After hours of mulling over the topic (hours that could’ve been spent reading an absorbing novel had yours truly not forgotten to carry one along on a recent train journey from Coimbatore to Chennai), I have come to the conclusion that I much prefer travelling by train to flying. I realize that there are many advantages to flying, like reaching your destination quickly, cleanliness and … well, I can’t think of any other significant ones, but you get the picture. Flying is generally considered a more convenient way to travel (if you’re young and healthy, that is) than taking a train.
But, having journeyed using both modes of travel several times, I must admit that I enjoy trains much more than I do flights. One might think this is merely because I’ve travelled by trains much more than I have by planes, but every time I’ve flown between Singapore and India in the past four years (and this was often), I’ve had it reinforced that I don’t really enjoy flying the way most people (who aren’t businessmen and women) seem to.
One sure reason for this is that I frequently fall prey to runny noses. (I’m going somewhere with this, trust me.) And when you fly with a cold, your ears tend to get blocked. And blocked ears can get very painful. Not to mention uncomfortable, considering they can last for days after you’ve landed. I’ve suffered through quite a few of these painful ear blockages, so I’m very thankful for the fact that no such problem can arise when you’re travelling by train.
But that’s just one reason. The main reason, I think, is that I have very fond memories of train journeys. I’ve taken so many over the duration of my life, and for so many reasons, that I obviously cannot remember every single one. But I do remember specific ones, and that’s more than I can say for the flights I’ve taken, of which I don’t remember any with particular affection or emotion (except probably the Jet Airways one in which I found that they were offering entertainment – on par with or even better than, one might say, Singapore Airlines – when I was least expecting it and had prepared myself for nothing at all, but that’s superficial).
The train journeys, however, have special memories attached to them. Like the monthly weekend trips I used to make from Coimbatore to Chennai for a whole year to keep my monthly appointments with the dentist. (She had to tighten my braces.) I used to travel alone (mostly) in day trains, sitting by the window for 8 hours each way. My parents would drop me off, often asking some nice-looking fellow passenger to take care of me, and my uncle and aunt would pick me up at the other end, thanking said passenger for taking care of me.
And there was always some kindly passenger who’d take on that daunty task of watching out for the 14 year old kid travelling alone. Not that I was a difficult child, mind you. I minded my own business, never gave anyone trouble. But my guardians for the day would often go out of their way to ensure that they were doing their job right, offering me food, drinks and entertainment. I remember this one girl (she must have been in her early 20s then) who gave me her copy of Sidney Sheldon’s “Rage of Angels” to read during the journey and told me to keep it because I hadn’t finished it by the time we reached our destination. (Never mind the fact that the book contributed to my prejudiced dislike of Sheldon in general – it’s the thought that counts.) These people always took care of me and made me feel like I was less alone for those 8 hours.
Then there were the fun, family outings that required big bunches of us to travel by train. My extended family and I (11 in total, 5 of whom were kids) once travelled all the way from Chennai to Jaipur by train and it was one of the most enjoyable journeys I ever remember making. We had a day and more on the train, and two compartments all to ourselves, so we made full use of it. We kids moved around in whatever space we could find inside those two compartmets, the elders chatted away to glory and we all occasionally came together to play card games, which almost always resulted in us kids winning spectacularly. We were on that trip for at least 2 weeks, but whenever I think about it, the thing I remember most is that first train journey we took together. I’m not even in frequent touch with those cousins anymore, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the journey itself.
And of course, who can forget those school excursions? Having missed one in 8th standard to Chennai, I was determined not to let the big 10th standard excursion to Bombay and Goa go. Again, I can say assuredly that I had more fun on the train journeys to and back from that excursion than I did sight-seeing. You just don’t have that kind of fun anywhere else, you know? Singing loudly at the top of your voices, deciding on who gets to sleep in which berth, waking everyone up at the crack of dawn just for fun, sharing gossip, complaining about having to wear the school uniform on the platform but rejoicing upon being allowed to change into casuals upon leaving, getting told off by the teachers or even just sitting silently with each other on the journey back after having drained yourselves out during the trip itself … it’s all part of that cherished experience of travelling by train.
When I take the train these days, I remember the good times. It doesn’t matter if I don’t have anything to occupy myself with, or if the most interesting thing I can think of doing is reading the paper from cover to cover. I still feel happy because I remember how many happy journeys I’ve undertaken, and I wish for many more like those.
Tomorrow, I leave for Singapore after three weeks of fun with the family. I wish there was a way one could take a train across the ocean, but since there isn’t, I’ll have to make-do with another mediocre flight journey. I can only hope that my nose decides to stay clear and healthy, at least till I reach my destination. I don’t think I can stand another pesky ear block.