How to train your imagination

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The Chennai Central railway station is an edifice with a history... of suffocation, slush and stench. But what stops you from swanking it out in your head?

Imagine if the Chennai Central railway station did not stink to high heaven but felt like actual heaven?

Today, I made one of my usual visits to Chennai Central to buy some used books at the Moore Market next to the station. Took the metro as always since that’s the most convenient way.

Although it is fun to scrounge for rare books in the used-book stores of Moore Market, trips to Central station has not always been a pleasant experience for me in recent years. Due to all the seemingly perennial metro work and what not, added to the chaotic and filthy native state of our railway stations, the place is quite depressing. Add an untimely shower or two and the place is all slush. Further add to it our Naipaulean tendencies to urinate with a particular intensity near anything even remotely “railway”.

But driven by some strange masochistic push, I seem to like to repeat that experience periodically, only to come back home angry, swearing in my mind at everything that I think deserves to be sworn at.

(To give an idea of what im talking about, in one of my earlier visits about an year or two ago, as I was stepping out of the train in Park station, this young man in dirty multicoloured lungee and shirt turned to me and ask me gravely: “idu ellaam maarumaa? [will this sort of thing ever change?]” I mumbled something just to cheer him up, but what I actually wanted to say was: “I’m as clueless as you are buddy!”)

But this time I wanted to do something different. I decided not to come back upset. Despite the persistently ugly face that the place and the surroundings present, I thought that I would visualise something that sublimates the grim outer appearance, by making a mental effort to superimpose, as they say, what is within on what is without.



And that is how ‘Chennai Central from the Future’ began to take shape inside my head.

A massive glasshouse is seen rising skywards in place of the red colonial-era gloomy building that is now present. There is very little crowd flowing in and out because the masses are cosily tucked away, hidden deep under the surface. There are four levels under the surface with trains leaving to different zones of India from different levels. The over-the-surface platforms are allotted to a special class of trains — the bullet trains that run on long distance routes, gliding like silver streaks across the face of the peninsula, at an easy 400-500 kmph, to Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. They are fondly namedSaudamini Express, after a Sanskrit word that means ‘lightning’.

And on the deeper levels there are long rows of cafeterias, restaurants, cake shops, apparel shops, crèches, boutiques and, yes, also used-book stores. There are play areas for kids, and rest areas for sojourning travelers. Crowds move in smooth laminar flows walking rhythmically along designated bands guided by a Navigation Central app that maps all the four Levels of the Central Station. The app basically works like a local GPS. For example, as soon you enter the Central complex you just say to the app: “Need to catch the 9:15 a.m. Kovai express, coach number S3;” the app will guide you all the way to your seat, up and down the massive escalators, step by step, literally.

Across the street from Chennai Central Station, the Central Metro Station is also jazzed up commensurately. People arriving at the Metro Station don’t need to come up to the street level; they just gracefully amble through the beautiful, superlit, subterranean corridors to go to the main Station.

With all these changes underneath, the space on the main street in front of the Central is immensely freed up. Cars and cows and people don’t have to jostle for space on the streets.

The bridge in front of the central too is widened to twice its original size. Its graceful arches are brilliantly spruced up with old-fashioned lamps along the sidewalks. An exquisite patch of genetically-modified Kurinji bushes serves as a road divider. Kollywood filmmakers love to shoot song sequences (over and over and over) on this bridge, with the great, surreal glass structure of the Central in the backdrop.

Well, that’s my brief report on Chennai Central 2030.

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