July 01, 2006

Far from School, Far from Home


I moved to the door of the compartment on the train bound for Goa so that I could lean out and take some pictures of the countryside. On my way through the narrow corridor I dodged a group of fifth-standard students in blue t-shirts and shorts who had colonized the place, giggling, chatting away, ribbing one another, and playing cards while they were not chasing one another on the bunks.

I stopped to look at a plump kid with an irritated look on his face telling his classmate in a sing-song voice,"Tu mujhe irritate mat kar yaar," before turning his attention to the playing cards in his hand.

I couldn't resist a smile. My head brushed against a knee in the upper berth. Another of their classmates was squeezed into that little corner, a magazine balanced in his lap. I ducked my head to avoid brushing his other knee, and moved ahead to where a side-lower berth seat opposite a quiet-looking boy lay empty. He sat with his bag to his back, looking out the window while his classmates were engrossed in playing cards in adjacent bunks. Gagandeep Singh, a student of Bishop Cotton school, Shimla, told me that there were eighty-one of them on a tour to Goa, accompanied by 'five teachers' and a Minder whom I saw later scold the students in English in a Malyalam accent when the train stopped over at Karmali. Not realising that the train stops only for a few minutes before leaving for Margao, some of the students lolled about on their way to the exit, inviting a swift rebuke from the Minder who lifted his muscular hand agressively and threatened them, "GET DOWN, or I'll give you one." By 'one' he meant a slap. They hurried to the door thereafter, herded by lady-teachers who promptly ordered them into two columns along the length of the narrow platform at Karmali opposite the famous wetland where thousands of migratory birds used to fly down to roost, escaping the harsh winters in their countries. But that was long ago, before the Konkan Railway cut through the wetland.

I sat opposite Gagandeep. He told me that they had stopped over in Mumbai where they saw the Taraporewala Aquarium, and a museum. Now, they were looking forward to Goa.

I tell Gagandeep that he has rosy cheeks the kind that lend kids a happy innocence, and that they are well rounded, at which he smiled and said, "Once, a photographer who had been called to take a group photograph at my school pointed out to me after taking the photograph, and said, 'Woh beechwala bada gol hai', (The bloke in the middle is well rounded.)." We both smiled. I watched him look out the window every now and then. He had a calmness about him that belied his years. He showed only a passing interest in what his friends were doing. I didn't know for sure if it was because this was only his second journey by train ever (The first one was last year, on a similar tour to Rajasthan) or whether the countryside that flashed by along the West Coast was a new experience, or if it was about something beyond all this. Often, thoughts that course the mind zig zag around 'corners' in roads that run ram-rod straight.

Every year, in Dec-Jan when the school, dating back to the mid-1800s, and spread over 35 acres, closes for vacations, he visits his parents in the United Kingdom before returning to Bishop Cotton for the new year. He told me that his younger brother studies with him at the same school, the oldest boarding school in Asia. Then we talked about his hobbies and places he has visited in his time in India, and about his trip to Rajasthan last year. After a while he turns to look out the window again as a small pond draws up outside. Two children about the same age as him are merrily dunking one another in the water, and wave out spiritedly as the train thunders past them. Then he turns to look at me before turning away again. I try to read his thoughts, but get nowhere because where eyes are calm, thoughts run deep, rarely rising to the surface.

Then we both turn to look out the window. I latch onto the blue sky and watch my thoughts sail across the blue expanse, drifting away with the wind.

35 comments:

Sush said...

that is a very well written naration..touched me..i am a fan of open blue skies and distant horizonz...always calms me down and makes me think..:)

ligne said...

Nice post. Honestly i am just envying you for the train journey...been too long.. Its funny that things which were a norm of the day once are now a distant nostalgic memory!

Mridula said...

On a journey every talk tends to becomes special!

Anil P said...

To Sushmita: Thank you. Train journeys across India afford opportunities for endless skies, and never ending horizons; the harder you 'run' the farther the horizon recedes.

To Ligne: Yeah, very much so. Today, to get to the station at Kalyan, I took the tonga instead of a rickshaw. It was pouring outside, and the horse was wet in the rain. Riding to the station in the horse-driven carriage made me feel the way you did 'Its funny that things which were a norm of the day once are now a distant nostalgic memory!'

To Mridula: Yes, it does!

woman wandering said...

You paint beautiful word paintings .. thank you.

Anumeha Sah said...

Your posts are very interesting more like the stories which one wishes never end (even after the "lived happily ever after line").

Abodh said...

Nice Post.. Just before you wrote a message on my blog, I had seen some of your posts (Bandra village- Ranvar)and was going to write a message. So are you realted to the Purohits of Purohits thali at Churchgate or mr Purohit of Friends Union Joshi.. heh heh. Your photos are great too !

Anna said...

What an interesting blog! I could spend hours reading the detailed "travel descriptions", all new to me who have never visited India.

Anil P said...

To A Wandering Woman: Thank you. Word paintings still need colour :)

To Anumeha Sah: Thank you. They 'end' so that they may begin anew in the reader's mind :)

To Abodh: No such luck, it would be nice to be related though, I miss good thalis in Mumbai where I usually visit ;) Thank you for your comment on my photographs.

To Anna: Your comment brought a smile to my face :) Thank you, and do visit again.

Madhooo said...

The Gagandeep kid is really cute.:) A very good post. Thanks.:))

Anil P said...

To Madhoo: Yeah, he sure is, and shy too.

AJEYA RAO said...

Thanks for stopping By.

Loved your article. I often enjoy train journeys because it gets you closer to people, your co-passengers unlike in a bus or plane. You get to know people and in that short span you can not help peeping into their life.

And about the silence that provoked thought in you...Silence is a mystery by itself, Often makes you think & wonder about its existence.

The picture of the boy speaks for itself, it clearly explains stream of thought in your mind.

Very well written.

karmic_jay said...

Nice post.

Anil P said...

To Ajeya: It's a pleasure, thank you. Very true, though not all silence hides calm within. But here, it did.

To Karmic_jay: Thanks.

ketki said...

gr8 post!
reading this , i m thinking of going through other post on ur blog!!!!!

travel plaza said...

Great post. Again I have to say that I love the way you write. I can picture everything as if I were seeing it. There is something about train journeys that is so special.

Anil P said...

To Ketki: Thank you. Yeah sure, you're welcome to do that. Hope you find them as enjoyable.

To Travel Plaza: Thank you. That is very encouraging. Train journeys let you think about what you see, that's why they're so special.

Swapna said...

Nice post! Brings back memories of so many train trips. :)

Mrinalini said...

i think he was feeling a bit lonely... even in the crowd... he seemed to be used to tht lonliness n yet wanted to break out of it..

Cardine said...

That entry got me thinking about thinking. Thanks.

Madhuri Shinde said...

...I latch onto the blue sky and watch my thoughts sail across the blue expanse, drifting away with the wind.

What a poetic composition! Fits well to ur blog name.

Tarun said...

Train journey's are always fun and relaxing to me 'coz :
1. You get to meet new people, and u hv enough time to mix with them, unlike in a plane or a bus.
2. You get a good view of the surroundings which calms yourself.

Nicely put thoughts, I must say.
BTW thanks for visitng my blog !

Anil P said...

To Swapna: Thank you. It is difficult to forget train trips.

To Mrinalini: It sure looked like that.

To Cardine: Thinking bridges thoughts, providing continuity.

To Madhuri: Yes, it does :) Thank you.

To Tarun: Absolutely!

Rajesh said...

A toast to this and many other train travels in India, and to the wisdom.

btw, thanks for passing by. It's hard enough to find what you look for - read and savour, leave alone finding time for it.

Kizzy said...

Reading through the travelogue and subsequent thoughts, I have come to a growing realisation of scantness of rail journeys I have set about on. On the other hand, I am reminded of a few good books. In particular, a 1985 book, The Imperial Way By Rail from Peshawar to Chittagong, by Paul Theroux. The author has used few words of description and has relied munificently on able photographer Steve McCurry's pictures to let the Himalayan Foothill speak for itself. As Paul says in his introductions - "India. How does this vast, overpopulated subcontinent manage to run, and even prosper? For 130 years the chief reason has been the railway. Dusty and monumental, its trains often seems as ancient as India itself.".

Kizzy said...

सुना है कि एक ऐसा भी रेल है जो वहाँ ठहरता है जहाँ सेहरा और दरिया मिलतें है|

Apparently, the Iron Ore Express, that runs across Sahara, is the longest train. So it seems.

Anumeha Sah said...

Hey Anil, Just back from my GOa trip.Thanks to ur posts i knew quite a bit about the place bforehand.

Anil P said...

To Rajesh: Trains is one good way to romance India, though I doubt if she cares much for it :)

To Kizzy: Yup, try the tracks, if you're lucky you'll see India reflected in the shine. I'll read that one you suggested. What kind of a writer is Paul Theroux?

To Anumeha Sah: That's surely a pleasure to know. I'll be posting more Goa stories. How was your trip?

Anonymous said...

hi, this is isnt a comment relevant to your post.. just wanted to inquire if u and family etc are ok (context - the serial blasts this evening)

Anil P said...

To Anon: Yup, I'm fine. Thanks for the concern.

Vj said...

nice observation and interesting story

Anil P said...

To VJ: Thank you.

Cat said...

best

bluemountainmama said...

it is great that you struck up a conversation with the boy. children are so interesting and open! nowadays people keep to themselves so much and don't want to be bothered. i am interested in people and want to talk when we are in close quarters together but usually am too shy or feel as if i'm intruding. it seems so wierd to me just to sit there in silence next to each other with the occasional glance to and fro. oh yeah- and loved the post! :)

Anil P said...

Cat: Thanks.

Bluemountainmama: Yes, folks do keep to themselves, but not so much in India where they do open up and sometimes they do relish it, seeing your interest in them as an expression of respect and curiosity.

Privacy is not so clearly defined in India, and in most instances, save some, it is a welcome thing.