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A Rainy Train Journey from Kerala to Pune

I honestly didn’t think that I would fall in love with a long journey which we’re packed in a compartment full of strangers. But often when we take a chance in life, an experience rewards us with something wonderful. Indian Railway operates a crucial system of transportation throughout the country. It’s like a circulatory system of the land itself, conveying the necessities of life from place to place. Trains are one of the most popular modes of transportation in India, and after over a decade of living here, I finally had a legit trip on the great railways.

We flew to Kerala about 10 days ago to visit our family. It was a lazy trip, and since it’s Ramadan, nothing was really planned. No beach hop, no forest walk, and no food crawl. I didn’t carry my camera, and in a way, I really enjoyed the state of just be in the moment and the irresponsibility of documenting every detail of our footsteps.

We spent days and nights listening to the rains. Oh, it’s been raining beautifully in Kerala, like the whole state was humming a soothing melody. Kerala is already eternally green, but in monsoon, the vegetations became prime and glossy, the leaves dripping and dancing.

Yaseen and his cousins took the paper boats out to a street where the cold streams running on the sides. He ran back to the porch to report the results of the boat races and to tell us about the creatures and the strange plants he found on the trail.

The house was quiet during the day. Many things were discarded from our minds so we could really concentrate on something meaningful. We spent time praying, reading, writing and talking to each other.

10 days went by so fast, and it’s time to head back home to Pune. Yaseen was particularly eager to board a train because he had never been on one before. To be honest, I was skeptical about this trip because I hadn’t had a particularly pleasant experience traveling on a train so far. Years ago, Sadik and I took a local train from Panvel to Pune, and it was so packed and uncomfortable that even though it was a short trip, I couldn’t just let it fade from a list of disappointing things. Then, we also had a trip from Mangalore to Calicut a year after that, and I didn’t like it either. I didn’t mean to be a snob, and as a person who loves travels, I want to be optimistic about every trip. Nevertheless, there are certain pet peeves that I just can’t get past like the dirty toilets and being in a large crowd which often makes me very anxious.

Anyway, Sadik promised me that this trip was going to be different because first of all, we were not doing a short ride which is usually crowded and packed, and secondly, we’re traveling in an AC Sleeper Coach which would give us plenty of room to breathe.

So here we were on a platform No. 4 in Calicut (Kozhikode) Railway Station with our broken suitcase and a wrecked carton box held together by duct tapes and a yellow rope. The station was clean and spacious, facilitated with escalators and elevators. You also got free WiFi, and there are waiting rooms, and several stores selling snacks and books.

Since there would be a lot of time to kill, Yaseen bought some comic books and an issue of National Geographic Kids, Sadik bought a magazine, but I didn’t buy anything because I planned to write a short story inspired by this train ride.

Since Sadik and I were still fasting, we wouldn’t eat anything until sunset. We only had to get food for Yaseen. He got some snacks from the local stores, and there’s also a catering service on board.

Our train, 22149/Eranakulam Junction Pune Junction Express, originally came from Cochin, arrived at Calicut Railway Station at 8.50am. It would travel 1,474 km and reach Pune Station at 10.55 am. We boarded a Third AC Coach which was quite sizable. There are 6 berths in each compartment and 2 berths on the side facing each section. We shared a compartment with a family who was traveling to Pune as well, and all the luggage, boxes and bags fitted under the seats.

On the train, at first, it felt sort of apprehensive and reserved. I mean we were strangers, and I was quite nervous about stepping on someone’s foot or something. We were completely stiff and still for a while, and then the tensions seemed to gradually disappear.

I climbed up to a top berth while the boys were resting on the lower one. And fortunately, I got acquainted with my new space pretty quickly after that. The whole compartment was clean, and there were a fresh blanket, two sheets and a pillow for each passenger. The berths were big enough to lie down comfortably, and you can basically have your own little world right there. While the boys retired to their spaces to read, I took out a bunch of papers and began to write a story.

Not only the soothing sound of the monsoon and the chilly air had numbed her rumination, but the loops of the monotonic waves of the wheels against the metal slabs also made her eyes heavy when she shifted her limbs again to stay awake. Somehow, she knew that the gray child under the white sheet in the opposite middle berth could see her, and he had been watching her because the outline of his face beneath the cloth was curved in a way to directly taunt a prey. She feared the disadvantage of being unconscious and not knowing his next move for she realized that he was anticipating this very moment when she slipped into a brief coma that he would crawl onto her chest and put his hands on her nose and mouth. — From the Call of the Sleepers, a short story by Tes P. Yuphin

When you’re on a train that travels for more than 24 hours, there will always be a point where you’re going to be a bit bored. Most people load their smartphones and tablets with videos, games and other digital entertainments, and one of the best things here is there are spots to charge your devices when they’re drained.

Reading is the original time-pass though, and you can make the best of it to finish your favorite stories.

When you need to stretch, you can walk around or just look outside and see how the rainy season has transformed the lands behind the curtains of the downpours.

The train stopped concisely in several small stations, allowing people to get in and out. Hot Chai and Vada Pav tucked in the trays flaunted the delicious aromas in an aisle. Additionally, the vendors offered potato chips, Samosas, nuts, sandwiches and few treats as well.

An onboard catering staff came to take our lunch order in advance, and Yaseen asked for Chicken Biryani which was quite hearty for a young man. I think a train ride like this would be even more fun if Sadik and I weren’t on the fast. I would enjoy hot deep-fried Pakodas and drink Chai all day long. So, on our next trip, I will dig into food story if you want to read about it.

This is one of the coziest trips we’ve had in a while. On the berths, it felt almost like we’re wrapped in the tiny cocoons. The drumming of the raindrops on the roof was a perfect lullaby. I took a short nap sometimes, and then I woke up and continued to pen down my story. Yaseen kept interrupting me when he wanted to buy some snacks from the random vendors who constantly made the trips along the aisle. I let him try everything because we rarely got a chance like this.

Okay, let me talk about the toilets for a second. This was my main concern in this trip because I could easily freak out by nasty toilets. There are two toilets on each side of the coach, and you have the options to use European style toilet or the Indian version. Luckily, both were decent, and I didn’t have any problem at all. Also, the staffs constantly cleaned them so they’re not horrible even though we had to share them with everyone on the coach.

Around 7 pm we stopped in Goa, and it’s about time we could break the fast. We had ordered food earlier, but our food didn’t arrive on time so Sadik went outside to get some bananas and other snacks. I finally had a sip of hot tea that I willingly let it burned my lips.

The first bite of food after fasting all day is always magical. It’s not only satisfying but also divine in a way. Our dinner arrived around 9 pm, and it was hot and filling.

When the night fell, the air got colder. The lights were switched off. And since we’re sharing our space with a lot of people, we had to endure the sounds of people snoring and crying babies. But honestly, I wasn’t bothered that much because after a while it got real quiet as we’re cradled gently into the dark rainy night.

Around 6.30pm the next day, the amber rays slowly washed the compartments, filling it with the dreamlike air. It was raining gingerly now. Most people were still sleeping so I slowly tiptoed down to the muted aisle. We’re now in Panvel Railway Station, and in a few hours, we would be home.

It’s here where Sadik started to make friends. You know it’s kind of funny because we were all so reluctant to even introduce ourselves in the beginning of the journey, and it took us a day to be confident enough to speak to other people. Well, I think it’s tough to break the first barrier of awkwardness, but when you can get pass it, you get to know a lot of nice people. I’m bad at this. Well, if you knew me, you would know that I would always be too shy to start a conversation. This is something I have to improve, and I need to gradually come out of my thick introverted shell.

And here we’re in Pune Railway Station at last, at about 10.55am, back to our chaotic life and the vibrant city we called home, with the old suitcase and the carton box full of banana chips for our friends. We got the elevated experiences, new friends and connections, blissful memories, a new handwritten manuscript, and most definitely, the wider and clearer eyes that open to more possibilities. Now, I’m curious to see what else we can try and learn to love next.

What’s your train journey like?


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