May 20, 2008

Tales on Rails

(Here's the script I used for Project 3 of Toastmasters at the Chennai Covansys Toastmasters Club [CCTM]. Won the Best Speaker prize for this one too :-). Do read through and leave me your valuable comments)

Chennai’s sweltering summer is draining us all out!!! We’re all complaining about the rising temperatures!!! Summers – however hot they were – somehow always brought a lot of cheer and excitement when I was schooling in Bombay. Summers meant summer vacations. Summer vacations meant visiting my grandparents in Chennai which also meant the fun-filled 36 hours of train journey from Bombay to Chennai.

We have so many micro societies formed within society in general. Societies that get formed in residential colonies, societies at work, jogging track societies and the like. All of them have their own charm and personify a sense of belongingness. For me, the 36 hour train journey every summer was nothing short of a society on wheels.

Bus journeys are too short. Flights may get you frequent flyer points and pretty airhostesses, but traveling long distance by second class is one of the most entertaining experiences and I’m very sure all of you would agree.

We used to travel by the Madras Mail almost every year. We’re a family of five and the first thing that would be debated over before any journey would be the luggage count. We always had a minimum of 7-8 bags, plus of course the last minute additions like the big basket full of breakfast, lunch and dinner, the water can and an extra bag for all our footwear!!! Dad tried really hard to explain how one pair of footwear would be good enough for the two month vacation. Somehow that never worked with us.

I have come across a cross section of all sorts of people during my journeys. It’s like a stage on the move with people of all types making an appearance!!! As kids we would strike quick friendships with the other kids in the compartment and have a good time together. We would come up with interesting games to play - right from ‘who climbs up to the upper berth first’ to ‘count the tunnels as they pass’!!! As I grew up, I became more of an observer. Constantly munching something seemed to be every passenger’s delight and only pass time. We were quite a hotel-on-rails ourselves. The big basket had everything from yummy idlis for breakfast to packed tamarind rice for lunch. Not to forget the be all and end all of every South Indian’s meal – the curd rice – mum would have it all in place for us.

While traveling by train, you have just two interesting things to do… eating and watching others while they are eating!!! There was once this Gujarati family traveling along with us. Small eats and snacks are an absolute must for them. The ladies in the group actually prepared an elaborate bhel puri for their entire group – complete with all the ingredients. We had fun seeing them make it and they had fun as they ate it all up.

There was this other occasion when there were a group of Marwadis traveling to Chennai. They were busy playing cards throughout the journey. Never seen more enthusiastic card players after that!!! So much that after a while almost everyone in the compartment had joined them in their game of cards!!!

When we’re talking about train journeys, we just cannot overlook the vendors selling all kinds of stuff – right from eatables to toothbrush and toothpaste for the forgetful travelers. It would be an interesting sight to see little kids blackmailing their parents to buy them something from almost every vendor who caught their attention. I did that too, as a kid.

There’s this small town called Daund on the Bombay-Chennai route. This place is supposedly notorious for dacoits and train thieves. All the elderly men in the compartment would ensure that the window shutters are closed before sleep time. They would advice everyone else to be careful of their belongings. On one such night journey, when we were all asleep there was this thief who got in somehow. I was asleep on the middle berth. All of a sudden the train screeched to a halt and I woke up with a start to see this hooded person running away from near my berth. Apparently, Mr. Thief was trying to snatch my chain just as someone else who had been robbed had pulled on the train’s emergency chain!!! The entire compartment woke up. Some people tried to chase the thief. Others helped to check if everyone’s belongings were safe, while a few others offered to stay awake and keep vigil for the rest of the night.

The best part about all these journeys would always be when we reached Chennai. No matter how absurd our first impressions about our fellow travelers were, we would have struck quite a few good friendships through the journey. I’m surprised about how we would feel sorry to be parting after that brief stint together. But that’s the way it is. We tend to gel beautifully with our co-passengers on the move. Irrespective of where they’re from or what religion they follow. Wonder what makes it so difficult to respect and accept people as they are in the journey of life!!!

Have we become an intolerant lot? People living together for decades just can’t stand each other now. The recent attack on north Indians in Maharashtra, the attack on Biharis in Assam and other similar incidents of regional intolerance are not something we would want more of. India has often been quoted as a burning example of unity in diversity. Are we failing to live up to it? ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum’ – is an ancient Sanskrit scripture from the Rigveda!!! Literally translated it means ‘the entire world is one family’. This term has been coined nearly 5000 years ago when nationalism as a concept didn’t even exist – leave alone regionalism. It surely subscribes to mutual coexistence and respect for each others beliefs and values. Think about it… can all of us together help make Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum a reality – train journey or otherwise?


Varun Arora May 20, 2008 at 3:17 PM  

kya itna lamba sa boring sa lecture likha hai.. u think ki sm1 vl read dis blog cum story...

Agent V,  May 20, 2008 at 6:33 PM  

Looks like you are the uncrowned queen in this toaster club ur speaking about. Great going... and a nice write up, took me to my train travelling days. Expected some interesting train-waaley crushes :P

S. Ravi Venkatramana May 20, 2008 at 9:01 PM  

Dear Priya,

Looking at the title, I thought you are writing a tech article on some open source stuff running on Rails framework. Glad that you didn't.

You have thought of well and made it crisp for a speech. Some bit of (dry) humour could've made it even better.

Given the way things are turning out, I think there will be a drop in the participation to speak from others but an increase in audience to listen to you. You are on the way to becoming an undisputed queen. Keep it up, kiddo!

Your article brings back some nostalgic moments when I had undertaken long distance rail travel as a small boy. I remember my train journey last May from Mumbai to Chennai to attend Vidya's wedding. I had mailed you in detail about that journey. On a lighter note, I would like to call it "Travails on Rails".

Keep writing.

- Ravi

Riishi May 21, 2008 at 10:18 AM  

Good one. Most of us who have traveled on trains, would associate with it.

So is the next blog on the ways you enjoyed the summer vacations :) .

Priya May 21, 2008 at 5:20 PM  

@Varun - itna boring lamba lecture huh?? well anything you look at on the last day of your exams looks like that... so enjoy the holiday, come back and read the article and am sure you'll have some nice things to say :-)

Priya May 21, 2008 at 5:21 PM  

@Agent V - thanx so much for the comment and am happy you could relate to it too :-)

About what you were expecting in the article, we'll do that offline :P

Priya May 21, 2008 at 5:24 PM  

@Ravi Sir - Thanks for the comment and the suggestions too.

@Riishi - Thanx a ton for the comment. I'm happy you came back to read my blog :-) Nice idea actually to write up something about the vacations.

AgentV,  May 24, 2008 at 7:23 AM i get it offline..what about the others :P. Guess in such a longish speech a few incidents of that sort wud have added spice :))

Bakri May 24, 2008 at 9:50 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bakri May 24, 2008 at 9:53 PM  

Oye girl! Nice post..

One topic i'd love to write on myself! :-) A topic i have been pondering since quite a few days! I loved the way you steered the context from the general observation u made abt people to the real crux and intent of the blog-entry..

‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum’ is something we as the alumni of our University have learnt..We've actually witnessed and practiced it being a part of Symbi and it's been beautiful so's kinda ingrained within us now.

And as far as the others are concerned, I am sure they have also practiced it without even realising it! It's irksome to see the way people are getting so intolerant..Honestly, i feel its just a handful of people like that.a vast majority doesnt really care!!


Priya May 26, 2008 at 11:25 AM  

@Namrata - Thanks a ton for the comment and your points of view about it.

Do write about your journeys too. Will be interesting to read them.

Like I had written, I used this script for my Toastmasters Speech which required the script to have a general and specific purpose. You picked that out correctly. :-)

Also, you're absolutely right about how Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum is a part of us now. I'm sure it's one thing we can always associate with post our Symbi experience.

About the people who do not care - I think it's high time they wake up and help bring about a change!!!

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