[Re-post] Rail Sneham

I blogged this back in 2008. When Chennai Egmore was celebrating its centenary (news link at the end of the post). I’m glad I wrote this. Now it serves beautifully as a memory of a memory. Perks of blogging, yo. ūüėČ

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The alarm¬†goes off at 4:00 AM. Alarms, by some freak of nature, are audible only to parents. Dad and Mom are up and ready in no time. And since we’re children (my bro and I, that is) we get an extra 1 hour of sleep. There’s something about brushing your teeth and getting ready at 5 in the morning, isn’t there? Crappy is an understatement. But then, if you’re getting ready to catch a train that will take you to your favorite aunt’s house for summer holidays, there’s nothing that you won’t put up with. Even getting up at 5 AM.

For a family of four, we sure had a lot of luggage. 2 full bags. (It’s a different story now¬†– for a family of two, we carry 4 bags). And Dad always made a comment on how we (Mom and me, generally) never travel light. I’m too sleepy to care. My brother, ofcourse, is falling asleep on his feet. I still wonder how my Dad can be so chirpy in the mornings – one thing his children did not inherit.

A 45 minute bus ride (and a nap) later, we’re at the railway station. People all dressed up, aunties smelling of Ponds powder and jasmine flowers, uncles smelling of vibhuti and Charlie and kids our age, sleep-walking behind the parents. The moment we enter the station, I wake up. Not because of the noise or the crowd, but because of the huge time table with the train arrival and departure timings. No one told me then that my parents were very literate and could read out the departures and platform numbers themselves. I took it upon myself to patiently stand there (the sleep fairy nowhere to be seen), ticket in hand trying to find our train. Another matter that our train was almost always on platform number 1, bang in front of my eyes. And the moment we enter the platform, I used to look at the huge railway clock and adjust my own watch to the same time – after all, that was the time the train was going to follow so I might as well follow the same! We¬†had rituals as kids, didn’t we?

Next came the hurried walk down the train’s length trying to get into the right compartment. Since our parents were excellent planners, we¬†rarely had waitlisted or unconfirmed tickets. Get into S1 or S2, fight with brother for the window seat, give up when Mom reminds me that I’m the older one, punch him once for good measure, have him sit at the window seat for exactly 15 minutes after which the poor thing would be sleeping, gently move him beside Mom and hog the window seat for the next 5 hours – phew, it was a lot of work getting settled on a train. Having a brother who used to sleep at the drop of a hat, helped.

Like all children all over the world, the first thing we did after settling down was to start asking the million dollar questions – “When will the train start?”, “When will we reach Madras?”, “When will the breakfast come?”, “Can I have vegetable cutlet and tea?”, “I have to go the bathroom. Can I go now before the train starts?”. The last one was always met with a hard stare and a stern line that one does not use the bathroom at stations ‘coz that will make the tracks and the station stink. Good sense prevails. The second thing we did was to make Dad get us the latest copy of Champak, Gokulam and Chandamama.

The smells and the sounds of a train are from another world, aren’t they? The iron smelling windows, the rexin seats with the Southern Railway emblem stamped on it, the two sets of shutters, one just plain glass and one with ribbed bars. The stinky toilets, the gymnastic balancing act one had to do to actually use them. And above all this, the food! O dear God, the food! I’m yet to have masala dosa that tasted as yummy as the ones sold on Southern Railways. The hot coffee.¬†I always burned the tip of my tongue trying to drink the coffee when the train was moving.

When we run out of books, we turn to the window and watch the paddy fields go by. My brother would have occupied the other window seat¬†‘coz the benevolent looking uncle whose seat it was, felt sorry for him.

Each big station on the way was a milestone. “How much longer to Madras?”. “Is the train late?”. “Will uncle come to pick us up?”. “Can we go by auto?”. (FYI – I thought autos were proprietary to Madras. No other place on the planet had autos.)

The moment we reach Tambaram, all hell breaks loose. People scrambling to get their luggage down for the next station, Mambalam. The train stops there for a mere 2 minutes, so if you had to get down you had to be standing at the door. We used to sit with a smug expression that we’re going till the very end and we didn’t have to hurry.

The train rolls into Mambalam. The platform is much higher and seems more closer from the window. I always thought Madras had a distinctive smell and feel. Maybe the sea breeze, maybe the humidity, maybe the Coovum (which, by the way, was a landmark)! Or maybe the simple thought of a long holiday without any books or homework.

The first sign of home were the extra railway tracks. Small stations had only one or two. Big stations had 9 or 10. Big station meant home at last! The moment the platform starts, our heads were trying to get out of the windows trying to catch a glimpse of Uncle and wave like mad so he can know the devils are here. After being sufficiently satisfied that Uncle has spotted us and won’t go off without picking us up, we impatiently wait for Dad to bring the luggage down. Champaks and Gokulams neatly packed in to be given to the cousins at home.

And as we get out of the train, surrounded by this huge sea of humanity, getting propelled out to the entrance even without doing anything, I always turned back for one look at the great giant who got us there. Tired, puffing and panting, creaking and stretching, the great big train stood there – mission accomplished. A mission of getting hundreds of people safely to their destinations.

There’s still a small part of me that longs for those train journeys and summer holidays. That feeling of having done the journey, of travelling from one home to another, the sights and the smells – you don’t get that when you travel by air, do you? It’s an experience in itself to travel by rail. And when you go home and wash off the smell of the train from your body, it is with the knowledge that 30 days later you will be at the same station, waving goodbye to Aunty and Uncle, ready for another journey in that wonder of a transport mechanism, the train. And exactly a year later you will come back for another summer, on another train, but the journeys are new each time.

Chennai Egmore celebrates 100 years of being Chennai Egmore! For close to 18 years I have set foot on those platforms every year, without fail. There’s a personal relationship with Egmore that’s not there with any other station – not with Chennai Central, not with the Secunderabad station. Egmore was summer holidays and cousins. Egmore¬†meant I was going to see¬†Grandma in about 30 minutes. Egmore was the destination.

So, here’s to the big station. Here’s to the station being what it is to me, to many more children in future.

P.S: ‘Rail Sneham’ is a term used in Tamil for the friendships one makes over a train journey. My friendship was more with the train itself than the people in it!

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Rail Sneham

The alarm¬†goes off at 4:00 AM. Alarms, by some freak of nature, are audible only to parents. Dad and Mom are up and ready in no time. And since we’re children (my bro and I, that is) we get an extra 1 hour of sleep. There’s something about brushing your teeth and getting ready at 5 in the morning, isn’t there? Crappy is an understatement. But then, if you’re getting ready to catch a train that will take you to your favorite aunt’s house for summer holidays, there’s nothing that you won’t put up with. Even getting up at 5 AM.

For a family of four, we sure had a lot of luggage. 2 full bags. (It’s a different story now¬†– for a family of two, we carry 4 bags). And Dad always made a comment on how we (Mom and me, generally) never travel light. I’m too sleepy to care. My brother, ofcourse, is falling asleep on his feet. I still wonder how my Dad can be so chirpy in the mornings – one thing his children did not inherit.

A 45 minute bus ride (and a nap) later, we’re at the railway station. People all dressed up, aunties smelling of Ponds powder and jasmine flowers, uncles smelling of vibhuti and Charlie and kids our age, sleep-walking behind the parents. The moment we enter the station, I wake up. Not because of the noise or the crowd, but because of the huge time table with the train arrival and departure timings. No one told me then that my parents were very literate and could read out the departures and platform numbers themselves. I took it upon myself to patiently stand there (the sleep fairy nowhere to be seen), ticket in hand trying to find our train. Another matter that our train was almost always on platform number 1, bang in front of my eyes. And the moment we enter the platform, I used to look at the huge railway clock and adjust my own watch to the same time – after all, that was the time the train was going to follow so I might as well follow the same! We¬†had rituals as kids, didn’t we?

Next came the hurried walk down the train’s length trying to get into the right compartment. Since our parents were excellent planners, we¬†rarely had waitlisted or unconfirmed tickets. Get into S1 or S2, fight with brother for the window seat, give up when Mom reminds me that I’m the older one, punch him once for good measure, have him sit at the window seat for exactly 15 minutes after which the poor thing would be sleeping, gently move him beside Mom and hog the window seat for the next 5 hours – phew, it was a lot of work getting settled on a train. Having a brother who used to sleep at the drop of a hat, helped.

Like all children all over the world, the first thing we did after settling down was to start asking the million dollar questions – “When will the train start?”, “When will we reach Madras?”, “When will the breakfast come?”, “Can I have vegetable cutlet and tea?”, “I have to go the bathroom. Can I go now before the train starts?”. The last one was always met with a hard stare and a stern line that one does not use the bathroom at stations ‘coz that will make the tracks and the station stink. Good sense prevails. The second thing we did was to make Dad get us the latest copy of Champak, Gokulam and Chandamama.

The smells and the sounds of a train are from another world, aren’t they? The iron smelling windows, the rexin seats with the Southern Railway emblem stamped on it, the two sets of shutters, one just plain glass and one with ribbed bars. The stinky toilets, the gymnastic balancing act one had to do to actually use them. And above all this, the food! O dear God, the food! I’m yet to have masala dosa that tasted as yummy as the ones sold on Southern Railways. The hot coffee.¬†I always burned the tip of my tongue trying to drink the coffee when the train was moving.

When we run out of books, we turn to the window and watch the paddy fields go by. My brother would have occupied the other window seat¬†‘coz the benevolent looking uncle whose seat it was, felt sorry for him.

Each big station on the way was a milestone. “How much longer to Madras?”. “Is the train late?”. “Will uncle come to pick us up?”. “Can we go by auto?”. (FYI – I thought autos were proprietary to Madras. No other place on the planet had autos.)

The moment we reach Tambaram, all hell breaks loose. People scrambling to get their luggage down for the next station, Mambalam. The train stops there for a mere 2 minutes, so if you had to get down you had to be standing at the door. We used to sit with a smug expression that we’re going till the very end and we didn’t have to hurry.

The train rolls into Mambalam. The platform is much higher and seems more closer from the window. I always thought Madras had a distinctive smell and feel. Maybe the sea breeze, maybe the humidity, maybe the Coovum (which, by the way, was a landmark)! Or maybe the simple thought of a long holiday without any books or homework.

The first sign of home were the extra railway tracks. Small stations had only one or two. Big stations had 9 or 10. Big station meant home at last! The moment the platform starts, our heads were trying to get out of the windows trying to catch a glimpse of Uncle and wave like mad so he can know the devils are here. After being sufficiently satisfied that Uncle has spotted us and won’t go off without picking us up, we impatiently wait for Dad to bring the luggage down. Champaks and Gokulams neatly packed in to be given to the cousins at home.

And as we get out of the train, surrounded by this huge sea of humanity, getting propelled out to the entrance even without doing anything, I always turned back for one look at the great giant who got us there. Tired, puffing and panting, creaking and stretching, the great big train stood there – mission accomplished. A mission of getting hundreds of people safely to their destinations.

There’s still a small part of me that longs for those train journeys and summer holidays. That feeling of having done the journey, of travelling from one home to another, the sights and the smells – you don’t get that when you travel by air, do you? It’s an experience in itself to travel by rail. And when you go home and wash off the smell of the train from your body, it is with the knowledge that 30 days later you will be at the same station, waving goodbye to Aunty and Uncle, ready for another journey in that wonder of a transport mechanism, the train. And exactly a year later you will come back for another summer, on another train, but the journeys are new each time.

Chennai Egmore celebrates 100 years of being Chennai Egmore! For close to 18 years I have set foot on those platforms every year, without fail. There’s a personal relationship with Egmore that’s not there with any other station – not with Chennai Central, not with the Secunderabad station. Egmore was summer holidays and cousins. Egmore¬†meant I was going to see¬†Grandma in about 30 minutes. Egmore was the destination.

So, here’s to the big station. Here’s to the station being what it is to me, to many more children in future.

P.S: ‘Rail Sneham’ is a term used in Tamil for the friendships one makes over a train journey. My friendship was more with the train itself than the people in it!

Then and Now

Other-Me has graciously agreed to let me sneak in a post. I just think Other-Me is a perfect dunce who can’t even write ABCD, leave alone an entire post. I know I’ll pay the price for the previous line, but it’s so totally worth it!

 

When I was a kid…
…I believed that if you ate the seed inside a fruit, a fruit tree would grow out of your ears. I swallowed a jackfruit seed once – my uncle freaked me out completely by describing the consequences.

…I knew nothing about Test Cricket. I remember being confused on which player belonged to which team on the field ‘coz all of them wore white! It never occured to me that one team bats and one team bowls, so the ones with the bat belonged to the other team. Umpires wore black trousers, so I was good there.

…I used to eat pastries like eating any normal cake – with my hand. Come to think of it, there was nothing called pastry – it’s either plum cake or cream cake. And both fit your mouth. Life was simpler.

…I didn’t celebrate Christmas and I didn’t believe in Santa Claus. Santa, for me, was our convent school assistant-headmaster with a fake white beard and a fake big belly who had Cadbury Eclairs in his red sack, which he threw out to us kids after the school’s Christmas celebrations.

…I used to keep a journal of sorts with my favorite stuff in it. Like Steffi Graf winning the Wimbledon, Sridevi (the actress!), Salman Khan (stop snickering, we all had our moments of insanity), etc. And an occasional poem (very stupid sounding poem in hindsight) and I still remember, a recipe for mashed potatoes. I covered the book in colorful gift-wrap paper and put a cellophane cover on top of that. Then I stuck label and wrote a warning on the first page – ‘Do not read’ (pesky sibling, need scary warning).

   

Now…
…I told my cousins (children of the aforementioned uncle) the same story about seeds, trees and trees from ears and freaked them out. You should’ve seen them jump out of their skins when I ‘accidentally’ gave them a jackfruit seed instead of the fruit. Hah!

…I know what happens in Test Cricket. I even know what ‘follow on’ means. But I still cannot identify an LBW case without the graphic that actually shows the ball’s trajectory till it hits the stumps. Then I join my husband in cursing the umpire for not giving an out. It’s all about the cursing, people.

…I eat pastry with a fork, a pastry that’s bigger than my palm. And then I spend the next 2 hours worrying about the calories. And then I eat some more pastry to forget the guilt. Tough life!

…I celebrate Christmas and I still don’t believe in Santa Claus. I believe in my husband!

…I have a blog with my favorite stuff in it. No Steffi Graf or Salman Khan (dear God, no!). Poems (some stupider than before) and no recipes. I use girly headers on the blog and actually expect people to come and read my blog. I think I grew up.
   

‘When I was a kid…’ Chronicles

*yawn* Ooops, sorry! I just read my own post below and fell asleep. So watch out!

 

When we breeze through life these days, don’t we at times think life was much simpler when we were kids? As if the entire world got complicated over time while we have still remained the same? All the speed around us, the mad rush to go nowhere, the less times spent smiling, more times spent frowning and then worrying about wrinkles on our face?

But deep down we all know that it’s not only the world that changed and became complicated. We did too. We grew up. Oh, what a mistake!

Childhood was a simpler time. The biggest worry was the Half-Yearly exams (the Quarterlies were light and the Annual exams were a cakewalk) and the hardest time of the week was a Sunday evening – because that’s when you realize you need your white canvas shoes to be white by Monday morning, the white shoe polish bottle is empty, the shops are all closed and there can’t be a last ditch attempt at whiteness because you used up you last bit of white chalk. Not to mention the admonishing you get from your parents for your exemplary planning and memory when it comes to school activities. And then there were the little punishments for not using black ribbon on your plaits on a Tuesday and forgetting your Hindi homework book at home (well, its homework! so I left it at home! duh!). Oh, and those times when you were the class monitor and had to write the names of the talkative kids on the blackboard? Used to feel like someone made us the President of the USA and the entire world (which had all of 58 noisy kids) was at our mercy.

Weekends were completely spent on the street, playing with the other neighborhood kids and all games were uni-sex – including gilli-danda, seven stones, cricket (coconut tree branch bats, rubber ball, coconut tree sticks as stumps and girl batsmen get runners and girl fielders don’t have to field. Oh, the boundary for a four was a dustbin), bambaram (top, in english) and the all famous, hide-and-seek. Thanks to living in office quarters, one had an entire block on flats to hide at, jump out of and basically get lost in. The worst that could happen is you end up seeking 5 times in a row because of some kid or the other who always hid well and came out last; not very surprising given there were around 10 hiding in various nooks and crannies of the building. Those were games. Not Minesweeper or Age of Empires or Solitaire (that’s my entire knowledge of computer games right there!).

Sleeping in on a weekend was never an option then. Not because our parents said no, just because it was more fun getting up early and getting straight into playing without wasting time. Saturday mornings found us knocking at our Christian neighbor’s house at 6:30 AM asking permission to pluck flowers from their huge Pavazha Malli tree – it was fact among us kids that Christians dont use pavazha malli for their prayers and so it was their god-given duty to let us pesky kids shake their tree out of its roots trying to make the flowers fall. Armed with huge steel vessels, the little army of 8 yr olds used to run amock in that little garden, vying with one another for picking the most flowers. And next? Sit in front of one of our houses, needle and thread in hand, and string those little flowers back to back. All this when our respective fathers were still getting ready to go to office, so that we can keep the garlands ready by the time they turn up at their respective puja rooms to do the morning puja. We had timetables to follow, mind you!

Breakfasts, TV and lunch later, we all get chucked out of the house by our moms who want an undisturbed siesta. You’d think we’d be bored out of our wits, sitting out on a hot afternoon, not able to run around and not able to watch TV. But no. This was the perfect time to raid mango trees. More precisely, steal mangoes from the mango trees in every single house in the entire street. My own house was neglected because no human being could eat those mangoes raw – they were sour beyond normal levels and we ended up winking at each other involuntarily when the eyes twitch due to all the sourness. In a gang of 10, we used to take turns to disturb our moms once to beg for some chilli-salt mixture to go with the mangoes. I’ve had umpteen raw mangoes since, but not one of them tasted as good as those we used to steal, wash in the moss-lined overhead tanks, break open on the granite washing stone (8yr olds cant be trusted with knives, you see) and eat it right there, in the sweltering heat of a summer afternoon, under the shade of a huge mango tree. Life felt truly blessed for some strange reason.

So why am I suddenly all nostalgic about my childhood and submitting you to this endless monologue? Trust me when I say this, I do not know. Last night, all these memories just flooded my tired brain (remember the elf with the hammer?) and I so longed to go back to those streets one last time and see my 8 yr old self, playing marbles (goli gundu!) on the street, concentrating real hard on hitting my purple marble into the little goal-hole or see me hiding from the seeker behind the rundown Lambretta in the space beneath the staircase and come out covered with cobwebs and whitewash, sheepishly grinning on being caught, wondering how much more dumber I could be to hide in such an obvious place or swinging on a swing made with rubber tyres strung together, hanging from the branch of a neem tree.

Like they say, inside all of us there is still a child refusing to grow up. But hey, the day that child decides to grow up is the first day of the beginning of your end. So hold on to those childhood memories and if you’re really lucky, you can live it again through your own kids.

 

And if I don’t post tomorrow,

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY, dear readers! Here’s to this great country, her past, her present and her glowing future. May we all make our country proud in our own little ways and cherish this independence which we more often than not, take for granted.