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On a Push-Pull to Kochi

Travelling on the Push-Pull train can be quite an experience! Sometimes pleasant and sometimes fit to write home about


I NEVER thought a train could be a tongue-in cheek thing! The revelation came during an intimate moment on the Push-Pull, a rain-cast day. We were planning a trip to Kochi. To avoid a three-hour bumpy ride over pot-holed roads, to save my brittle bones, I persuaded my husband to go by train enjoying the waterlogged greenery, the charm of Kerala.

At Punkunnam railway station, I fell into conversation with some women. The Push-Pull at 7-30 a.m normally carried regulars. The train was jam-packed with mostly, office-going people, students, and the like. So when one engineering graduate chasing interviews enquired of the lady's compartment, a passenger replied that all the carriages are crowded. I consoled her saying that perhaps we could make a lady's corner. The women flashed amused smiles.

The Push-Pull originally had two engines: one in front, one at the back, when the Railways went to the famous pilgrim centre, Guruvayoor in the days of single track. Now, it needed only one. But, who ever christened it must have had the occult in him. The train seems to have decided to have its own identity, related to its very name. And like a staunch feminist, she highlights a subverted reality— the drama of push and pull. She came on time; the adventure began in time.

The smiling people received the train that kept time. But, she seemed wary of irate men who could abuse the Gandhian philosophy of Satyagraha. The crowd on the platform could fill a train. We climbed into a seemingly vacant bogey to find all the seats occupied. One gentleman stood up saying that he would get down at Thrissur, hardly two minutes. Another offered his seat to my husband. So we sat, the girl and myself huddled together, on a window seat. Up above, many sat in yogic postures. The women with their shoulder bags melted in the crowd. Their smiles now acquired an ironic dimension. The girl was anxious whether I felt comfortable. I was happy to accommodate to have a feel-good mood. For, she filled a vacuum deep within me. We chatted enjoying the sweeping green and blue. For half hour the crowd, though steadily swelled at every stop, was bearable.

At `Divine Nagar', I felt the need of divinity to help me through. We sat like Siamese twins enveloped in muscular buttocks. A backpack leaked warm liquid on me from a lunch-box lovingly packed by a wife. The girl adopted nimble postures of a ballet dancer while I perilously perched. The drama of push and pull had its seamy side. Bulging bags piled on my lap as I weakly smiled. As bales of luggage tested their weight on my naked shoulders, the feel-good mood threatened to evaporate. In the metros of northern India people still climbed on to the roof as in the days when Mr. Gandhi travelled to discover India. In Kerala, the gentlemen crowd could not afford to spoil their dress. So they clung on like pupae. Some one started macabre stories of accidents, of how men just slipped from the doorsteps. My empty stomach churned as they described the mangled bodies. Six had died in a month forcing the Railway authorities to add more coaches— the price we pay for our needs!

"Babiii... " someone called out desperate for fun. Innocence exploded on the face of the schoolgirls that walked along the parallel railway lines. And smiles mushroomed everywhere. The reluctant showers played hide and seek. At each stop there was a change of `guards' at the door. The young pushed the elderly in and guarded the doorsteps like many-headed Hindu gods. Half hour more remained to Kochi. But, time played snake and ladder. Outside, concrete jungles intersected the lush green at cyber speed. And like mercury, time scaled up only at my right. Inside the dark, snaky lines swallowed time. I felt the protesting movements of the girl who resisted subtle invasions of masculine virility. I thought of pinpricks that we employed in self-defense in our youth. My husband remained lost.

Another station-yet! The cloudy sky hangs low. A cheering cry sweeps aloud. The doorkeepers are applauding a race. Some women in bright coloured saris are running for cover from rushing rains. The Push-Pull slows down to gather momentum for the last lap of her race. Outside, the rains descend in all passion. Where are the hydra-headed gods now? See, hooded aliens guard the entrance! They have landed from unknown interiors on their two wheelers to hijack the Push-Pull for their Koch-centric mission. Like women in purda, like soldiers in uniform, the men in raincoats deface the Push-Pull. She hoots, whistles, screams, laughs in drunken revelry playing fusion music in the rain-- a crescendo that climaxes...

Eranakulam at last! The thick wall of humans broke like the Berlin wall; the bags on my lap evaporated. My numb body felt the pangs of life. My brittle bones were intact as if plaster cast. The girl smiled in relief. I thanked her and said I missed my daughter. Now she could travel in comfort for five minutes until the train reached its terminus. As I got down, the joints in my body groaned like rusted hinges of an ancient door.

"Never again... " said my bitter half.

"Yes, never again at this time on the Push-Pull..." I completed. For, haven't I known her other moods? Once, I was with her in an afternoon when she meandered late carrying lolling passengers who relaxed and dozed. And in an evening when twilight cast its darkening shadows, she terrified me by taking ticket less people of neighbouring states that did forbidding business in the pilgrim centre. Push-Pull, my friend seemed to sulk.

`Oh, don't worry, I can sneak in for another secret rendezvous... ' I winked at her. As the Push-Pull moved on my erstwhile daughter waved in all smiles.

PADMA JAYARAJ

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