Monday, April 21, 2014

R - Reflections, Rainbows and Railways

Mobile musings - the theme for this A to Z 
challenge features a blog with pictures
clicked by me on my mobile phone.
R - Reflections, Rainbows and Railways 
R - Rainbows

If we look at life in black and white we would miss the colors of the rainbow.

Guildford, England
March 2014
Picture shot on Nokia 520 

Guildford, England
March 2014
Picture shot on Nokia 520 
R for Reflections

It is in complete stillness and silence that we can see the reflection of what is magnificient yet so mundane to our lives.

 Neyyar Dam, Kerala, India 
April 2014
Picture shot on DMZ panasonic 

Neyyar Dam, Kerala, India
April 2014
Picture shot on DMZ panasonic

R for Railways

R is also for Recycle .  I am re- publishing one of my old blogs on Indian Railways, that I think is one of my all time favorite blog posts. Sadly it did not receive too many hits. J

R - Railways. ( Indian Raliways)    

That old and overused massive railway network that we inherited from the British.  For decades it has transported many dreams, hopes and journeys of middle class India in those burnt brown and chrome yellow coloured coaches.

Summer vacations to native place, school excursions,  journeys undertaken for weddings and funerals,  the unemployed 20 something who leaves his small hometown in search of the much needed  job in the big city to support his poverty stricken family back home, the young bride who leaves the comforts of her maternal home to start a new life, little boys and girls who leave their small towns and board the trains with dreams of making it big in the city.  
For more than a century, Indian railways has carried the hopes, longings, dreams, grief, joy, trepidation and a variety of emotions of millions of Indians in those brown and yellow coaches.   

In the days when air travel was relegated to the super rich, long distance travel in India was predominantly the monopoly of  Indian railways. Thanks to the Government of India, every salaried employee availed his Leave travel Concession to save up on income tax either to go to his home town or to some other place to visit relatives or on a pilgrimage. 

Those were days when holidays were not associated with hotel booking, sight seeing or package tour from holiday operators. You pretty much visited places where your relatives lived, stayed at their place and reciprocated their hospitality when they came down to yours.

The typical middle class Indian of the seventies and eighties worked in a far away state for a public sector undertaking or the government or a nationalised bank. His family, that consisted of a wife and usually two children, typically lived away from ‘home’  for 11 months in an year. Their annual visits to their home town got them income tax exemptions when they exercised their leave travel allowance.
But that was not the only reason they flocked homewards in summer. Summer, which typically has the most disagreeable weather in most parts of India is vacation time for schools.  The middle class Indian and his family flocked homewards to stay connected to their roots.
Family reunions, weddings, thread ceremonies,  bride seeing ceremonies,  ‘ mundan’ (shaving off the first crop of hair of the young children),  the annual family pilgrimages and various such other activities were all planned and executed around that time. In reality the middle class Indians were never uprooted culturally, economically and socially from their native place. They were merely transplanted for eleven months in an year and were transported back home by the Indian railways.

Train journeys were long, arduous and required a lot of planning.
You braved long queues at railway stations to book your tickets. The computerized railway reservation until the early nineties still required one to fill up a much battered and undecipherable railway reservation form and wait patiently to know the availability at the counter that could take a few hours especially  before the onset of summer vacation, to confirm and reserve your train travel bookings.  Until CMC designed the massive online railway reservation system and changed everything about how we travel.

The train travel itself was an important aspect of the holiday.
Those were not the days of excessive consumption.  Neither were  parents paranoid about hygiene and safety. Food was normally packed up from home so that it lasted the hunger pangs of an entire family till one reached the destination.  The humble ‘gooja’ or a decent sized water cooler  carried water which was refilled at major railway junctions where trains stopped for a longer time. Either the water quality in those was better or people in general were blessed with greater immunity. No one really got sick or suffered food poisoning after a long train journey.  
Before you boarded a train, clutching your reserved ticket it was only natural to check on who your co- passengers would be, at the railway chart put up at the entrance to the coach.
  Their name, age and gender that would be printed on the chart, in English on one end of the coach and Hindi on the other,  gave out pretty much a rough outline of your co-passengers lineage and other vital credentials. If there was any cause to worry the Train ticket examiner ,(TTE) always dressed in white shirt, black trousers and a jet black blazer unmindful of the weather conditions could always help you out. Sometimes for a little extra money.      
Indian railways and their chaste Hindi translations of everything that was English has introduced  many a south Indian, for whom Hindi was a foreign language  to his or her first foray to learning the national language. 

Appa, who by virtue of grown up in an anti-hindi regime in the Tamilnadu of the 60s and 70s barely learnt his hindi out of sheer necessity only because he had to step out of his home-town in search of a living. In one of those long  home bound journeys from 'north' to 'south' that we were undertaking, the train was running late. As the train approached and was slowing down at some small station, Amma who was sitting at the rear end asked Appa who was looking out the window, what station it was ?  Having managed to learn the devnagari script but not the spoken language, Appa did what best he could. He read out loud what he thought was the name of the station. 
It is "shauchalay', he remarked after deciphering what was written in yellow and black font right in front of his window. The co-passengers sitting in the train burst out laughing.   

Of the many Hindi words that have fascinated me, श़यनयान/sleeper coach has intrigued me the most. It is a word that rhymes well and has a tinge of sanskrit in it. It is a word that does not find common usage in everyday Hindi vocabulary. 

Picture shot on Iphone 4S
May 2013
Boarding the श़़यनयान gave you that peace of mind that your berth was reserved and the next 24 to 36 hours would be spent over a sleeper berth that you could claim your very own. 

It would be classified as lower, middle or upper berth. Irrespective of what the reservation chart said, the lower berth would be claimed by the elderly. Women with children or demure young women for whom it was too unfeminine to climb up the middle or upper berths would exercise their right over the lower berth.

My personal favourite in a three tier श़यनयान is the side upper berth. It is specifically designed for the petite Indian whose height hovers around the five feet mark. Those blessed with some extra height always found the side upper berth extremely uncomfortable and were ready to exchange it with the petite ones.

The side upper berth can also double up as a seat for two who manage to climb up for a chat or a game of cards to spend away their time while the train crossed different terrains  across the country sides to transport them to their destination.

The side upper berth, unlike the middle berth does not inconvenience your fellow passenger in the day. It let's you linger on to a siesta before, during and after your lunch.  It is over a side upper berth on those 24 to 36 hour long journeys that I have devoured many a book that needs to be read from beginning to end.  Uninterrupted.

The side upper berth is also best suited for the social recluse who would rather remain un-introduced to nosy fellow passengers who could engage in conversations to know about everything from your marital status to the political leanings and the general state of affairs of whichever place they come from or are going to.

A train journey especially on a second class ticket is a great window to experience Indian cultural diversity at its best. You not only get to see places from your window, you get to smell and taste the specialty of each station. Most stations market their wares based on what they dish out the best. Karjat station for its  vadapav, Lonavala station and its famous chikki, blankets from Solapur, the quaint earthen pot chai at Mathura junction, Bikaner’s bhujiya and  Agra's very own Petha.  To name a few. These were made famous because of the patronage of the railway journeys and its customers who carried the rave reviews far and long, mostly by word of mouth.  

You also get to  hear different languages and dialects as the terrain changes and get to socialize with strangers if you choose to come down from that ivory tower called the side upper berth.

Ah. Any piece of writing on Indian railway journey cannot be complete without the mention of that other, rather scary accessory always found in Indian railway coaches.

Picture courtesy : google free images

Penalty for improper use Rs. 250 and/or upto six months imprisonment.
Children across different generations have nursed a secret dream of someday pulling that chain but for the fear of getting caught and imprisoned.

The next on the list is the आपातकालीन िखडकी/emergency window. Every sleeper coach has three on either sides.  I have held on to a long cherished superstition that if on a train journey I get a seat near this dangerously designed window, the journey would turn out to be a lucky one. A couple of journeys  by the emergency exit have made me decipher the pattern.  Unfortunately, one can never book your ticket specifying your seating requirement. Especially  near an आपातकालीन िखडकी।
 Matters such as that are left to factors such as availability of tickets, law of probability and plain luck. Many memories of train journeys by the आपातकालीन िखडकी that have proven lucky and memorable, have left an indelible feeling of nostalgia that cannot be erased with time.

This 14 by 12 inches, oil on canvas painting was commissioned by me and executed by this grumbling reluctant artist who found it extremely unchallenging for her artistic instincts to execute this seemingly  monotonous (for her)  but profound ( for me) piece of work.

Shayanyaan-  Painting by Kriths
Picture shot on Iphone 4S
May 2013

This blog has been especially written to give a context to this painting.
I am sure this painting will evoke a sense of nostalgia in anyone who carries the memories of train travel aboard the Indian railways.
Speaking about this painting … well here is my prediction
What those drooping sunflowers did to a certain Vincent Vangogh’s career
What a certain Mona Lisa's smile did to Leonardo Da Vinci’s career as a painter
The श़यनयान will do to Krithiga, the creator of this classic piece of art. 
If you think that is a fair statement to make, please like her work on her Facebook page by clicking here.

Shayanyaan in my Bedroom with Supermodel : Nandini R
Picture shot on Iphone 4S
May 2013
The original is now on display in my bedroom, my very own श़यनयान (sans the आपातकालीन िखडकी) where I spend  a good part of my sleeping as well as waking hours.  It is only a matter of time before the officials from Louvre or Sotheby's would come and take it away. :)


  1. Love the pictures and your post on train travel. You hear so much about it here but one doesn't have a true idea. Now you have given me a better visual from your description and experience with train travel. Yes maybe that artist will be so famous you will something monetarily valuable. I know it means a lot to you now regardless of it's "value"

  2. An interesting post with beautiful pictures - eclectic thoughts/ideas...I can relate to the nostalgia of the travel in Indian railways. These days however I feel a bit more uncomfortable with the uncleanliness of the trains and platforms...maybe I am getting older after all :)


Thank you for stopping by.
Good, bad or ugly ... Trust me I would love to hear from you...
Please leave your comments here.