The train has just crossed Railey English halt. It is unusually punctual today. One gentleman has decided he wants to listen to a quasi-bhajan this morning. Plausible that the bhajan booming from his phone’s speaker will spike his day but it has forced me to plug in some stellar Pink Floyd. Not that I would not ever want to listen to Floyd, there are mornings in trains when I wish for some white noise to gently cuddle me with the serenity of running countryside. Nonetheless, tenacity of these speakers and that of its owner is a spectacle to behold; an amalgamation of unabashed confidence of the man with punishing harshness of sound.
It would be safe to say that the importance of trains in my life has assumed its pinnacle, and, surprisingly, a pleasant one at that if I curate it well. I live next to a railway station, cross the railway barrier to work, drink tea at one Baiju Tea Stall next to railway line. I travel by different trains a couple of times each month. The connection is unmistakeable.
Dunking biscuits in tea at the thadi, I would watch the rhythmic movement of coach after coach’s shockers and the track beneath them. The underbelly of train cannot be appreciated from a raised platform; one has to climb down, to a level where vision would trail with the bearing of each rotating wheel. The track would strain and a lacuna under it would spit plume of dust as a wheel rolls by. Later, a gangman would come by to even out the stone bed. The plume may not be there tomorrow.
I have to know whether it is a WDM 3A diesel engine of Ghaziabad shed pulling the train or two contiguous, sweet-sounding WAP 7 engines of Siliguri shed hauling the 68 wagons filled with coal. I have to know whether it is an LHB rake or an ICF rake I will be traveling in. I have to know how often the train was delayed this past week. I have to know how signaling works. I have to know where and when locomotive will change directions to begin journey on a different line. I have to know what train it is which just crossed. I have to know how late the train on adjacent track is. I have to know because there is satisfaction in curiosity.
Life inside a train is equally exciting. Irrespective of which class you travel in, there will be the same battery of vendors: newspaper early morning, lassi, sprouted chana chaat, milk tea in kulhad, roasted chiniya badam with a lone green chilly and salt, chana zor garam, bhel puri, sprouted mung beans, lemon tea in evenings and whatnot. Once I got a hang of it, I have started traveling on empty stomach. There is so much to relish: once, twice, thrice, with nobody to object and transient neighbors to share it with.
There are untold stories: overheard, witnessed, but unacknowledged. Last month, it was a middle-aged man debating passionately on contemporary politics of Bihar. Still a month to election results then, he was parroting line of a party which ultimately lost. This month, it was a couple discussing ‘qualities’ of a girl his brother was supposed to marry.
Alone, in a train brimming with people jostling even for that last inch of space, there is always an iota of hope that this journey would end in belonging.
Tushar lives in Bihar where the average speed of even the fastest train is not more than 50 kmph.