An excerpt from the book Kalkatta Chronicles by Supriya Newar.

Whether one was settled in life or not, feeling settled in trains was an absolute must. Since train journeys were often long and schedules notoriously erratic, every passenger carried his pet belongings and necessary supplies so as to feel at home.

Since we travelled in sizeable groups we came with multiple curious accoutrements and paraphernalia: suitcases and trunks, beddings, vanity cases, odd bags, tiffin boxes and the very important pani ka jharna or a water carrier with an inbuilt washable glass. Travelling light wasn’t an idea we were familiar with. Luckily the Ambassador further fortified with a steel carrier installed on its roof, was good enough to carry our world as well as the many of us in it.

As soon as we reached our designated platform and alighted from the car, the long march to the 2tier AC berth would begin. Howrah always had coolies-the men who in their flaming red robes, faded dhotis and brass badges knew exactly which family needed their burdens to be carried and would promptly come to our rescue. Even before anybody could utter a full sentence, they would quickly form a group of two or three and start lifting our luggage, stacking the suitcases on their cloth lined heads; flinging the bags on to their arms. With cries of “siiidee….siiiddeee…” the coolies then raced through the platform perhaps in order to end their misery as quickly as possible and deposited us precisely at our seats. After some heated negotiations over their fees, they would leave and we would get down to adjusting every piece of our freshly stencilled luggage, courtesy Shankar Agency, New Market, securing each piece with a chain and a padlock.

Howrah always had coolies-the men who in their flaming red robes, faded dhotis and brass badges knew exactly which family needed their burdens to be carried and would promptly come to our rescue.

Of the entire luggage, the trickiest was by far the bedding – a stubbornly un-negotiable rotund piece of roll that was unfolded and piled onto a berth to provide for some padding and thereby a comfortable snooze at night. Of course,
despite all the preparation for a comfortable night’s sleep, each bogey had at least one irrepressible snorer who would keep half the bogey awake or cursing. Pre-equipped with a feather pillow and a blanket, the beddings went out of fashion once the railways started providing bed sheets, pillows and blankets.

Starting a train journey without stopping at a ubiquitous A H Wheeler stall was out of question. Pooling in our resources including dipping into the freshly received envelopes, we would pick out magazines, comics and ‘story books.’ Fewer joys came close to the joy of being snugly tucked in on an upper berth, reading against a night light or listening to a story being read out as the train gently rocked you to sleep. With the curtains drawn and the lights other than the reading or night lights out, the compartment would become quite cosy and slumber set in effortlessly.

Trains lent themselves to games and fairly cerebral ones at that. Since movement was restricted and one had a lot of time at hand, cards, ludo, chess and other board games were packed to add colour to the journey. Other games
like memory or dumb charades were even easier to break into since they did not require any props and could be played without any fuss. Co-passengers and neighbours freely joined in. But when travelling in a group, nothing came close to the charm of antakshari which easily lasted for an hour or two and where everybody participated in merry gusto, whether they could hold a note or not. Interestingly, even with the vocal chords and zeal remaining competitive for long, very rarely did a clear winner ever emerge after a round of antakshari.

Fewer joys came close to the joy of being snugly tucked in on an upper berth, reading against a night light or listening to a story being read out as the train gently rocked you to sleep.

Journeying into the hill stations of Mussorie, Nainital or Himachal meant two train rides – one till Ajmeri Gate or Pahadi Gunj, New Delhi and one thereafter. The second leg was often the shorter one and was accomplished in a narrow-gauge train in the First Class. The train window would throw up visuals that changed every second. Dust and heat not withstanding this was the most fun train journey of all. We would read the names of all the many stations we passed by and get an up close view of flurry of activity that went on at each when the train halted. Vendors came right up to the windows selling all kinds of things – a non-stop call for tea, coffee, water, freshly cut fruits and vegetables, pickled berries, chaat and what not. At bigger junctions it was thrilling to step out onto
the pavement for just a few minutes and come face to face with your family from the other side.

Despite them being unfailingly chaotic, very often erratic and inconvenient in so many ways, there continues to be a remarkable charm about train journeys; a charm that equips you with a vital lesson for life – that it is as important to enjoy the journey as it maybe to arrive.

Feature Image Credit : Readomania Publishing/Supriya Newar

Excerpted with permission from Kalkatta Chronicles by Supriya Newar, Readomania Publishing.

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