Would you like to accompany me on a train ride from Jabalpur to Bangalore? A journey from central India to South India?
Here's the soundtrack to our journey. Plug your earphones in and listen as you travel with me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sK7riqg2mr4
Come with me. Come prepared though. Take your sweaters, jackets, mufflers, gloves. It’s 6.30 am and Jabalpur is very cold now, around 6 degree Celsius. In the station you will see men huddling together for warmth. Some will be walking around with bedsheets tightly wrapped around their head and shoulders, like human burritos. Listen to the announcements in Hindi and English telling you where your train awaits. Walk across the length of the crowded platform to get to your coach. Get in, get comfortable. Maybe order some tea and warm your bones.
Your neighbours are an elderly couple going to visit their son in Bangalore. They are kindly looking; the gentleman, a retired Hindi professor, will remind you of your grandfather and the woman will give you warm smiles. Make sure you talk to them. Also near you is a large, boisterous north Indian family that has come laden with food. An assortment of children referred to as chintu, bintu, munnu etc. will be beckoned from their daydreams and threatened and cajoled till they eat breakfast. Chintu, Bintu, and Munnu will resume their play, ignoring their parents’ glares and threats.
The train will whistle to let you know the journey has begun. You are in an AC compartment so your view outside is unhindered while no one can see you from the outside. The train is picking up speed now. The buildings merge into one another and soon you leave them behind. Now you are travelling through plane lands. As you go further you see wheat and maize fields on both sides. Wide stretches of land with a tiny hut in the middle, it’s probably where the farmer lives. It’s still foggy. You cross a river where the mist seems to be reaching out to the sky from the water, rising like smoke. You marvel the carpet of fog that rests so peacefully on the land, twirling around trees, at times pierced by the sunlight streaming through the leaves. Your reverie is interrupted by a vendor peddling steaming ginger and masala tea. Another man walks by selling hot samosas that you try not to buy.
Just when you are about to order breakfast, another set of neighbours- an army family known to your uncle- offer you a meal of homemade idlis and chutney. The sun is now up and you look out to see you are passing a tiny village with hay stacked outside the huts, goats tethered to trees, cows lazing near small ponds, and tractors readied to start the day's work. The train crosses a bridge and when you look down you see the dry river bed with just puddles of water here and there.
Everyone’s had their breakfast now. All feet are up on the berths now. The lady starts to knit. She tells you its a sweater for herself. Mainly a way to kill time in this long journey. The other passengers have drifted off to sleep now. You go over a river again. This time a stunning one with shimmering water. The water flowing smoothly only to crash on some stray rocks, then bubble over. Framed by trees leaning in on both sides, the river is such a sight to behold that you almost flip your phone out to capture it. But you know it will never be as beautiful as your eyes see it now, in this moment. So you enjoy what's left of it before the train whisks you to another sight.