Fast and slow trains

April 24, 2013

I was reading a few emails about travelling on faster and faster trains….I am wondering, apropos of this thread…is speed everything?

I must say, that I enjoyed the “rattling and rolling” that Rajan describes (trains from Kolkata, where I grew up, and Chennai (and back) , took at least 36 hours), stopping at the various stations, getting a feel of cultures different from my own as well as the city I lived in….buying the mud pots to store cool water in Mughalsarai (only later did I realize the romance of the name…a place where the Mughal armies stopped!), aam paapdi in Vishakapatnam, poori-alu in stitched-leaf plates in Bhubaneswar… sipping “bhaander cha” in little mud pots as we neared Kolkata. The tea on one side of the Godavari was as good as the coffee on the other (no Rail Aahaar abominations of chai and coffee served with the same mix of milk-and-water, with either instant coffee or a tea bag dunked in!)

I find that in our lives, as we “save” more time, we are just giving that time to ever more hectic pursuits, with urgent deadlines always looming, taking away our peace of mind, and often, our health as well….

So…I like to think that slow trains are also amazing, in their own way…in fact, Indian Railways can claim to be the only railway in the world which has actually slowed down trains! Want to know the details?

Initially, the trains between Chennai and Bangalore ALL used to take only five hours. But later, I R stretched the time to six hours, and now charges higher fares for the only train that does the journey in 5 hours (the Shatabdi). And in the case of the overnight trains between the two stations…sometimes they actually have stretched the time to a little more! The Kaveri Express actually takes 7 hours…it doesn’t actually go backwards, that’s all that can be said for it, and also the fact that it does not arrive at an unearthly 4am or 5am, with vampire autowallahs waiting to suck your passenger blood.

There’s a song about taking the “slow boat to China” (which brings to my mind, the old, elegant, leisurely method of crossing “The Pond” by ship)…but I will settle for taking the slow trains around my country, enjoying and savouring the scenes as I go. Yes, mostly from behind the dirty glass of an a/c coach, because of the condition of the toilets in non a/c compartments, and the smell from the tracks, which is partly because of the toilets….but I’m happy rattling and rolling, and gently moving along.