Train journey has always been a pleasure to me; more so, if I am in a reserved compartment and on the window seat. The many faces of India, both urban and rural appear and disappear in a jiffy, forcing me to sit focused on them lest I missed a quick flowing river or a line of dancing palm trees or the grazing cattle or a way side petty tea shop where a few seats are arranged on the road itself to enable the customers to read the day’s newspaper over a cup of black tea.
But, ever since I settled down in Ooty, a hill station in the Western ghat there was no need for frequent travels. But my occasional trips to my native town were by trains and what made them memorable were the 4 hour journeys from Ooty to Mettupalayam by the ‘toy train’. Apart from the breath taking views, I also enjoyed the slow movement of the narrow gauge train, especially when it crossed hills and valleys and several tunnels at regular intervals.
One such journey is still fresh in my mind. Nearby three decades ago, I was on my way to my native town. I got into the train at 3 pm and the journey was an exciting as ever. When we were half way through the journey, the train stopped at a place which was not a station but a forest like area. The driver informed us that the railway track was broken (a boulder, knocked down by a wild elephant fell on the track), and it would take sometime to set right the track. It was 5 pm, but it was almost dark by then. We were also informed that the mechanics have to come from Coonoor, not too far from the place we were held up.
As it was getting darker, those of us who got down to escape from the boredom of being trapped inside the compartment, thought it unsafe to stand outside in the darkness as we began to hear different noises produced by some wild animals. Some one told us that he could hear the foot steps of an elephant.
As for me, I was carving for a cup of coffee and a fag but there was absolutely no hope for carvings. Just then, the mechanics arrived, raising the hope for the departure of the train shortly. Apart from the station master and the mechanics, there were just 3 or 4 of us at the station compound. To my pleasant surprise, we saw the station master with a few cups of tea, “just sufficient for three or four of you”, he said and we grabbed the cups and drank our tea in a gulp. Then I rushed to my compartment to pickup the cigarettes and matches from the suit case. Then, it was heaven on earth!
And when we heard the long whistle of the train and experienced the jerk of the starting train, I said, “Three cheers to S.M!…. Three cheers to mechanics!” someone sang the then famous movie song, “chikku bukku chikku bukku rayile….”