LIFE - COLORES INFINITUM (6)
First journey down south. A whole wild month that began with an interesting train journey. 15 years ago.
AC-2 compartment of the train to Chennai. The thrill to be alone on a journey began soaking the soul as soon as he stepped out of the house. Pure joy – the air was so fresh that even the luggage load looked so charming.
10 minutes into the ride – he was comfortably in the 64-passenger coach. There were around a dozen who had come to drop the fellow who had his first solo movie outing to a theatre during his +2 schooling days.
Do this, don’t do that. Keep straight out of experimenting with language. Don’t speak much. Take loads of snapped moments. Don’t be extravagant. Eat and sleep sincerely. All the blessings, every variety of advice and soon it was time to leave.
It took some minutes for the train to leave the platform for the 42-hour journey. He was there, at the compartment’s entry; they were there, at the platform, till they could see the waving hands.
Sensed with the feeling of being away from home for so long and fueled with the curiosity of exploring a far region, he settled back to his seat, the lower berth. A passage walkthrough told him the coach was almost filled with South Indian passengers except the coupe he was in. The other three passengers in the coupe were members of a North Indian family settled in Bangalore.
Luck was smiling. It was really a good beginning, for he had a North Indian family from Varanasi with over three decades of life in a major South Indian city. No language problem in the immediate neighbourhood. 42 hours of time to go - mobile phones were not in vogue. The family head was a businessman who had migrated to that part of country in his 20’s and had come to Varanasi to take his daughter-in-law with him. There was another one with them, an assistant.
Though he was reserved in talking, the long hours of journey had good enough sessions of conversation, especially with the family head. Given the age-difference and realization that it was his first visit to the South India, the major focus of the conversation was do’s and don’t for a North Indian in South Indian cities. It was mostly fatherly advices that helped him a lot in the next 30 days. There were occasional sharing of eatables, music records and books and magazines.
If he was attentive to the advices of the North Indian family head, the pantry car vendors were the typical elements of noise. The call to ‘Pongal Vada’ (made from ground pulses) that began soon after the Varanasi station continued till Chennai. The old man had advised against it and his own experience affirmed it. Also, the trademark coconut oil cooking was just pathetic (anyway Indian Railway pantries seldom serve human meal). During his whole visit, he tried to steer clear of the coconut oil South Indian delicacies.
The old man had advised him not to use words like ‘Pagal’ (mad) or other North Indian slangs popularized by the Hindi movies (Hindi movies is the reason many South Indians can understand Hindi even if vaguely). he also said of keeping it to simple English. He could see later on during his visit to different places why the old man had advised him on it.
The old man had said commuting between Chennai and Bangalore was like mapping Varanasi to Allahabad and for many it was a routine thing. The old man had said regional rail network and road transport were far more efficient in South India. All, that he could feel later on.
But what he enjoyed most was sitting at the door-steps of the coach for hours lost in the amazing beauty of the landscape. What he says virgin natural beauty of the areas of Andhra Pradesh and Nagpur region of Maharashtra on the train route are still fresh in his memory. It was amazingly imprinting – the curves and turns of the hilly, sandy, sparsely green red corridors of uninhabited miles.
The one highlight event of the 42-hour journey was the ‘lost and found’ event of his wallet. Incidentally, he had left his wallet on the wash basin of the washroom and had forgotten about it. After around half-an-hour, someone in his late 20’s came looking for him. The gentleman could locate him by the reservation ticket in the wallet. It was a shockingly welcome development for his wallet held the key to the next leg of his journey. The wallet had important documents like driving license, reservation tickets and a sum of over Rs. 2000 and then the wallet itself. It could have been really tempting. But the luck smiled once again. He had simply no words to thank the person.
The next good thing in the beginning of the 30-day journey was the train arrived in time in Chennai though delayed for over four hours till the 60 per cent of the train-route. It solved what could have been a Chennai riddle for him in the days to come. After exchange of courtesies, they said goodbye. The old man invited him to his place in Bangalore.
The North Indian family boarded the train to Bangalore while he stepped out of the Chennai railway station. The air breezed still fresh. The luggage load still felt so light.
First journey down south. And thus ended the 42-hour beginning to the next leg of his 30-day journey.