June 25th, 2018 by Ishleen Juneja

If the Indian Railways were an insect, they would be Dragonfly. Carefree and whimsical, they are not affected by perishable concepts of punctuality or dependency. They operate to fulfil their own higher aspirations, to stand as proof that mysterious powers still run the Universe. We could number the trains, make schedules, have a driver holding their toy steering wheels, but nobody can ever own their spirit. No matter how many times it successfully plays the “arrival time” prank on us, I find it amusing how we fall for it each time anyways. As long as Indian Railways operate, dysfunctionally but satisfactorily, I will keep believing in God. How else do you justify this great institution with a fanciful mind of its own?

Confirmed berths in the A.C Compartment was not equipped enough to bring with it the realisation of the approaching train journey. That feeling came with Ma’s triangular Paranthas and Jeera Aloo packed neatly in disposable plastic boxes. Along with our usual luggage, we always carry a ‘food bag’. This sack contains in it a giant thermos bottle filled with water and ice cubes, a few packs of Uncle Chips, biscuits and boxes of mint, board games and the said plastic boxes. Fortunately, I was often allotted the task of carrying this indispensable piece of paraphernalia.

Charbagh Railway station in Lucknow is a fascinating place, to say the least. No matter what time of the day it is, the entire lobby is somehow filled with people attempting various versions of lying down while holding on to their children and luggage. Their trains probably took too long to decide what to wear and therefore, like patient lovers, these people waited while only dreaming of climbing their beloveds. After a long walk through the maze, we reached the designated platform. Papa and Ma took chances to guess where exactly on the track will our coach halt once the train arrives. However, watching the Chole-Chawal vendor attempting to get rid of flies, feasting on his food, made for a better visual.

Boarding the train is never as simple as it sounds. My dad has developed a strategy on how to best make the shift, putting his lifelong experience with trains into good use. According to the decided procedure, my mom and I climbed in first, followed by Papa processing all the pieces of our luggage, one at a time, into the train. This step, succeeded by two rounds of thorough counting of all the bags, was completed with dad making the final leap.

Finding your berth while being constantly nudged by over-helpful strangers is always a challenge. However, no mountain is high enough in front of the ‘seat review’ that follows once you actually reach your allotted berth. Reviewing your seats is like looking at potential flats to live in. You look at the people in your proximity, evaluate the distance between your place and the available facilities, check for electricity in the sockets by forcing your chargers in and double-checking the amenities that were promised to you by the seller. This review usually sets the level of cranky we could expect my dad to be during the journey.

After the chaining our valuable belongings to the seats, we proceeded to the most-awaited event of the night- the unraveling of my food bag. I can confidently say that there are very few things in the world which stand a chance in front of  Parathas gone cold eaten with greasy Aloo with a side of unexpected pickle.

Nights spent in trains are anything but restful. However, the chai-walas selling their tea out of water-cooler like dispensers in the morning make it all worth it. As soon as they set the bait with their luring voice shouting chai-chai, everyone simultaneously creeps out of their beds to assemble on the lower berths and indulge in a wholesome meal of Parle-G and tea. This is also the only time of the trip where it is acceptable for children to have potato chips for breakfast and I exploited this opportunity mercilessly.

The last 20 minutes of our journey were spent standing in front of the gate, waiting to disembark with our now unchained gear. This was the only way of keeping Papa calm as he had no faith in our ability to act promptly once we reached our destination.

After getting off, all three of us collectively experimented with different versions of the basic lift-your-hand-up Yoga stretch while also collectively failing.

Also, did I mention how fascinating a place the Chandigarh Railway Station is?

About Ishleen Juneja

Moody and Opinionated, you will often find Ishleen explaining why she is right. She gets cranky and violent when overworked and firmly believes that she is hilarious. She is a staunch Feminist and is rather creative when it comes to planning murders. Studying Literature, she leads a joyous life.