Yes, after three entire days and two nights of journeying in the train, I have arrived in Trivendram, south Kerala, India yesterday evening (8:30 PM). The train, Rapti Sagar Super Fast Express, started from Gorakhpur at 6:30 AM on 28 September. That was the first time I had ever stepped into an Indian train. The train was huge and, in the beginning, I was kind of overwhelmed by the size and the intensity of everything surrounding it (the huge trains,noisy platforms, overhead bridges ).
I was happy that I could find the correct compartment without hassle and confusion as expected. A teenage girl was on my seat and I told her that that was my seat. It was a full fledged bed actually where I would spend two nights. The first night was cold and I was shivering. I had closed the windows but the wind kept coming in from the other window of the neighboring cabin. I hadn’t carried any blanket but the sweater that was in my bag made for its absence. I wore it along with a woollen cap. The next day, I felt the effect. I wasn’t feeling hundred percent well. So I drank a lot of water. By the afternoon, I was feeling a lot better.
I spent the first day looking outside, feeling the train and absorbing the atmosphere. I tried to immerse into the crowd and the atmosphere.
Then there was an unexpected visitor who asked for the time in Nepali. I didn’t have a wrist watch and I was sure he had seen it. But then I saw the cell and told him the time. This guy, a Nepali aged 22 and an Indian Army soldier, was heading towards Trivendra. It took me no time, not even a single second, to see a story in him. So a story had come to me, just like that…and was sitting just in front of me…telling his story..of course…my questions helped him to be on track. He was travelling alone like me, and he enjoyed talking. I enjoyed listening, asking and noting down his words on my notebook as the Rapti Sagar Super Express headed southward.
There is a different world inside the train. Those people hawking “garam chaaaya” (hot tea) and “kaaafi” (coffee) – the designated staffs of the Rail canteen- and many other outsiders selling all sorts of food…. were simply awesome. I tried many of those foods and I liked most of them. The coffee wasn’t very good but it was the next thing after water I drank the most.
They would take order for “khana” (rice and daal and tarkari and achar) and I happily ate four such meals- four mornings and evenings.
A North Indian family from Gorakhpur was travelling with me….a lady, her husband and their daughter. They were going to Chennai to see their son who was in hostel studying computer engineering. I felt comfortable leaving my backpack on the seat and go around the train as long as they were there in the compartment. After they left, I carried my bag even when I was in the toilet. It was quite an experience!
You can not only see the difference in landscape and the bustling cities as you go southward but actually feel it. It’s calmer down here compared to what it was in north. The train was almost empty as we left places like Chennai and headed downward. People were more calm and composed and appeared to be following the rules. They didn’t understand Hindi and, depending on where the train was running, spoke the local language (and some English as well).
On the second day, perhaps from Chandigad, a Tamil man came to our cabin. He didn’t understand Hindi and I had to work as a translator between him and the Railway boy who wanted to take order of food. I felt good while helping this Tamil man, auditor by profession, to order food. Later, we both enjoyed the fried daal, chawal (chamal in Nepali, rice) and vegetables. We talked a lot…and again he was telling me his story…about his family and how he converted to Christianity and how he feels so strongly about the God. He said it was sad that he couldn’t speak Hindi even though his wife, a Hindu, was a Hindi teacher. “Our son” he said, “goes to Church and wife doesn’t protest.”
“I was a very bad person before I converted,” he continued. “I used to drink and lot and smoke. Very bad.”
“So you are a good man now, huh?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said and gave a wide smile.
“Now I am good. God is great.” ……
The family that I was sharing the cabin with was a typical Indian family. They were like my own family in several ways. The woman was, like my Bhauju in many ways. The way she insisted her daughter to eat, the way she gently scolded her when she was about to avoid eating roti, the way they both took their hand from the heart to the forehead in prayer when the evening lights were switched on (in the train), the way the daughter dialled the phone for her dad, the way they talked…in Hindi (I could understand almost everything). The man suggested me to put my bag as pillow so that people couldn’t steal. “There was a thief here last night,” he told me. “Ye to achha huwa ki yana police tha…so be careful.” He couldn’t speak English and worked in a government office in Uttar Pradesh, whose full name didn’t easily come to his mind.
Somewhere in Tamilnadu, a man came to my compartment (now I was all alone, the family and others had already gotten off). He spoke English and was a former Railway employee. So I bombarded him with questions about the Indian Railway system that had come in my mind since my journey began. He answered many of them. On his part, he was also full of questions. How was the…what do you say…that Maoist leader doing up in the land of Everest? So you are a republic, now what? What’s the strength of Nepal (he meant population)?
Again, on the third day, the young Gurkha soldier from Syanjha was with me…almost the entire day. We again talked a lot. He had lost money in Gorakhpur and I exchanged his Nepali currency….about NRs. 80. I know there are a lot of details I am missing out on but what can I do… I am in a very congested cyber cafe near Tribendram Central and this computer must be the slowest in the world. Anyway… I just finished downloading the photos…
This morning, in Trivendram, the capital of Kerala, I went to Kovlam beach, drank coconut juice and visited a temple of Parshuram on way back to hotel. I will go to Kanyakumari in a train this evening..to see the sunset which, I am told, the place is famous for.