All Aboard!

Culture and Media

We have been preparing for our trip to India, and we are doing some of our travels on the Indian Railway System. I have a father who reads Railway timetables for entertainment, and am a big fan of the Monty Python Agatha Christie Railway Timetable sketch, which is all a way to tell you that I enjoy traveling by train. So I was quite overjoyed to discover the excellent Indian Railways website. It is a better website than what the airlines have, easier to navigate and make bookings. I wish there was a comparable rail system in the US. So if you are planning a visit, think of traveling by train.

The last time I was on a train in India was a few years ago, traveling from Baroda to New Delhi, in an unreserved Ladies” compartment. It was terribly crowded, and I had to share my berth with a rather plump housewife from Karol Bagh. This lady was not only plump, she was also very talkative. The whole compartment was regaled with stories about her family and neighbors, whether we liked it or not. It turned out she came from a family of fruit merchants, and told us proudly, My son has married into Apples, my daughter has gone to the Bananas, and we are thinking of a Guava family for the youngest son.” I found her a little tiresome, and trying to get some sleep, while being squashed by her ample behind wasn’t doing much for my temper either.

The other women in the compartment were a humdrum lot, complaining about the price of onions, the lack of cooking gas and the their disobedient children. Squashed in a corner was a skinny, quiet woman, who didn’t say a word, her only possession was a small cloth bag, the kind one gets bulk rice in. She looked sort of shell-shocked. I don’t even know how this happened, but somehow the other women, bit by bit, elicited her life story. The woman came from a village in Karnataka, and didn’t speak anything but Kannada and had been abandoned by her only son and daughter in law. She was going to Delhi in the hope of finding some relatives and perhaps working as a domestic.

The next morning, the plump fruit merchant’s wife, after loudly cursing the world, bought the Kannada village woman some tea and breakfast. Before we landed in Delhi station, she gave the woman a generous amount of money so that she could fend for herself till she got on her feet. Then the merchants wife farted loudly and left with the youngest son (promised to the Guava family), who had come to receive her at the station.

In my search for Railway lore, I found a nice little, though a trifle dry, history of the Indian Railways, and this nostalgic story from the BBC about one of the oldest narrow gauge routes in India, which is still owned by a British company. And now you can also become a member of the Indian Steam Railway Society.