My college friend and I were 19 when I took my first train ride in India from Bangalore to Gorakhpur. It was going to be two nights and two full days of journey. Never had I travelled inside a train for a day, let alone spend two nights inside a moving train. That ride perhaps stamped my love for train rides for the rest of my life. After that ride, there were going to be many other rides which would take me to various states and places in India.
The experience of travelling by train in India has its own charm. Further, travelling in a sleeper class has even more thrills than travelling in air conditioned compartments. After our first year, we would not even tell our parents that we had bought sleeper class tickets, but of course we would still ask money for AC tickets.
The sleeper class compartments taught me how to navigate different people and different situations. It ensured I learnt how to accommodate on the seats with broken windows that would ensure air, rain and sun touched me on my journey. It provided me with the likelihood of meeting people who would start random conversations with me and then later share their homemade dishes and the tea sellers who would start shouting chai chai in their unique way from five in the morning to ensure my quota of tea for the day always crossed its limits. Recalling those experiences still makes me smile.
Reading was also something I enjoyed on those rides. I especially remember buying my first Jhumpa Lahiri book for one of the long train rides and falling in love with her work. I have to mention her book, Namesake, which I finished in one of those long routes. Reading about a train accident episode that happened to the protagonist of the book while I was in a moving train had an eerie feeling to it.
One of the many experiences those journeys also offered us was the special cuisines in different states at different stations. Again, I have to mention Biryani at Secunderabad Station in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad. My friend and I used to get off, run to the station shop and buy two packets of Biryani for our last dinner before we reached Bangalore the next morning. All these years I have eaten Biryani in many different places, but nothing has come close to those packets of Biryani yet.
So, whenever I get asked about my stay in India and things that I miss about the country, I have many different things to say. I will talk about Bangalore’s weather and its people. I do mention my South Indian teachers who were excited to meet a Nepali girl who would eat meat even with a Brahmin surname. I will also talk about my failed attempt to learn Bharatnatyam. I miss the chaos during festival time and standing and watching cricket with strangers outside many different shops. However, if I had to mention only one thing about India that I miss the most, it is definitely the train rides. That feeling of being in a moving object while you eat, play games, read, contemplate and witness the passing terrain had its own charisma. The experience of sleeping in one state and waking up to be in another state and experiencing different shades of a day while you are seated in the same spot were all very special. Yet, when you arrive at your destination after a day or two you leave the place as if you were never there.
I am happy that as a young woman I could take those rides and make those many journeys. Some of them were to return home, some to reach college and some were for vacations with friends. I believe the rides not only helped me to learn and discover the world, but I would also like to believe that those journeys have shaped me to become the person that I am today.
I shall always cherish those memories. I still remember the rush of morning time, the lazy afternoons, evening sunsets with tea and waking up every time in the night when the train used to stop and falling back to sleep as it would move again. It almost felt like home, yet there was no pressure to belong.