Monday, August 30, 2010

The Quiet Train

It was the quiet train that I had never experienced until my first time travel outside India. It is not the memory that you expect will remain with you for so many years, but that’s the one that I now think of narrating. The Indian train had been a place of social exchange and camaderie. The American train was a means of travel. Why would a train be anything but that?

I had been very excited about going away from home for a while. As I walked about one of America’s most beautiful university campuses, I was not at all homesick. Everyday, you met fellow students, each from another country and graduate life was a completely fulfilling experience. There was nothing more that I could have asked for.

Some months later, I had to travel to Texas from the East Coast to see a cousin and got myself a Rail pass on the Amtrak. I was hoping to see a bit of the U.S. before I went to visit family. I got onto the train. The first few hours were quiet. The day got on, the journey was still quiet. Not so many people on the train, not so many at the stations.

I looked out of the window as the train pulled into a station and wished people wouldn’t queue up to enter the train, wished there would be more than the five people that I saw. I thought then of the Indian train and all its chaos. I wanted to be home again – just to listen to familiar sounds of “chai, chai” with the vendor stopping by the window to sell a cup of steaming hot tea or a fruit juice.

I was travelling alone. I put the book I was reading down onto my lap. The train had slowed down. The voice on the Public address system said: “Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention please. Our next stop will be Texarkhana. If Texarkhana be your final destination, we ask that you check the area around your seats for personal belongings before you leave the train. Also, Texarkhana will be a refueling stop for Texas Eagle train 21 and we will be here for 10 minutes. Texarkhana is on the border of Texas and Arkansas. As we enter the station, our engines will be in Texas and the rest of our coaches will still be in Arkansas. We now leave behind Arkansas and enter the State of Texas. So, Ladies and Gentlemen, the lone star – Texas”. This announcement fascinated me and I was happy to experience life in America.

As I watched the landscape outside, I remembered a conversation with a friend back in India whom I had visited when she was in Ahmedabad. As I packed my bags to leave, she got busy in the kitchen packing some food for me for the trip. “That’s far too much food for one person” I had complained. “This is not for you” she had said. “How will you make friends on the long journey if you do not have enough snacks with you to share?” she said.

I continued to look out the window at the American countryside.  I couldn’t but help see Indian coolies, loud farewells, vendors moving rapidly from window to window and the exchange of goods across the window even after the train had started with anxiety in the air about whether the vendor would get his cash and would the traveller get his samosa. From far away came the Voice on the Public address system: “Austin, TX in another 5 minutes. Thankyou for travelling Amtrak”.

This blogpost is part of the ‘Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Travel Carnival’ which is posted here at First Time Travel by Claire Algarme on her blog FirstTimeTravel. Do check it out!!


Anil P said...

The train is at the heart of India travel. And your friend packing up more says it all.

Indian Bazaars said...

Anil: Its such a blessing when you have co-passengers who are gujaratis! There was this time I was on an Ahmedabad bound train. I asked a train assistant how could they not have a Pantry car on a train with a 30 hour travel time. He said they just can't break even on the expenses with Gujaratis travelling on the train. They pack food for themselves and leave us boxes of sweets as well!!

radha said...

Nice post. And the comment about the Gujarati passenger. They do travel with so much food. It appears sometimes that they travel to eat! The train has to only pull out of the station and out comes the box and the aroma of the food wafts through the compartment. Yes, the joys of traveling by train ( in India) cannot be compared with any other mode.

Indian Bazaars said...

Radha : I just loved that..."it appears that they travel to eat!"

Jason said...

Nice post on train travel. I like the idea of bringing extra food for your co-passengers, especially when your are traveling in a foreign country.
Jason (AlpacaSuitcase)

Indian Bazaars said...

Jason: I guess in India the journeys are really long and if you can make friends, its just so much nicer!