F or many years of my childhood, my imagination associated with trains ran parallel to its rails, never to meet at a point to realise it! In my district known for its hills and terrains, the rail tracks never made it till there but the fascination associated with rails ran undiminished!
Very vaguely I remember the first journey in a push-pull train that ran between the neighbouring districts. I still remember the excitement and the joy of sitting beside the window or peeping out of the door enjoying the gush of wind on the face. The warnings from our parents about the dangers of standing at the door only would bring us back to our senses. For many years from that first journey, I preferred bus travels even to places well connected by train, just for the comfort that the frequent bus travels had brought in!
In the later years, I had to take up train travels to very remote parts of central, northern and eastern parts of India which were connected only by trains. Those travels developed in me an acquaintance with trains like never before. Days together were spent aboard trains. The sun set and rose with the landscapes changing from ghats to highlands and then to plains. The changing characteristics of forests were not hard to notice. The vast river beds ran between seasons of dry and brimming to the full.
Some trains were missed by a whisker forcing us to wait for another 24 hours to board another. Sometimes, we tried to manage to get into connecting trains, but had to spend sleepless nights as it would turn out to be crammed up and noisy. I also witnessed some funny moments waiting for a train that would never arrive and the queued-up villagers would hush up with repeated false alarms of train arriving. These travels made me understand the quantum of dependence some parts of India still had on this mode of travel and the role that the trains served to connect people, places, their culture and economy.
While being inside these coaches of metal and cushions, I felt it provided ample space and time for people to open up and talk to one another. One could develop a friendship or at least get to know what life is like in another part of the country.
But for me, the most amazing part still is looking at a train passing at distance, especially on a bridge at night. It looks to me like illuminated boxes running as in a fairytale. I would assume it to be a large joint family home in motion with its fun and laughter. That's a sight for me to behold which makes me stop whenever I see a train passing.
Maybe the trains give us a message of staying and moving together. Though with so many compartments, so many divisions into categories such as chair cars, sleepers, AC coaches, push-pull, express, and superfast, the train moves together with an intact bonding with one coach to the other. Maybe that's a value we could learn from the trains that run through the length and breadth of our country, that with so many divisions in our country, we still can stay bonded together without fights over region, religion and so on.
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