Dr. Elizabeth V.Koshy is an Associate Professor in English Literature at Dr.A.B.Telang Senior College, Pune, India. Her areas of interest include relationships, environment and women’s issues. Her poems have been published by Sweetycat Press, Clarendon House Press, Gertrude’s Writing Room, Caesurae.org, The Writers Club (Grey Thoughts) and by Stacy Savage in Whispering Willows: Tree Poems. A short story has been accepted for publication by Academy of the Heart and Mind.
Travelling to Kerala on the Jayanti Janata Express!
We looked forward to the summer vacation the whole long year, for our yearly visit to our grandparents’ house. The train bound for Kerala from Pune, Jayanti Janata Express, left at 7.30 pm. It was a long, thirty six hour journey. We carried our dinner of rice, coconut chutney, fried fish and seasoned buttermilk and the next day’s lunch of seasoned turmeric rice and fried fish with us. Vatteppam, a kind of steamed rice cake and ethekya (large Kerala bananas) were carried to be eaten for breakfast or as a snack in the evening.
We got introduced to our co-travellers before sleep: exchanging information about where we were travelling to, whom we were going to meet and for what purpose! By 9.30pm the berths were up and everybody was tucked in for the night. The quick sleepers snored within minutes and the light sleepers tossed and turned without sleep. A book bought at the railway station used to be my companion for most of the night. The train rocked me to a fitful sleep, and I woke at every junction to cries of tea vendors selling tea at all hours.
By seven in the morning, the berths would be down, bedsheets neatly folded, and all of us ready for tea or coffee at the next junction. The mornings were spent sitting at the window watching the train whizz past cultivated green fields and the dark brown earth, without a soul in sight and stop at junctions in cemented cities without a square inch of the green earth, teeming with human beings! How thankful we used to be for the opportunity to get out of the train, stretch, walk a little and rush back inside when the train blared the horn and the signal changed from yellow to green!
The children ran after each other, sang songs, played board games, and even got their heads stuck in the steel ladders between berths! Teenagers stared out of the windows with the wind in their hair or sat on the steps of the compartment with their feet dangling outside, watching slow moving mountains and trees whizzing past! Newly weds looked lovingly into each others’ eyes, hands entwined, oblivious to people observing their palpable chemistry.
Daily commuters worked at their laptops, students studied, middle aged women bought trinkets and recipe books for themselves and comic books for their children, others read newspapers or books, stopping only for some eye rest. Some families gorged on homemade food, snack items and meals from the pantry, all the day long.Some talked to their co-travellers and discussed the deplorable affairs of the country and the world, the whole evening.
Old couples fought with each other throughout the day about everything from what to buy, where to keep it and when to eat it! Some people were well prepared for the journey with newspapers, tissue papers, bedsheets, mugs, glasses, spoons, knives, medicines and what-have-you; others travelled with nothing but their ticket and their faith in themselves!
By eleven in the morning, the train would be hot like a heated oven, the skin on our faces feeling the burn. Soon palm fruit vendors, vendors selling water, lassi, buttermilk, guava, cucumber, sapota, rose milk, thumbs up and cocoa cola did the rounds and people took out towels, got them wet and hung it on windows to alleviate the heat! After lunch we had to spend another three long hours in the stifling heat! As the train hurtled into the golden light of the evening, we crossed the ancient forests bordering our native land! It was only another twelve hours to our grandparents’ home!
After the second night on the train, we would wait eagerly for the early morning light to catch a glimpse of the dear land of our forefathers. God’s own country lived up to its name: swaying coconuts, paddy, banana, tapioca and rubber plantations, mango, cashew and jackfruit trees. The green was a balm for the eye and also the soul. The sight of the unending light green paddy fields made the thirty six hour journey completely worth it! God’s own country: the land of innumerable sparkling rivers, with snake boats, barges and cargo boats, each river acknowledging our passing train with a resounding reverberation! And as we neared our destination, the train got slower and the excitement palpable. The luggage would be ready at the door an hour in advance and we would be ready to jump off the train and into the arms of our youngest uncle waiting to receive us at the station!
In each of our co-travellers we recognize forgotten versions of our younger selves and a glimpse of what our older selves would be! In each of them, we recognize the same dreams, the same destination and the same journey! Nothing to beat a train journey for an insight into Life and living!