I am not very good at small talk. Especially when I am travelling. I would much rather listen to some music, read a book or sleep. What that means is that I am practically unfit for travelling in trains. Over the past few months, I have been subjected to constants train journeys, more than I would have liked.[ the irctc website is my homepage and the first website I tend to open when I wake up..you can offer your sympathies in the comments section below ]. I have had some pleasant, some not so pleasant and some downright strange experiences during my train travels. Its weirdly wonderful – a train journey in India. It offers a unique insight into not just Indian culture and its people but also has proven to me that there exist glaring differences in the way our generation thinks and behaves in contrast to the older ones. Not that I was not aware of it earlier, but meeting and listening to people’s opinions from various parts of the country,varied backgrounds and age groups has reinforced some stereotypes in my mind and shattered some of my ignorance as well.
Most elders hate technology or rather the way the younger generation uses it. I remember this one time, I put my headphones on and was listening to music when the elderly gentleman sitting next to me started talking to me. Out of respect, I took my headphones out and was subjected to almost a half an hour’s worth of free lecture on ‘why this generation basically sucks’. There are times when I engage in the argument and offer my point of view, but the older generation has a majority in most train compartments. The undeniable nodding and agreement that accompanies these discussions makes me realize the uselessness of my involvement in the debate. The moment I take out any gadget, I say a little prayer hoping I am not dragged into any ‘man vs technology’ debate. There are also some people who are very, very nosy. Chit chat about politics, movies or basic backgrounds is fine. But, when people start asking personal questions or start sharing the trials and tribulations of their life with me, I get uncomfortable. I keep thinking that there has to be some line or phrase that could be used to get out of these tricky situations but all that seems to have worked for me so far is a fake yawn. I pretend that I am sleepy and some kind souls usually let me off the hook. There are some who are so engrossed in the conversation that they manage to willingly or unwillingly overlook my absolute disinterest with the proceedings.
Having said all of that though, I still think there is something very charming about train travel in India. The helping nature of the passengers, be it offering seats, helping you with your luggage or even offering food, there is something incredibly nice about it. People, who are practically strangers, sharing things with you without much hesitation ought to reflect something very right in our society. The problem though is that, this openness brings along with it all the drama I mentioned in the earlier paragraph. Maybe some people of my age do not mind all that either. My grandpa gets so annoyed when he sees young people with backpacks as their only luggage. He wonders why the laptop is so important for us that we can’t leave it at home even for a journey. I offer a polite smile and excuse myself from him to do something important. Like checking email, fb etc on my laptop!
All said and done, I like travelling by trains. As much as I hate how ill-maintained they are and the absolute mess of a site the Indian railways has, I prefer it to flight journeys where people are so fake and obnoxiously snobbish. I like how middle-class the trains feel. It makes you feel very rooted and in touch with the common man. I have so many fond memories of travelling and invariably most of them are connected with trains. The hawkers from whom you can but anything from chana to video games. The views of the farms and fields. The fights with your sibling for the window seat. Begging your parents to buy some unhealthy snack. The train announcements, the delays, the mad rush to get in once the train has arrived. Listening to different languages, experiencing different cultures. The Indian rail is truly the best representation of India. Diverse, fun, nosy, mostly untidy but still the most comforting.