The great Indian train

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 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.

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12 Responses to The great Indian train

  1. Train journeys are awesome… I don’t know why people suddenly started comparing Indian railways to French railways and expect the chemical toilets and room fresheners in sleeper class.

    Not that we don’t need it, but I feel that things have improved over the last few years in the trains, at least in the Bangalore — Hyderabad — Rajahmundry areas.

    Have you noticed that sleeper class naturally has a general sense of camaraderie and people tend to adjust a bit whereas AC travelers are again kind of mean and obnoxious like air travelers?

    By the way, here is a complete guide to sleeper class journeys that I wrote sometime back

  2. Anupama says:

    This is not fair Nammu. Every time you leave us with no other words except “Awesome”:) Probably one reason why pathetic IRCTC website is still in use is that train journeys are the best.

    • Namrata says:

      Thanks Anu. I sometimes wonder why they do not hire better software/IT people in a country infested with tons of computer people, to design a better website.

  3. djranga says:

    Eating Falli in train still makes me nostalgic. Reminds me of those childhood memories when we fought for Chacha Chaudhary comics and that cheap 1 Re. pepsi. I hope I’ll be travelling to my uncle’s place this Summer in train. 🙂

  4. Yashwanth says:

    “the irctc website is my homepage”, “‘man vs technology’” u are back, thank you for the post and sorry no sympathies when it could spawn such posts 🙂
    @gtoos Totally agree with u, the AC coaches have that air of junta who would rather fly in the air. The sleeper coaches are so lively, and yes the areas – kachiguda station esp has good architecture to it. no wonder Railways is the nerve of our nation.

  5. Sankalp says:

    Yet again you’ve managed to capture the essence of an experience. I’ve done my own fair share of travelling alone, for reasons that are no longer relevant 😉 , and I must say I can relate to much of what you’ve mentioned here…

    there’s something in the way you write which tells me you could choose anything under the sun to write about and a bunch of us will always, invariably love it.


  6. Srivatsava says:

    ” 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.”

    Can’t agree more :). The helping, sharing and dependency fabric of Indian culture brings along with it the possessiveness on other people’s lives. Its just two sides of the same coin. You can have both (like here) or none (like the western societies)..

  7. Pingback: 10 years of blogging | My three cents

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