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Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Journey Part 1 - Chennai To Mumbai Train

This write up will be in parts since I have so much to say. It is about a recent trip that I made from Chennai to Mumbai and my take on the Mumbai city and its people. I have never been to Mumbai and I probably would not have visited the city this time around if it was not for the Dutch Visa processing that I had to get done in Mumbai.

I left on the anniversary of the Babri Masjit incident, Dec 6th. The security arrangements in Chennai were at its peak, especially since there were prior warnings given. My dad was not even allowed to enter the railway station to send me off. After living in Canada for two years,and not having travelled by the Indian Railways for a long long time, my parents did warn me, but I decided that a true Indian must travel by the Indian Railways Sleeper Class( True Indian Guide book, Clause 214, Sub Clause 12.4 :D). Honestly speaking, after living in a developed country for more than 2 years, you suddenly find it difficult to handle the crowd and filth. I know this may sound snobbish, but that sadly is the truth. It took me some time to get acclimatised,but I was okie in a while.

Ignoring the dirt around, there is this joy you derive by traveling in a train, sleeper class that will always thrill me - sitting in a window seat, watching the world go by. Just sitting there, you can literally observe a world around you. I was the first to reach my cubicle. I prayed that my seat should be away from the loo. Thankfully it was. Two young workers and a mother and son sat in my cubicle. My mother had packed so much food for me that the entire compartment could have made a meal out of it. I was eating practically all the time. I am not complaining though..:D

The workers were two young boys, shy and quiet most of the time. They looked like rowdies to me first, but they surprised me the most by being really decent. Aunty ji was a really "enthu" personality. She talked to everybody, finding slightest gap, she would squeeze herself on the seat and sleep. The son was most uncharecteristic. He slept through most of the journey ( on hind sight perhaps the best thing to do!!).As the train left the city and moved into the country side, you can see kids waving at the train. I waved back, almost feeling nostalgic of my childhood days. I could see swelling lakes and ponds after the recent cyclones that hit Chennai. As we crossed the borders to reach Andra Pradesh, the train stopped at Renigunta. The first signs that you see on reaching the Telugu speaking state are tonsured heads, several of them, families of them. :D. Its sooo funny. You see young and old, men and women with tonsured heads. No, AP doesnt have a cult following Britney Spears, but it is the land of Tirupati Balaji and oh boy! they are loud. Running and screaming across the train. The last person in our cubicle joined us at this station. He was this strong, bossy, 'don't mess with me else I will screw' you sort of person. Our aunty ji was sprawled out and sleeping in his seat and he put things in order by making everybody sit in their respective places.

Aunty ji was a very enterprising character. She spoke politics, religion, sports and she seemed, bubbly and vivacious. I like such people. I read through an entire book on revolutions and half way through an India Today edition on the Mumbia attacks. I dint speak much and went to sleep early. Now there are a few things one MUST do while travelling by train in India. Dont eat much in the train. You dont want to visit the loo in the train too often. Its simply put - YUCK!!. The other thing is keep your nails as short as possible. They become incredibly dirty while traveling. Aaah!! the kind of things you learn.

My mom and dad were sooooo freaked out that I was traveling alone to a city that was soo recently under the attack of terrorists, they called me every few hours to check on me...again, I am not complaining here...I dont mind their attentions...:D...enjoy while it lasts...:)

The next day morning thinking that I was the smartest one, I got up by 5:00 to avoid the rush to the loo. But desis think alike I guess. I did have to stand in a queue for a while. Auntu ji got up early too and only our cubicle was up by 5:30 itself. Here is when I fell in love with aunty ji. She made us all sit on one side and she started doing Yoga/pranayama/meditation in the train. I just love such characters, she was like a character out of a novel.But I couldnt help giggling along with the boys though when she made some odd noices and strange poses :D.

Watching the sun rise from the train, I took a sip at garam garam masala chai. :). It was heavenly. The boys ate hardly anything during the entire journey. The one meal that they hadwas because the'dont mess with me'uncle made them eat( uncle was a nice man by heart, I think..). They were poor, that much was obvious. But here is where life always brings along its own twists. These two kids, who were barely able to buy food for themselves, donated to almost every single beggar who came by. And gosh! there was one at least every half hour. I was touched. The'dont mess with me'uncle even scolded them caringly for giving away so much money to beggars. I was really moved by their attitude. How can I not mention, the visit made by the eunuchs. The poor guys shelled out Rs 10 to them. I barely looked up when they came. I just freaked out every time I heard a clap sound in the train. I pity them, but they are able bodied people. Begging/bullying people for money is not a way to live.

Just as you can 'see' that you have reached Andra Pradesh, I could 'see' that we had reached Maharashtra. Men with their white colored kurtas (I dont know what they call it) and their white topis and women wearing colorful saris tied up in a different fashion. Having had my carefully packed home made morning break fast, I reached Pune by 9:30 am. My dear 'atthai' had come to pick me up.
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