<--Added on 8/22/08 for migration to TPB -->
Railway journeys - I
These days a host of new carriers have invaded the Indian skies. That's bad news indeed, for I wonder how much of the regular middle-class patrons of Indian Railways have turned to the skies for travel. As early as 2003, getting finding seats on popular weekend trains used to be a problem, one had to book atleast 3 weeks in advance for the Friday night trip. Surely the newly launched carriers would have been a godsend for those folks.
I was never much into those weekend trips, as almost all my train trips were long-distance essays. A fair chunk of my segment too would have switched to the skies by now. And the upshot of the move would result in several less interesting encounters, I suppose.
My first long distance(as in 30 hours and more) trip was part of a group of over half a dozen tamil guys of different ages - we were visiting home en masse for Pongal . We hardly knew how time flew, there was no dearth of bridge, crosswords, book reviews, thirai vimarsanam, cricket talk and TN paal-tics. The subsequent ones were more or less solitary affairs and by then you get to learn the nitty-gritties of travelling by Indian Railways - the necessity of packing your own food, what to buy at what station, what to avoid from hawkers, how to manage your sleep patterns, what to read and engage your thoughts so you don't disembark a torturous journey feeling like a deflated balloon, how to avoid paying a pie to the dozens of hijras - this is one strategic art : you maintain a real mean and grouchy look on your face(having a moustache definitely helps, majority of the yuppies who got pinched/bullied didn't have one) and give that newspaper or book a scorching glare. When you hear the clink of bangles you scornfully shake your head without turning your eyes. Works every time :)
But the most interesting part of the journey are definitely the co-passengers - I suppose the passengers on long-distance trains can be easily classified into the Know-alls and the Naatupurathaans. One could easily slot his co-travellers into the 2 teams upon locating his seat. The latter appear ill-at-ease, shift uneasily in their seats, promptly try to make small talk with the newcomer. The Know-all is more likely to ignore the addition, lost in a book/walkman. If at all, he does regard the new passenger, it will be a smug glance, hands crossed across his chest, as he bestows a look of utter disdain, watching him arrange his paraphernalia.
One of the things I used to do in my younger days for a short journey(8 hours and under) was to look at the chart, make a mental picture of co-passenger profiles and decide whether to talk or invest the time in a book. For a longer journey, you will get to know them all anyway. [For males with insidious intentions, here's the dampener: you just can't fool Indian Railways - what I observed is that they don't slot any young females anywhere near eligible males. If you do book some 50 days ahead for an overnight journey on a daily train, you might get the window berth 7 (since 1-6 is usually reserved for females), the journey is 10-6 at night, you won't get any time to get fresh with a co-passenger!]
The thumb rule is that there will be atleast one mallu co-passenger for a long journey. And if you're headed west, someone from South Tamil Nadu. Irrespective of background, you will end up making atleast one good pal in the course of the journey. So in my latter journeys I used to pack an extra breakfast and rare was the event when I had to finish it myself.
-to be continued-