When I think about train journeys, there are a few experiences which come to mind. First, the journeys between Mumbai and Pune that I did as a child and teenager. My grandparents live in Pune. In fact, I was born in Pune. Every vacation, Id go to Pune. Most often, we would take the Deccan Queen. It is a train I still love if one can love trains. The first thing that would strike you about the train was the blue-golden colour of the train most other train were a rusty brown. Then, there was the speed. It was the fastest train between Mumbai and Pune, covering the 192 kilometres distance in 3 hours 10 minutes. Finally, it was the food. Going on the DQ meant that I could eat the cutlets which were so yummy!
Ive done the Mumbai-Pune journey countless times. I knew I was a grown-up when I was allowed to travel on my own and didnt need an adult to accompany me. I always wished for a window seat because that meant that I could look out and get lost in my thoughts. The window seat also meant that the breeze would blow right in my face which I quite liked. Sitting at the window, Id also see the kilometer markers go by.
In the past decade, the Pune visits have became less frequent maybe one a year or so. When I have taken the train, it was in the air-conditioned chair car. The tinted glasses of the compartment disconnect one from the world outside. So, it didnt really matter whether I was in a train or not I was in my own world, cut-off from the outside. It was only when I sat in the train to Surat that the Pune train memories started coming back. There were lots of people all around and the world outside was so alive.
There are three other train journeys I remember and all were one-time experiences. In the late 1970s, my family and I took the Jammu Tawi express to Kashmir. I was about 11 or 12 years old then. It was the longest train journey I had taken then. It took 28 hours or so and we travelled across many states to reach Jammu. It was my first real glimpse of the vastness of India.
The other long Indian journey that I undertook was in 1988 just after I had graduated from IIT and before I left for the US for studies. I went to Madras (now Chennai) to meet a friend who lived in Pondicherry. The Mumbai-Madras journey was a long one almost 30 hours if I remember correctly. It was my first long journey down south.
My love affair with trains travelled with me to the US. But the New York Subway and Metro-North were just not the same! Once, when I had to go to California from New York to attend a conference, I decided on a whim to take the train cross-country. It was a few months before I was planning to return to India and I knew Id never do it later in life because three days in a train would probably be a luxury I couldnt afford once I began life as an entrepreneur. My manager agreed to let me take an extra day off, and so on a Thursday evening, I boarded the train from Grand Central in New York. The journey to Chicago was quite uneventful. But the California Zephyr that takes one from Chicago to Oakland is an out-of-the-world experience. The beauty of America comes out so well through this train ride.
Since then, most of my life has been in airplanes. Not quite the same thing, but the pressures of time mean that trains have taken a backseat in life. I still long for that long train journey. I hope Abhishek has inherited my love for trains it will give me an excuse to rediscover my own childhood.
Tomorrow: The Journey
TECH TALK Trains, Planes and Mobiles+T