destination india

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

destination india

of trains and poets

It was in December 1966 that I landed in the city of Nasik – to attend an interview. And I stayed on.

The time was when the West Indies visited Calcutta to play a Test match. ODIs were unheard of in the sixties! The day I landed at Howrah station, after attending the interview, I was greeted with front page photographs of a West Indian cricketer running for his life along Outram Road – with his bat raised in the air!! Apparently, something had gone wrong in the course of play.

Coming back to Nasik – in 1966, the train fare from Howrah to Nasik was a measly Rs 34.00 with reservation charges of just 25 paise! This nominal charge entitled the ticket holder to a really pleasant journey. Unauthorized passengers never dared to enter reserved coaches. Payment of 25 paise meant that one berth of the 3-tier compartment was yours till you reached your destination. Seventy-five berths and seventy-five passengers. Simple mathematics. In order to cater to the culinary needs of the valued passengers, there used to be Dining cars attached to, especially, the Super-fast trains. The attendants of these dining cars pampered the passengers no end. They never had any ulterior motives. They wanted to make the journey as pleasant as possible. They knew that, on reaching Howrah, every one will go his way – chances of a second meeting were as remote as the flowering of a lotus in the desert! In case such an incident did take place, the dining car attendant would display his second identity – that of a poet-cum-philosopher-cum-politician. He would recite modern poems or wax eloquent on the Marxist movement or even try to enroll you as a subscriber to his very own little magazine. Yes, Bengalees have always been like that. Several identities rolled into one. The very concept of little magazines is a unique example of true Bengali culture. As and when any Bengali starts to mature, the poet in him awakens. He recites poetry, he dreams poetry, and he thinks that he is the next Tagore!! He sends samples of his literary works to Editors all over and, when such samples fail to see the light of day, he decides to go it alone. With a couple of like minded individuals and by pooling a couple of hundred rupees, a magazine is born – to cater to the literary works of the core group. Little magazines started in the sixties and, a few have really stood the tests of time and survived. Some astounding poets have come up via this silent revolution. But then, these are the exceptions and they form a different story altogether.

We are in the process of rediscovering India…..

Today the fare from Howrah to Nasik is in the region of Rs 450.00 and possessing a reservation does not, necessarily, guarantee you the comforts that you would normally associate with long distance travel. Throughout the day you would be disturbed by the entry and exit of short distance passengers and an assortment of vendors who sell anything from air-pillows to cold drinks. The friendly dining-car attendant has been replaced by pantry-car waiters who are professionals to the core. They tempt you with innumerable concoctions and no love is lost between these waiters and the passengers – to them, hungry and thirsty passengers have very little choice and accept whatever is dished out without a whimper. Breakfast and lunch come in casseroles and tea and coffee are dispensed from thermos in throwaway cups. With new Ministers at the helm, alternate methods of dispensing tea, coffee, cold drinks are being considered. Of course, the number of trains through Nasik has certainly increased over these years and you have options of traveling in ordinary three-tier sleepers or in the three-tier AC sleepers. Also, prestigious trains like the Gitanjali have regular halts now at Nasik, thanks to an earlier Railway minister. But, that is a different kettle of fish altogether.


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