Catching the breeze !!
This post is inspired by this photo taken by Visithra.
A long time ago, but not so long ago, I used to be a college student. (I am once again a college student pursuing a Masters in Mathematics 8 years after I finished my Ph.D, but that is the subject of another post).
We are talking about me being an undergrad in Varanasi a.k.a. Banaras. Visithra's post just brought back so many memories of my trips (at least two , if not three times) a year on the Madras-Varanasi route. For a guy who pretty much went from home to school and back, from first grade to high school and hadn't really seen the outside world, having to go to study in the north was a big jolt. The almost two day (42 hours) train journeys taught me a lot about how to deal with people and the outside world as did my college life!!
I remember the first trip with my parents. Using their leave travel concessions at work, they managed to get tickets in First Class. We were isolated from the other passengers, treated like royalty, had tea and coffee served with silverware !! had clean toilets, just to name some differences. My first trip back home on the other hand was different. It was in regular 2nd class, no Air conditioning, hard berths, dirty toilets ..... the list goes on.. But, there were people all around me.. other students, the guys who sell stuff out of a basket, be it peanuts, tupperware, or magazines or homemade eatables way past their expiry date !! There was a humanity out there and it reached out to you.. and once you embraced the crowd and became one with it, you somehow are able to make peace with yourself and the outside world.
After that I must have made at least 18 trips on that route. The best part was I knew everyone in the Pantry car of the Ganga Kauveri Express. So much that I didnt even bother if we were travelling on unreserved. We could practically spend the entire time at the entry to the pantry car. Used to sit at the door like the guy in the picture and catch the breeze!! Every now and then Subramani or Velu (damn, I even remember their names now !) would give me a coffee or tea (had a running account with the guys for the trip). By the time I was in final year, Maggi had introduced "instant tomato soup" and these guys would make soup from a sachet for me.. hmmm.. I still long for that soup with a little salt and pepper sprinkled on top. We always used to give them a hard time, but they would take it very jovially and treat us like their kid brothers.
Even when I did have reserved tickets, I was rarely in my seat. Used to walk up and down the train, meet other students, talk to strangers, sit at the door and enjoy the forests in Madhya Pradesh, watch the tatched huts that went as far as the eye can see around the Nagpur station, get cricket scores from the guys who board the train illegally to sell junkets (when the train goes at 5 km / hr near local stations, these guys jump on and they jump out at the next slow down point, it is quite a site to watch) and when I was tired I could always curl up with a Jeffry Archer novel and keep reading till 3 AM with no one to disturb me.
I dont know when I will get to go on that route again. I have been promising my wife that I will take her to BHU from the time we got married. We have been to India 4 times in the last 7 years and havent managed it.. lets see if I can do it on my next trip!! If you are not Indian and you happen to read this blog, I strongly recommend the trip on this route when you visit. You will love it!!If you are in India, what are you waiting for ?