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An unforgettable journey by train

I confess I did not remember Gandhiji on his birth anniversary on October 2 that year. But when I travelled to Kochi in 1995 the day after Gandhi Jayanthi, the Indian Railways made me remember the Father of the Nation with great poignancy.

It happened like this. As I reached the station half an hour ahead of the scheduled departure of the train, it was being shunted on to the platform. I walked down the platform looking for my S1 compartment. There came, hobbling on its wobbling wheels, wedged between two new shining bogies, S1 — an old cattle shed of a compartment. They say sometimes fate brings strangers together to undergo a common tragedy. How true it was, I realised that night.

From another era

The passengers’ hearts sank when they saw the bogie. But my thoughts flew back to those maroon-coloured, murky third class compartments with windows sans bars in which Gandhiji used to travel across India during the freedom struggle along with his admirers, as shown in Indian News Reviews of Film Division that yesteryear film-goers had to endure prior to the start of the movie.

Inside, the tungsten bulbs were shedding tears instead of light. The blades of the fans were stubborn as mules. Our repeated attempts to coax them into action by rotating their blades with our fingers and pens proved futile. They just let out a deep, defiant warning growl. The floor had weird cracks, the patterns much like the course of rivers marked on maps. What window shutters! Touch them lightly and they would crash down like guillotines. Bed bugs, hundreds of them, came alive from nowhere, much like those depicted in the film Mummy.

I lack in the vocabulary to pay a fitting tribute to the toilets and the smell that emanated from them.

The most pathetic aspect of this compartment was the arrangement of the side berths. There was no division of the side upper berths with partitions. It was just a long stretcher from one end to the other end of the bogie. The passengers were made to lie down humbly, pushing one another’s feet on each other’s heads.

The side berths

The sight of these passengers destined to occupy the side berths refuse to fade from my memory. Somehow the compartment made us all look like those who travelled in the third class bogies in the early 1930s and 1940s. It was not just a bogie, it was a time machine. Whenever the train reached a certain speed, it would start swinging like a hammock. All kinds of ominous clinks and clanks came from under the floor. It was like travelling in a bullock cart attached to a superfast train.

We waited for the Travelling Ticket Examiner, to pounce on him like a pack of wolves, but he, clever as a fox, never turned up. Other passengers, resigned to their fate, fell asleep one by one, possibly due to the toxic smell from the toilets and the anaesthetic bug bites. An extra-clever side-berth passenger was seen removing his dhoti and using it as seat belt.

As for me, I did not sleep a wink. I lay wide awake to utter “Hey Ram” any moment.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 10:29:38 PM |

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