Railway Blues

Posted on November 20, 2016 under Storytelling with 2 comments


Our porter was an awesome guy


“ I hear that train a ‘comin, it’s rollin round the bend,

And I ain’t seen the sunshine, since I don’t know when”

Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash

There’s something magical about a train ride. When I was a child, passenger trains were a convenient and efficient way to get from small town to small town and city to city. It seemed like every community had a train station and every one of them looked identical… and they had character. A big thrill for those of us who loved hockey was to get on the train in Antigonish and travel to Montreal to see our beloved Montreal Canadiens. But sadly, times change and many of our people moved away to find work, leaving passenger train service all but extinct.

So it was with considerable interest that I was told that I would be taking a long train trip in Southern India as part of my volunteer work. I would be joined by a colleague from work who is from India, providing me great comfort , as my Hindi isn’t up to snuff.

It was also tinged with a bit of trepidation as I thought about some of the stories I had read about train travel in India. I imagined railcars packed to the roof with hordes of people, with fetid air and possibly even animals. However, India is an economy in transition and the fastest growing economy in the world and I was hopeful that the trip would provide me with many pleasant memories.

I got off to a very bad start. The night before the trip I was out with friends who helped me pick out appropriate attire to wear at an Indian wedding. We went for dinner afterwards and by the time we got back home, it was well past my bedtime. After a long and stimulating day, topped off with spicy food, sleep was at a premium. Truthfully, I barely slept. The thoughts of a full day at work followed by an  11 hour train ride were not pleasant thoughts.

The plan was to leave work, get to the station in plenty of time, have a leisurely dinner, board the train and have a restful journey. Sounds good on paper. During the day, I went and got some snacks at the grocery store just to make sure that we had something to nibble on. Just before the checkout, I grabbed a couple of old standbys: a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter.

We dialed up Uber and headed out into rush hour traffic.

The notorious crush of cars, taxis, buses and motorcycles moved along at a snail’s pace. The air seemed more polluted than usual and the incessant clamor of beeping horns brought on a medium sized headache . It’s somewhat disconcerting when the driver of the cab puts on the emergency brake in the middle of a major thoroughfare… four times. This means only one thing: gridlock.

After two long hours we arrived at the station. That’s when trouble struck. The Uber driver had lost cell phone service and couldn’t calculate the fare. I must tell you that my traveling companion is a strong willed, independent minded individual. I knew the driver didn’t stand a chance. It turned into an epic Mexican standoff with each of the participants holding their ground. Crafting the Middle East Peace Accord was looking like a better bet. Meanwhile, our window of opportunity for securing a much needed meal, had expired. And if I didn`t soon get food, I might expire too.

We entered the station, checked the departure board and made our way to gate number 5. Those of us with bad backs know that fatigue exacerbates the condition. With the extra bags of groceries, computer, suitcase and backpack, I had all I could do to navigate several flights of stairs, both up and down, to reach our destination

I was somewhat embarrassed that I could offer no assistance to my female traveling partner whose suitcase was the weight of two grown elephants.

Coming down the last flight of stairs, my heart skipped a beat. In what resembled the traffic mayhem that we had just exited, a throng of humanity clamored to get on the train. Our train was heading south. I thought, “Please let this be a north bound train.“ Not  a chance. I looked around to see where they kept the straight jackets. Mercifully, this was our train but it was not our car.

We eased down the aisle and after a seat swap, found ourselves sitting together eating the most wonderful peanut sandwiches known to mankind. And the two seats beside us remained empty for the first part of the trip. Whoever you believe your god to be, she was on our side as we had the luxury of space, something that seems to be at a premium in India.

The clackety clack of steel and rail lulled us into a state of peace.




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