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Friday, December 17, 2010

A JOURNEY IN SHATABHDI EXPRESS - ONE TO BE CHERISHED


Typed while on the train -

"Well, what's this guy doing? He must be utterly jobless, to be writing a blog post about a train, of all things!! The jobless guy just got more jobless I guess", is what many of you may think, on seeing the title of this post. Here I am, off to Chennai, to perform the last rites of my late father. Well, for 23 years of my life so far, train journeys to Chennai have usually been on Lalbagh express or Brindavan express or on the night mail trains.

I'm from a typical middle-class South Indian Brahmin family, neither affluent with wealth, nor abject with poverty. We just about manage to make both ends meet and we have just about enough to fend for ourselves. Given this kinda scenario & given that no one in the family was employed in an IT giant until now, earning super-huge salaries(my brother and I have JUST started working and are about to start working, respectively), train journeys on Shatabhdi express, why, even a journey on Lalbagh or Brindavan in an AC-chair car used to be a rare luxury. It is only in recent times, that people in my family have started traveling in AC coaches, due to their age and me being the one to accompany them, I get to travel in the AC coach as a bonus! ;) yayy! :D :D..

Well, coming to Shatabhdi express, it is the only luxury train connecting Bangalore and Chennai. Well, it is "luxurious" indeed - the ticket being priced at Rs.500+ (for non-senior citizens and adults). However, this train is the fastest one - a journey on this train takes just 4.5 hours, as opposed to the other trains which take at least 6 hours. Also, this train does not stop anywhere on the way (Just ONE stop, at Katpadi Junction). Obviously, given that it is a luxurious train, all of its compartments are air-conditioned. One doesn't have to pay for on-board catering, like on flight journeys - the catering charge is included in the ticket fare.

Well, today marks JUST the SECOND journey of mine on this train, after a gap of 13 years :). Well, there's a story behind my fascination for this train. Way back in 1997, when this train was first introduced, my grandmother and my aunt were scheduled to return to Chennai by this train. My mom and I had been to the station to see them off. Me, being the kid in 7th grade that I was then, (well, given my excitement to be traveling on this train now, I might sound like a kid from 7th grade even now! :D :D). I saw the train, brand new, fully air-conditioned (AC was a rarity those days! We did not own one in Bangalore, my folks in Chennai did - that was another thing which excited me a lot, I always wanted to come to Chennai MAINLY to sleep in an air-conditioned room :) ), fully decorated inside and that day, I made such a dramatic scene at the station, one that my mom or I can NEVER forget for the rest of our lives.

I started insisting that even I go along with them, to Chennai, on that train, right there, right then!!! My mother had the terror of her life, trying to control me then. She had to hold my hand tight and made sure I didn't escape. But I was IN NO POSITION to stay controlled. I was trying to let go, ferociously!! I had NOT SEEN ANYTHING MORE FASCINATING IN LIFE than that train and I BADLY wanted to get on it, RIGHT-AWAY! Everyone tried to pacify me, but I would not be pacified until I got aboard that train! Finally, my mom had to resort to slapping me multiple times to subdue me. But, to her misery, that only made me wail louder and add to the drama! I was trying so hard to break free, without any regard for her physical strength. Luckily enough, for her, she saw a couple of NCC cadets or boy scouts(don't remember) coming nearby. She managed to trick me into believing that they are police officers. She said - "pudchu police ta kudthuduven unna!". (Shall I hand you over to the police?). That finally silenced me!!

But back home, I was still obsessed with this train - the fully air-conditioned coaches, the decorations etc DID NOT leave my mind even for a second. So much so, that all of my scenery drawings had Shatabhdi express making its way through the hills and the huts on them, with the sunset backdrop!!

Soon enough, my mom, like she's always been trying to fulfill all my wishes, whether possible or not, no matter what, did see to it then too, that this wish of mine was fulfilled. Few months later, in the same year, we went to Chennai by Shatabhdi express. Everything about it bowled me over - it was my first journey in an A/C coach, caterers giving newspapers, water bottles, neatly packaged food, maddur vadas, all for free (of course, it was included in the ticket fare :P But it "sounded" as if it were free, because one didn't have to pay cash on the spot to get them!! :D :D That's the SAME reason why I get excited to travel by flight - THE FOOD! :) I've traveled on many flights when in the US :P :P...and on each journey, I would look forward to the flight food & beverages THE MOST)!! I was totally satisfied in all ways possible - the ONLY thing which disappointed me was the inflexibility of the food menu! - no options to choose from; just a fixed set of items. But that was totally overshadowed by all the other conveniences the train had to offer.

But luckily enough, God somehow put the idea in my head that journeys to Chennai on Shatabhdi express every time was not really feasible those days. Else, I promise you, I would've been a very difficult child to control and pacify. All journeys henceforth, like I said, have been on Lalbagh and Brindavan. When I was in the US for a couple of years (Oh yeah baby! I do complete justice to the fact that I'm a Us-returned dude B-) B-) by saying "When I was in the US" at every opportunity I get!! :P :P), I have travelled on Amtrak trains as well (which, obviously, are fully air-conditioned!)

Yet, however, now being back in India for good, the idea of traveling by Shatabhdi express today STILL GIVES me THE SAME joy & THE SAME excitement as it did 13 years ago! Naah...actually I'm exaggerating...I don't feel EXACTLY excited as earlier, as I'm now quite acquainted to traveling by A/C chair car & also having lived in the US for 2 years, where everything (except Asok Palace, where Arun CS and I lived :P) was air-conditioned (I never cease to grab any opporunity to boast about my stay in the US, do I? :D :D Like I said, I'm a TRUE US-returned dude! :P :P)...Also, I've always preferred Lalbagh or Brindavan due to the variety of food options available, no fixed menu! What more does a "bakkasura" like me need, than to hog idli vada after masala dosa after bajji after cutlet after tomato soup and what not! :D This is purely what is missing in Shatabhdi, AT LEAST in the morning train! My first and previous journey was on the evening train from B'lore to Chennai, which, trust me, had quite a good amount of food. However, the morning train really doesn't have much food options.

Well, once I start earning big, I really can afford to travel by Shatabhdi express to Chennai every month! However, I'll soon get bored!
THINGS WHICH GIVE YOU TRUE HAPPINESS AND TRUE SATISFACTION ARE THE ONES YOU'VE HAD TO WAIT FOR LONG/ THE ONES YOU'VE HAD TO WORK HARD FOR/ THE ONES YOU'VE HAD TO REALLY EARN! If I belonged to an affluent, filthy-rich family, traveling by Shatabhdi express would've become "the usual" and there would have been absolutely no thrill in traveling by it. Same thing with my Chennai visits - Beaches, local train rides - All UNUSUAL for me! That's the reason I've always jumped in joy whenever it came to beaches or local train rides. I don't think I'll EVER lose that fascination, because those shall always come rarely, they shall have me CRAVING for them.

Some of my friends who want to get over their ex-girlfriends(if the breakup is on GOOD terms) or the ones they love, fearing rejection, tend to distance themselves away from those girls. (Guys and girls can be interchanged in this context). However, they fail to realize the basic psychology :) - Keeping a distance from something you like makes you CRAVE for it all the more! Of course, if the breakup is bad, like the girl cheating on the guy or breaking his trust, that's an entirely different scenario - the hurt, hatred and anger which comes along itself is enough to see to it that the guy is over the girl very soon. Of course, in due course of time, they do eventually move on!

Typed after reaching Chennai -
Anyways, today's journey, on this very train, after a gap of 13 years, was a little disappointing, thanks to the limited food options and of course my prior frequent exposure to the A/C chair car, BUT, the SPECIAL FEELING - THE FEELING of having traveled in a LUXURY train STILL puts a wide smile on my face :) and gives a lot of joy to my heart :). I am able to find joy in something AS SIMPLE AND AS PETTY AS traveling by this train and I definitely would shout it over the rooftops, in excitement, that I traveled in Shatabhdi express! :) Hence, this blog post :) Here are some photos of a child Bakkasura :P :P, enjoying in excitement, a thing as simple as a train ride :).

Cheers,
Ashwin.

PS - those of you who praised me as mature etc :P...I guess you're now rethinking what you said, after reading this post? :D :D :P hehehe...No matter how mature a person is, one should always keep the kid in him alive, for his own happiness, methinks :)
(@Cole - yennaa...kid...naanga kid...kidkidddddddd :P :P indha kid aa naanga vandhu..nalla thaanga vechchurkom..AAAAUEEE :P :P)