The amazing world of men who depend on the ‘Messiah'
The journey continues...
Last month, the journey on the track saw how the women transformed the ladies' compartment of the Madurai-Dindigul Passenger into a home away from home. Male passengers travel in very different style. Students and working men of different ages ride together every morning and evening, meeting the same faces and occasionally chancing on a new addition.
The air in the men's compartments is loud and charged. A conversation among two friends soon turns into a full-blown argument with all the passengers joining in. Till my ears came to terms with these myriad voices in various decibels, I felt that I was in an assembly session. Of course there were no chairs in the train that could be thrown for added effect.
The men argue about politics, politicians, 2G, power cuts, global warming and the Italian marines who had opened fire on Indian fishermen.
“This little world is our space where we can fly as a free bird,” says PWD Superintendent Manickavasagam. “Nothing weighs us down except that we share our thoughts and have fun.” His friends call him ‘youth Manic' because he never removes his stylish sunglasses even while he is on the train. “Why should I, I am only 56,” he laughs.
For Jeyabalan, who works in the Health Department, life in the train is the most blessed time and he wishes that the train would get held up at some crossing, for that would mean spending more time with his train friends. “Once we board the train in the morning we forget our families and in the evenings we forget our office.”
A lab assistant with the agri department, Arumugam loves to spend time in his friends' company but many times he dozes off in between discussions.
“We call him Anjanenjan Arumugam, because he speaks his mind and wears his heart on his sleeve,” says Selvaraj, another PWD employee.
“Travelling in the train is like re-living our college days,” says Jerald, who works in a dairy farm.
Ramu, who travels 12 km even to reach Dindigul Junction to catch this train, says, “People move out of their native place only if they have to. Because of this train, perhaps, we never thought of moving to Madurai.”
The train held a pleasant meeting for me too. I found my professor Dominic Savio, now carrying a shoulder bag instead of the briefcase he used to lug around in college. A bunch of us belonging to the English Department in The American College were always curious to know what Professor Savio had in his little grey briefcase.
When I tell him the purpose of my journey, he plunges into narration about his beloved train.
“Ever since my M.Phil days in the early 80s, I have been traveling in the train. But then it was a steam engine running on a meter-gauge that took two hours to reach the destination,” he says with his broad smile. Back then he shelled out Rs.13 a month to travel to and fro and now he pays Rs.220, but in all these years he never thought of shifting to Madurai. As a student he found time to read and as a lecturer he used the time to rest and catch up with all his friends.
“People here travel in groups,” he says, “and it is an extended friendship, unlike the friendship that you develop in express trains.” In the first group that he joined in the 80s, he was the youngest member and so far he has been part of six groups. Now, he is the oldest of the 12 in his group.
“The two hour travel, now one hour and fifteen minutes, gives me ample time to read, correct papers and prepare for the next day's class. Besides, whenever I need a little break I can take a nap too. It is nothing but a home on wheels.”
Professor Savio has his own explanation of why people prefer to travel to Madurai rather than live there. “Migration has become a necessary factor in the fast-paced life. And people have to wait for summer holidays so that they can pay a visit to their native place. Most of the time, work pressure and time crunch forces them to cancel their trips. But we are lucky that we work yet we are housed in our own native place. All this is possible only because of our hero or rather the Messiah – Dindigul Passenger.”
One thing hasn't changed. All the time he's talking I'm still thinking about his briefcase, now bag. Finally the mystery is unraveled. My professor opens the bag. Inside, I spy Graham Greene's ‘The Power and the Glory', research papers and a lungi and a towel that soon become a bed sheet and a pillow.
Now grey-haired, he looks at the brash youngsters in the next compartment. “Not just that we have aged on this train but even the people have changed. The young crowd now spend more time fidgeting with gadgets and are more aware of movies,” he sighs. A co-passenger butts in with “Youth lack social consciousness and responsibility.”
Mulling over this remark, I joined the noise next door. They had stared at me talking to the older men, but now most of them ignored me and looked blank when I tried to talk to them. When I asked about Koodankulam, they all had better things to do – listening to music, smsing and attending to missed calls.
As I look at these bored young faces, I realize that they do not yet share that unbreakable bond of Prof Savio, Manickavasagam, Ramu and Arumugam. If they continue to be lost in their world of gadgets, maybe they never will. And who knows what connection they feel for Madurai?
(The train journey concluded)
(City3sixty is a monthly column that captures the different moods of the city.)