This really doesn’t have anything to do with cars and bikes. Except for the fact that the idea for this blog first came to me while sitting in the Skoda Yeti, talking to Srini and Pablo. The conversation we were having jogged some old memories of train journeys, especially this one trip I took from Bangalore to Delhi in the winter of 2007.
See, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with train journeys, but I’ve always found it a bit strange to have to share a bedroom on wheels with a bunch of complete strangers. This, especially as I’m the only one who seems uncomfortable at the prospect. Everyone around me is perfectly fine with the arrangement. There are families enjoying four-course meals, followed by ‘sweet dish’ and loud burps after. They change into nightgowns and lungis and other such sleep-wear, make a trip to the rather rattly restroom and brush and so on, before snuggling down under blankets to snore the night away. I, on the other hand, remove my shoes rather grudgingly before spending a fretfully sleepless night in jeans and a T-shirt or whatever else it is I am wearing.
But I’ll be honest and admit that I prefer the nights. That’s when the train is peaceful, cacophony of snores aside. The days are rather trying - the people are awake then, and people who are awake invariably seem to want to have conversations with you.
This particular time though, I thought things would be fine. There were three of us on one side and the berths across from us were occupied by a fairly genial family that kept to themselves. The best sort, if you ask me. Across the aisle, there was a young chappie who seemed rather miserable. He swathed himself in a bedsheet or three and fell asleep without a word to anyone at all.
Ah! For a quiet journey, I thought.
Morning brought with it something entirely different though. I awoke to find formerly miserable chappie awake and alert and happy, thereby effectively ruining my day. I wasn’t just being crabby, but the man was relentless. He stopped every person travelling through our compartment, made them sit with him and swap stories very loudly. This also included one Panditji who gave the entire compartment a brief three-hour discourse on applying the Ramayan to modern day life. When the Panditji was tired, he retired for a quick two-hour nap - in the top berth of the compartment, which happened to be mine, without so much as asking me. Everyone else in the compartment also succumbed to slumber. I thought I was safe behind the pages of Tom Robbins’ Still Life With Woodpecker, but again, I was proved wrong. Chappie craned over, asked to see the book, and before I could say no, he deftly prised it out of my hands and began flipping through it rather airily. Within half an hour he’d flipped through the entire thing, and returned it to me saying that it was a good book, “Bilkul Cileopatra (sic) ki kahani jaisa”. The book had absolutely nothing to do with Cleopatra. But the cover graphic had some pyramids on it, which is how he made his rather profound assessment, I take.
Then he proceeded to tell me how people from Bihar were very 'talencied' (sic). I certainly wouldn’t argue with him, I’m sure there is talent aplenty in that state. Chappie did have plenty to say about people from Karnataka though. He insisted on telling me just how lazy people from the place are. Finally, a little light bulb went off in his head. After all, I had boarded the train in Bangalore. Could it be? So he asked, “Waise aap kidhar se ho?” "Karnataka,” I replied. Chappie retreated to his seat and left me alone. Again, given the fact that I’m writing this blog after plenty of procrastination, I can’t really argue my people’s case.
Anyhow, eventually I managed to chase the Panditji away, regained my berth, and managed to stay there for the rest of the journey. I haven’t set foot in a train since.