Most of the time I have to travel by air. I go to the airport and catch a plane, I am hopping places. I reach my destination, attend meetings and then I am back at the base and that too in time.As I have raced with time to keep pace I have wondered about trains…a huge coal engine chugging out of the station puffing black smoke and whistling. The locomotive wriggles out of the confines of the station, car shed and workshops…with an occasional passerby staring into its silhoutte….as it fades into the valley…

A journey by train is very different from travelling by road or air. It allows you to be one with nature for sometime…not the ones we use now in the comfrots of the AC coops….the train had the effect of setting the mind at rest ….completely at one with nature…..thoughts wander in and out of the open window as the electric posts and wires play a game of catch-me-if-you-can racing with the tracks that constantly shine and meet and then part ways and move on…. sights outside the window spur some past memory and activate a new set of hyperlinks that lead us on to some old sad tales of little unhappay things or sweet buds that you pluck from the maze of time and let it blossom at ease.

I have always been fascinated by the trains since I was a child. There is some magical quality about watching an engine pull a series of rakes so effortlessly…like a magician who would disaappear a handful of knives into his mouth and smile….I feel like sitting in the stomach of a huge serpent that noses through the valley, cuts through ravines, gorges through hills and criss crosses civilization with harmless ease. Long train journeys in my life have been rare, but the tramp has seen it all.

I had came across a parchment by Sandeep Silas on an old monk form India Mahatma Gandhi and his association with the Railways. It read :In 1901, Gandhi and Sir Pherozeshah Mehta travelled by the same train from Bombay to Calcutta. Gandhi had an opportunity to speak to him in the special saloon which was chartered for him. The kingly style of the Congress leader did not amuse him. The session at Calcutta, and his stay with Gokhale prompted him to tour the entire country in a third class compartment, to acquaint himself with the hardships of passengers. The first such journey was from Calcutta to Rajkot, with one day stopover each at Varanasi, Agra, Jaipur and Palanpur. Gandhi did not spend more than Rs 31 on his journey, including the train fare.

Third class travel, he thought, was the mirror to the plight of Indians. These journeys made him realise how India bled. His meagre travel kit comprised a metal tiffin-box, a canvas bag, a long coat, dhoti (loin cloth), towel, shirt, blanket and a water jug.The sight of a colossus seized by a few people, bound like Gulliver while the pygmies rejoiced, pained Gandhi. His experiences while travelling through India convinced him that swaraj (independence) was the only hope.

The Mahatma was born in a third class compartment of an Indian train. Gandhi preferred the ordinary train-life was closer to him this way. He has recorded vividly that the third class compartments were dirty and arrangements bad. He had an acrid experience of third class travelling on a journey from Lahore to Delhi in 1917. Twelve annas (75 paise) to a porter got him an entry into the overcrowded train through a window. He stood for two hours at night before ashamed passengers made room for him.

When we read about Gandhi, we realise that a lot of his philosophy emerged during the spare time he had while traveling. The train journeys gave Gandhi an opportunity to think and indulge in introspection.

I guess that is the magic of train journey. They help us make a connect with our own people. They also keep us a little removed from the world outside so that we get time to think….think and bring about revolutions….as we get into one of the ancient trains and whistle away into the darkness.

It’s such a pity that as life gets faster, we move away from the trains to the the roads and get air borne. It takes away so much from a child and a dreamer like me…the cows, the endless pride of buffaloes…not herd…pride…the sudden conglomeration of trees before dispersing onto different corners of the paddy field, the water wheel that a girl paddles on as the glinting water pours into a field….it takes away the sun and moon in all its beauty, the hillside, the waving hands, the run-along children frolic, the tune of a bamboo flute of a shepherd and many more.

More importantly it takes away the fear and anguish of losing it all…the pain of not knowing it at all and the joy of having stacked up the experience in the heart as we move on…….only the rails look forever un-weary and ready for the next journey…

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