I had to make a quick trip home. Like a really quick one. I took the first available and affordable flight! The flying time is an hour and a half and on most occasions, I sleep right after take-off, even before the cabin crew briefs us about the safety instructions (the constant hum of the engines puts me to sleep all the time).
I come from a modest background and flights were not even an option when I was growing up. We used to travel to Chennai to meet our relatives during the summer vacation. Navjeevan Express would escort us from Ahmedabad to Chennai over 2 days! This is how the journey unfurled over the two days.
In spite of my mother’s best efforts to pack our things efficiently, my father would be surprised at the amount of luggage. Our first task would be to adjust all of it below those filthy train seats before we sat down. The ‘window seat’ was my mother’s. No compromise. She would urge me to go sit on the ‘window seat’ on the other side. Urgh!!
As the train would start off, the growing excitement in our hearts would force a smile on our faces. Overjoyed screams and claps would escape me and I would stare out of the ‘window’ I had wanted to avoid earlier. The breeze would make my already difficult-to-control curls wild but it always felt nice.
In a couple of hours, I would get bored of the stations and roads and mountains and rivers we crossed. And I’d move to the top berth. As I sat there, I’d look down at the various vendors who carried tea, coffee, juices, water, cutlets, omelettes, fruit and all the junk you can imagine. And I ate and drank all of it. That awful tomato soup they served with extra bread crumbs was not to be missed!
The intimidating eunuchs got on at some stations and forced me to hide at the farthest corner of the top berth to avoid being seen by them. My father was always nice to them. He would talk to them, inquire about their health and then offer them food. They treated him nice too.
Conversations floated in the air and discussions took importance over vendors eventually. The smell of food wafted in the air as aunties opened their carefully packaged items. A game of cards here, a Housie there and the few songs everywhere…that’s what a train journey typically is.
While a two-day journey is reduced to a 2 hour flight, conversations decreased, food vanished and the excitement went out the window (after a couple of flights in life, of course!)…Sometimes I wish to travel in those old, non-AC, filthy trains all over again!