach. The attendant, in his dull blue uniform, smiled at him and greeted, knowing that he would get some tips from each person in the compartment.
"Welcome Sir... which seat" He asked with a smile which would attract a toothpaste ad, as it needed cleaning badly.
"AC3 24" Said Kannan and smiled back.
He reached his seat and kept his bags on the upper berth for the time being. He removed the sling bag and kept it along with the luggage. Kannan remembered the ritualistic trip to the Book store and needed a bottle of water. He instructed the attendant that he would back in a minute and rushed to the book store. Somehow he managed to pick a novel and a magazine and a bottle of water from the convenience store next to the bookstore and rushed back to the compartment. He sat on his seat and wanted to check the printed material which was in the black sling bag which he had kept along with the other bags. For his shock surprise and all the wonder that bag was missing.
"Did anyone see a bag... I had kept it there" Kannan asked everyone sitting in the nearby seats frantically
"Did you see my bag" He kept asking
By then the train had started moving. Kannan's heart sank, as the bag had his passport, new shoes, more important as he wouldn't get his size anywhere and had got it made to order for the function, money, tickets and all the important documents for the function.
He ran to the door and banged it open with his body and went to the attendant
"Did you see my bag"
There was not even an answer from him, just a shake of his hand gesturing an affirmative "NO"
He saw the Train Ticket Examiner with a dark face, darker than the black Jacket he was wearing, with pan in his mouth and a shell frame spectacles, who walked out to Kannan and asked
"What is the praablam" in a mix of Tamil and English
"Sir someone stole my bag and all my documents were in it... even the tickets"
"I know ... people like you have all the excuses of the world, I can’t do anything.... get down at the next station" said the TTE
"But sir you can check the list... my name is there AC3 24"
"That all I don’t know... you show the ticket or I put fine... or you can get down at next station"
Kannan searched his bags and pockets for all the money he had and paid for the fine. Somehow with the worry in his head Kannan reached Chennai. All his documents and ID cards were gone. The next two days went in worry and finished the show to the best possible. By then he had arranged the tickets for the return as they were also in the lost sling bag. The event got over and Kannan had to reach the railway station in an hour’s time. It was peak traffic and Kannan somehow reached the station exactly on time.
Kannan paid for the cab and rushed to the platform where he had to board the train. He ran through all the rush of the Chennai central. People where sleeping on the floor with luggage, there were vendors moving around the other trying to get to their trains. Kannan ran and jumped over people and boxes to reach the platform, where all that he saw was the train move away and the last compartment the signal staff was waving the green flag. He tried to run, but all in vain.
The pleasure of the onward and the return journey went down the drains. The success of the event did not give him enough happiness to cover the failure to catch the train.
With all the dismay in being late, he went to the information counter and got the cancellation form, but got a meagre amount as reimbursement as he missed the train and the train had already left. With all that remained with him Kannan got a train to Alleppy instead of Trivandrum and the train was full. With no reservation and the compartment full with people, Kannan experienced a new kind of journey, in an unreserved compartment by the side of the door and the lavatory with the vendors. His destination was for the first time - "Home" and forgot to enjoy the trip. But Kannan never forgot the journey.
He saw the life of the underprivileged, with no air-condition or fans, no seat or berth, all but a newspaper to sit on and spend the night without a wink of the eye by the smelly walkway till he reached Ernakulam. He opened the door and stood holding the railings for support. Wind washed him with the night’s cold. With the wind in his hair, he ran his fingers through them and took a deep breath. He saw the night sky and the houses far with lights switched on, the night crickets made the noise typical to the region. He was tired but started coming to terms with the journey of a different kind. He kept thinking about all the journeys he had made and started loving this one too.
He broke the journey and decided to continue his trip back home at least after a few hours of sleep. Every journey is an experience, Good or bad, it teaches you something new. Kannan stretched himself to sleep in the waiting room securely chaining with the baggage he had to the leg of the chair. He woke up in a few hours and got the tickets to board the afternoon train from Ernakulam Junction to Trivandrum. As usual he checked his weight and smiled at the fortune card which said
"Life is a journey enjoy it... You will have new experiences"
He went to the book store and got one of his favorite author, Robin Cook's Novel, and boarded the train. There were uncles and aunties and teens and girls with their usual antics. By the evening the train was approaching Trivandrum. As the train passed the college, where Amma studied, reminded of the funny incident, he laughed again and the smile remained till he reached home.