First came the steam engines, then came electric locomotives and sooner we will see bullet trains ferrying passengers from one destination to another in our country. The looks have changed and so has the speed. From narrow gauge to broad guage and sooner they will be replaced with an integrated system of specialized rolling stock and dedicated tracks that will enable the trains to run at a speed of more than 350 kilometers per hour. Barely two-three years of wait and you would see a person travelling from Ahmedabad to Mumbai in just three hours. You take your breakfast and board the train in Ahmedabad and reach your destination in Mumbai much before lunch time. Also, e-catering in train has made easy to order your favorite food for train journey within a few clicks. Cut to the sixties-seventies, trains used to take not less than 12-15 hours and on odd days when it used to rain heavily in Mumbai, passengers used to reach their destination well-beyond 24 hours. However, still not all passengers used to crib then as they used to enjoy their journeys. Modern railways and railway stations are lashed with hi-tech services like e-tickets, e-catering, WiFi, ATMs and other amenities making the journey of passengers easy and convenient. At the same time, it has replaced the old-fashion customs which used to bond the passengers travelling together. The trend of carrying home-cooked food, playing Antakshari with co-passengers, inquisitive to read newspaper, buying toys and other small articles from vendors is no more customary today.
Experiences of train journeys narrated by our grandparents and later by our parents were often laced with nostalgic memories. Train journeys for them used to be no less than festivals. We vividly remember my grandmother revealing how preparations in those days used to begin immediately after the journey dates were finalised. Women in the family used to start cooking recipes and delicacies that had high nutritional value and longer shelf life. If it was summer, lighter, cotton clothes were pulled out of the iron trunks and packed in bags. But if it were winters, the best of woollens were dug out from the storerooms and made travel read by drying them in the sun for a couple of days.Once on the train, their experiences were often mixed as not all in those days could afford to travel in first-class bogies. The general bogie is where they often used to travel. Today, the mere mention of their struggle would give us goosebumps but ask them and they would only speak well about their travels. Once the train started, the passengers used to become one family. We used to make friends for life during these journeys. We used to spend long hours discussing about our families, our day to day lives, very minute and personal things like the livestock were had and the places where we married our children. Today, the trains have certainly added lots of comfort and luxuries for passengers but the bond that passengers developed and shared during our times has vanished.
As the speed of trains increased, the bonding between passengers has decreased. Most long-distance trains have done away with the general bogies. Some trains are completely air-conditioned. Passengers while their time sleeping, watching movies on their cell phones or remaining glued to books or laptops. Passengers in these trains do not get to hear the early morning wake up calls from tea vendors asking you to sip their delicious tea. Wonder they get to see the Jhaal muri (puffed rice) vendors. Their meals are either per-booked or served at any specific railway station by e-service providers.
The practice of filling up drinking water from the littered taps at railway stations in steel cans or bottles carried from homes by passengers has virtually become history now. Today, while majority prefer to buy the plastic bottle water from vendors @ Rs 15-Rs. 20 per bottle, few opt to buy from RO water booths that have come up at many railway stations. Cinemas of pre-independence era often had scenes of railway stations and the coal charged steam engines pulling the generally overcrowded bogies laden with passengers. Trains in those days, besides being modes of communications, were also big crowd pullers. However, what entertained the audience more were the lively scenes inside the bogies. The general bogies hardly had space for people to walk, but still, you could see smiling faces all around.
Train journeys in India are modernized in present days and rail services are hosted online for the passengers. Do you miss those nostalgic days? Share your views.