Indian Train Journeys – An experience like none other

Sleeper Class

In the past few years I have traveled a lot by trains in different countries, while nothing beats the punctuality of the Swiss Railways (SBB), or the speed of Deutsche Bahn & TrainItalia, none of these travel systems have the true experience like the Indian Railways.

During my college days I’d used to travel regularly on the Sleeper class from Noida/Pune to Lucknow. Like everyone else, I have been a witness to the unapologetic delays,the festival rush when having a reservation meant little when fellow travelers had to get home to be with their families on Diwali.While I upgraded to the AC IIIrd, it just wouldn’t give me the same experience as the Sleeper Class travels or General class travels between Lucknow & Kanpur.

I have been always amazed at the uncanny ability, of passengers, to analyse delays in the local MEMU type trains stopping in between stations in the middle of nowhere. A typical conversation in this situation would go like this:

‘Bhaisaab, ye train kyun ruk gayi? (Brother, why did the train stop?)’

With an air of authority of such matters the reply would be, ‘Passenger hai, Shatabdi cross ho rahi hai, dekhna abhi crossing ke baad chal padegi (ours is a passenger train, giving way to a more important train, you’ll see it pass)’

And if by chance, the above mentioned logic fails, the second response would be, ‘Lucknow station pe platform khali nahi hoga, aajkal bahut train late hai isliye rukna hai. (No free platforms in the destination, we’d get in once it frees up)’

These conversations happen everyday between strangers, nobody knows how true they might be or who created them to begin with, but there would always be someone to ask and answer.

Then, there would be instances when you’d have reserved a lower level seat and there would always be a gentleman requesting you to shift to the upper levels because ‘ladies hai (women passengers with them)’. If you were a guy like me, most of the times you’d grudgingly oblige, even when the upper berth was your last preference.

But the most fun was to be had to be a part of wedding parties, when at each station some new members of your extended family would join you with fresh supplies of snacks, cold water and family gossip. The singing & gossip sessions would last late into the night, but who’d care about other passengers. Of course, there would always be that elder uncle or cousin who’d be snoring like a siren, feeling completely at home in the wobbling train.

Talking of these train journeys, how can one forget to mention the support economy of chaiwallahs and naashta (breakfast) sellers who’d chirp in at each station offering you wafer thin omelettes, & cutlets from unverified sources. Many train stations have their own special offerings which lure the foodies to step out at the stops and attempt to pick the sweetmeat or savory offered. The chaiwallahs (tea sellers) deserve a special mention with their trademark calls for tea, which is always promised to be enriched with cardamon and tulsi (basil) with a money back guarantee on quality! Lets not forget, he’d be off the train much before you’d be done with your tea, but the promise meant something to everyone.

Finally, there would be the ticket collector in his black coat moving with the air as if he were the king of the train, followed by hapless passengers on the wait list requesting the lord’s mercy be bestowed upon them with a berth to sleep for the night.

But while all this excited me, everyone would often knowingly ignore young lecherous men leering lustily at young women making them uncomfortable, exposing the undercurrents of gender issues in India, or parents beating the hell out of their kids in public as a punishment for their hyperactivity.

Missing: The light heady feeling!

Keep Calm and Stay Positive

Do you know this light heady feeling, when you wake up and believe that it is going to be your day. Years ago I had a string of those days, in 2005 when I had started on my first job. In those first few months, when I’d walk out of my home to commute I’d feel energetic, inspired and positive. The impact, I did pretty well, I worked hard and kicked butt!
But, the attitude gradually died, I know that heady feeling but I hardly feel like that anymore. Yes, you’ll claim its because work in mundane and what not, but the fact is, the feeling did not return even when I switched jobs. The last few years altered me, and that head rush paved way to anxiety and stress.
Last time I felt that heady was in November last year, it was a fine day until I came to work and it turned into something else within a few hours.
Sigh…I miss the days, when I really had the spring in my step.

One more move, again

This is probably the running theme for a while now, running that is…from one town to another, from one country to another.

As I write this down, sipping a Starbucks coffee just because I can use their wifi, I am again in a new town trying to get some work done (by writing a blog post?) with the lack of internet access at the new apartment.

So we moved again, this time as the missus got a job, after a very long wait and its the one worth having. So we decided to move to a nearby town of Cologne, and commute, and this is how the cookie is now crumbling from today.

Strangely, after so many moves in the last year itself, its much less stressful now, but this time around I think it’ll be much longer.

To new beginnings and newer towns…!

My patch of land

It has been the most interesting period of time for me in the past couple of years, I love reading about history, particularly the history of the world in the last two major wars of the 20th Century. Living in Europe, and having the opportunity to travel to many of the cities/countries which were ravaged by the wars. Observing the stories of these places & how they have coped up since then has been a tremendous experience.

But there has been a common thread, while many of us have been envious of the European well being with our third world perspective, there is almost a always a common thread of painful history just a few decades ago. Many families had seen deep and painful periods in the past hundred years, displaced from their original place of origin. I appreciate the effort Governments and citizens have taken to remember and if possible, preserve the memorials so that we never let the world through that again.

But the biggest question of this all is the fact that within a century itself, borders were redrawn many times, people have lived to be citizens of 3 or more countries even while living in the same patch of land, seeing the end of monarchy, rise of National Socialists, the wars, communism and finally some semblance of democracy. Their current truth is a nation, but they can never say that a century from now their idea of their country survives or not. The patch of land which we all were born in may change its colors, and our national identities may just cease to exist…

2013 – Looking back

Some believe life is a zero sum game, I do not know how true that is, but it seems plausible. As this year draws towards its end, I reminisce about the last 12 months. Writing from my desk at office on this last day, I am peaceful and calm, this is the best way the year could have ended.

A few posts ago I had mentioned that time is analogous, and we are just compartmentalizing it into units, New Year being one of them, giving us an opportunity to start afresh and face the world again.

2013 was a mixed year for us, lost a few cherished people in our family, welcomed a few new members (by birth or marriage), traveled a bit, struggled a lot with careers and cultures, and finally ending it peacefully. I also end it with new hopes for future, and hope to do a lot more next year starting tomorrow!

 

Turning 30 – Ich suche purpose

Maybe that answers it.

Turning 30 is no fun, today is the last day of my twenties! God, am old, of course I am old, that is how I regarded all people above 30+! I cannot help but remember the episode from FRIENDS, ‘Where they all turn 30′. My feelings are not as extreme as Rachel, but they aren’t exactly as thrilled!

I still remember, exactly 10 years go, on the night of my 20th birthday I was writing a blog, just 20 minutes before I turned twenty. Sitting in a college dorm, I reminisced about watching Forrest Gump that night with my roomate. God, the decade went too fast, life runs much faster than I thought!

Now coming to the purpose part, not that I live purposelessly but then I still need newer avenues of finding some purpose in things, I had always thought that by the time I am 30 I would have figured it all out, sadly I haven’t. I am still as confused, stupid, goofy, lost, funny, irritable as I was 5 years ago! All I have done in the last few years is gained a paunch and lost a lot of hair!

Lets review the decade that was, and maybe make some sense.

First, the List of things to do before I turn 30

If you remember this blog post, around 5 years ago I had planned to do a few things. Lets see how I fared:

  1. Visit 5 countries outside the Indian sub continent. √ You bet, I did more than that, let me count….10 countries!
  2. Learn to play a musical instrument (no specifics which one). I am tired of playing this compter keyboard! Busted, didn’t do this :(
  3. Learn to paint using water colors (I mean learning formally and�not just dabbling around). I learned for a month in 2009, turned out that I wasn’t that good at it!
  4. Try Skydiving – Well, am a wimp when taken to heights. I presume this is the toughest of the lot for me to even attempt. I guess its also about conquering one of your worst fears! Well, not exactly sky dive, but I did do tandem jumping off a mountain, it was pretty cool. I think you can give this one to me?
  5. Play in snow – Can you believe this? I have never ever touched snow! Ah ha, ended up living in Switzerland for a couple of years, sometimes had more snow than I could handle!

Pretty impressive ha? It seems that I am an achiever!

Second, what about the rest of life? How did I fare?

I don’t think I should turn this post into a performance appraisal. I managed to complete my study goals in the last 10 years, managed to stay employed given the crises of things.

  • Professionally not yet into a state where I would have preferred myself to be (bosses, are you listening to me?).
  • Personally, I have been doing well, had multiple crushes, made nice friends, messed up a few friendships, and managed to marry the sweetest girl ever. Sadly, I also lost a few close relatives in the years including my Grandma.
  • Financially, am not sure where I am, still don’t own a car or home, but no liabilities yet…gotta start planning for retirement?!!
  • Healthwise, I got fat, and balding…but am exercising now…hopefully I fix the fat part…balding isn’t in my control!
  • Emotionally, am still a kid at heart, not sure what the grown man logic is all about, yet!

At the bottom of it all, I learned that life is not supposed to be fair and just, and I also have understood that at times the only thing is in control is my attitude towards a situation.

Cmon, you are doing fine, why the sad face?

Ah, you see, I don’t want to be called 30 this birthday, twenties sounds much younger!

Come tomorrow, I will be 18 with 12 years of experience ;-)

Just another blog from a just another guy

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