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His first ‘kwain’ ride

In his last birth he must have been a motorman. That explains my son’s obsession with trains, writes Arif Zakaria.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2009 18:32 IST

In his last birth he must have been a motorman. That explains my son’s obsession with trains. I have spent many an evening watching him clap, gurgle and squeal at the sight of a local train.

Those long metal caterpillars with their crown-like pantograph, their fluorescent lights, the grinding noise of wheels — all appeal to him so much that though we watch from a safe distance, he still draws on his two and a half years of collective ‘milk power’ to wriggle free and run to them.

Ultimate thrill

Being obsessed with creating many ‘firsts’ in his life (first visit to the movies, first bite of a muffin!), I decided to give him his ultimate thrill — his first ‘kwain’ ride, ‘kwain’ being his baby slang for train.

It was Sunday — a good day to venture on this historic trip. My toddler, his maid and I, arrived at Bandra station to travel to our destination — Churchgate. So ferocious was his desire by now, that his ‘free world’ couldn’t comprehend this wait in the ticket line!

Later on the platform, he was full of awe, confusion and unbridled excitement, when he saw the serpent-like shiny tracks. When the train glided in, he was taken aback by its majestic size and swiftness. He insisted on jumping on to the footboard and scanning the compartment – the seats, the noise of the overhead fans, the shaking hold-on handles.

No cajoling

I think an important lesson was being played out in his little mind — that nothing is what it seems —because this ‘kwain’ was a far cry from his colourful toy train. I let him have the window seat to help him understand the notion of speed played against the moving objects outside. Suddenly the train hooted and moved.

He had not expected this. So he remained transfixed, enthralled at this heavy surging movement, wondering what was propelling the ‘kwain’, because his traditional symbols of movement — steering wheel, gear and a human being to manoeuvre them were absent.

As the train rattled energetically, he was scared. No amount of cajoling or refreshments worked. This was real speed. It was ‘very very fast’, a sharp contrast to his father driving the car at 40 kilometer per hour!

Happy noises

As the train pulled into a station, he regained his composure. Perhaps he realised that fear can be conquered with a little resolve!

With each stop, he sought his comfort by grasping the rhythm of the ‘kwain’ — the hoot, the high speed thrust, then the slowing down — learning that if you find your space in the rhythm of things, you can actually enjoy that!

Secure with this knowledge, he now insisted on walking around, playing with the overhead handles and making happy noises.

Finally we arrived at Churchgate, but he refused to get off, assuming this was just another stop in an infinite journey. I carried him out forcibly. While passing the coach driver’s cabin, he glanced at the small steering wheel and an empty cabin, assured that trains run magically by them selves!

How do I want him to remember this journey? One day when he steps on stage to accept the Nobel Prize for science, I hope his speech begins with — “It all began on a ‘kwain’”

First Published: Jan 09, 2009 17:37 IST