Wanderlust runs in the family. I grew up listening to railway tales from my now-deceased father.
Often the dinner-table conversation was about sleeping on a bale of cotton at Ratlam station and how many pieces of luggage he still had to claim from railway cloakrooms. So, when an assignment to travel on the Vivek Express, for the longest train journey in India (from Dibrugarh to Kanyakumari) came along, I jumped at it.
The train ride was an eye-opener. City hacks like my photographer colleague Arijit Sen and I had very little idea about how the rest of India, the much dissected, cattle-class, travelled.
Two steps into the general compartment, where 200 workers were crammed into a space meant for 90, and we knew how. Many from the North-East’s impoverished hill regions look southward to make a living. But the young are unfazed by the odds stacked against them. That was one of the most inspiring bits of the journey. The other was listening to fellow travellers, trying to understand their worlds, wondering if our tracks would cross again.
And no, I didn’t actually enquire about the luggage lying unclaimed in the cloakrooms. That’ll stay between Papa and the Railways.
From HT Brunch, May 19
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