TECH TALK: A Train Journey: Gandhis Journeys

As I sat in the train and thought about the revolution we need to create, my memory suddenly jumped to Mahatma Gandhi and his train journeys across India. I came cross this article by Sandeep Silas on Mahatma Gandhis association with the Railways:

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.

That is the magic of train journeys. They help us make a connection with our own country in which other transportation modes just do not. They also keep us a little removed from the world outside so as to give time to think. It is a pity that as life gets faster, the shift from train to air also takes away a little of that child and dreamer in us.

Train journeys have a unique charm of their own. For me, this particular trip helped consolidate much of my thinking over the past few years and make it contextually relevant to what we need to do in India. Perhaps, the timing as well as the duration made the difference. Whatever it was, all I will say is that each of us at different times need to undertake our own train journey, connecting our past to the future.

TECH TALK A Train Journey+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.