By Ramya Mathur
The Indian Railways make a peculiar sound. It’s hard to describe and harder still to duplicate. If you have never ridden on one of the blue and white trains (or brown), I cannot describe it for you. It’s sort of rhythmic thrum. A beating heart.
The sound always brings a smile to my face.
I can almost feel the sway and rhythm of the train when I listen to it now. The sound it makes as it picks up speed. The horn, as it blares a warning to oncoming trains and stations. The ‘whooshing’ of the engine as it cools down.
I never actively catalogued these things when I lived in India, but after living abroad for nearly 23 years, one of the things I miss the most are the train journeys.
Madras (Sorry, Chennai) — Bengaluru or Hyderabad — Guntur. We were always traveling on the Railways during my childhood. Packing a massive loaf of Nilgiri’s bread and jam and bottles of water to tide us over until we reached our destination. Buying tea and coffee in the tiny little plastic cups from the kids who travel in the train. My grandfather… who insisted on buying Indo-Chinese food for every single person in the party (and there were a lot of us) when we traveled once from Bengaluru to Calcutta on a trip.
Worrying when my father/uncle/friend would get down at a station to buy some food. Then the train leaves the station and they don’t show up in our car right away. The instant panic that bloomed when trying to guess if they had made it back to the train on time or not.
The memories just keep pouring in.
I found an audio recording recently of a train journey. Listening to it made me the happiest I have felt recently. And sad, too. Sad because I miss the feeling of sticking my fingers out of the barred windows, of drinking out of school water bottles packed carefully from home, making new friends on the train, blowing up train pillows, complaining about climbing up to the highest berth to sleep..
And just standing in the doorway of the train watching India pass by. The sound of the wheels picking up speed. I miss it all.