The Poetry of Travel

The blog describes the changing landscapes through a train journey, and how attitudes, preferences, and choices have changed with the advent of technology.

The Poetry of Travel

The Poetry of Travel

The fast-moving high lane of internet, technology, and online streaming services has brought about a sea change in generation next. The change is not limited to communication and interaction but defines life’s goals and direction.  Now, it’s not about keeping pace with the latest technology and gadgets but rather how well one is integrated into technology.

Not many weeks ago, I accompanied a state athletics team to Warangal, a historical city in Andhra Pradesh.  The journey took us a little over twenty-four hours. As I puzzling observed my students completely engrossed with their smartphones and I-pads, heads bowed in sufficient reverence to the running application, gasping only when internet connectivity broke down for a nanosecond, my wavering thoughts took me back in time. I was rewinding to the sepia-toned era of the 90s when affordable economy class air tickets were still a far cry for many Indian families and the Indian air space was yet to be colonized by the private airlines. The only viable option for many families was Indian railways. If you were born in the late 80s, you’ll probably know the thrill and excitement of a train journey. It was the time when remote railway stations still sold candy-size, rectangular railway tickets made up of cardboard, and tea was sold in clay and mud cups, colloquially called ‘Kulhars’.  Music from the battery-operated transistors still regaled the audience and the long dwindling whistle of the train piercing the stillness of the air sounded like distant off-key musical notes.

Train journeys have been an indelible part of my childhood and growing-up years. I exactly do not remember when was the last time I traveled on the train, although my first train journeys used to be on the Jammu Tawi Express starting from Jammu in J&K and concluding in the city of Ahmadabad.

Every summer my family used to travel to Ahmadabad for the traditional visit due to maternal grandparents and other extended family members. The planning and preparations used to start a month before and as a young adolescent, I counted each passing day waiting for my breath. The train journey was the most adventurous part of the itinerary and it use to start with the sibling fight for the window seat. Getting the window seat was the measure of success for your train journey for those who wanted to miss the wonderful landscape and rare sights. The sunrise was the most eventful time of the journey, with the sun slowing ascending to its Zenith, its billion rays gradually filling up the sky with its iridescent hues splattered across the blue canvas. There was music in the landscape and poetry in every passing field.

As we crossed undivided states and quiet towns, each location would slowly relinquish its hidden chest of treasure. While passing through the northern belt, the landscape would turn into shades of golden brown. Sun-filled, golden-brown shafts of wheat would welcome us on both sides. In the midst of fields, flimsy skeletons with tattered human clothing meant to scare the birds would gleefully dance in the air, seemingly more overjoyed on seeing the birds.  The farmers and field workers could be seen busy as tiny colored dots harvesting their crops and pilling them into neat bundles. In other fields, farmers could be seen bitterly exhorting their bullocks to speed up before the sun rays could drain their crucial energy. Dotted along with him, would be his wife and a few other people, busy working the morning shift. In the middle of this golden arena, the human eye would catch sight of a dull ochre brick kiln billowing out columns of black smoke.

One phenomenon that always puzzled me was to see trees and poles bending backward as the train marathoned its way forward. It took me a couple of physics classes to understand the science behind them.  Another mystery for me was to decode why the two friendly railways tracks would converge briefly and then suddenly part ways. It seemed like two friends suddenly had a fallout and decided to go separate ways. The train journey was full of pristine sights, enigmatic adventures, and mysteries to solve.

As the journey would progress the rich biodiversity of Western Ghats would speak to every heart and mind. A veritable treasure house of a rich variety of flora and fauna, the towering luminescent green tress with the Sahyadri mountain range in the backdrop would challenge the senses. On a lucky day, we could catch a fluttering glimpse of lion-tailed macaque and Indian bison grazing far in the field.

My sister and I would try to keep a count of the numerous tunnels that we crossed and tried to scare each other during the ensuing pitch darkness. The sound of the iron wheels hitting the railway tracks compared to the hollow clang it made when it passed a bridge or a gorge would flare up the ears.

The long arduous journey would often culminate in strangers bonding over home-cooked food, sharing little anecdotes, and begrudging constant train delays. There was a smile on every lip and a song in every heart.

My reverie was broken when one team member from the athletics team asked me if I wanted to order pizza for dinner. For a split moment, I thought she meant to ask if I wanted to buy a pizza from the railway pantry.  Sensing my confusion, she quickly updated me that Indian Railways is now partners with a major Pizza chain and they deliver Pizza on the train. She was smart enough to give me additional information regarding their new app, where I just need to punch in my train number and station and could even avail a discount on my first train order. A hot cheesy pizza straight from the oven delivered right into your railway compartment. Clearly, that’s progress!

Now, there are no fights for the window seat. Texting, chatting, PUBG, Reddit, YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, Netflix, and Snapchat are the landscapes occupying the young minds. I realized that this generation would rather prefer sitting close to charging points with uninterrupted 4G connectivity being the gospel of the day.

For some strange reason, in the midst of all the clamor and din, I heard echoes of the tragic hero— Hamlet crying out “Time is out of joint” “Time is out of joint” meaning my world is not the same anymore and things are very different. Naturally, the train journey is tedious, the landscape is mundane, tunnels exist only in fiction, and strangers are just a crowd. Fortunately, I still carry within me, a relic of the past that has known the blessings of a non-digital age and boons of the cyber age. Which one is better, I’m still trying to find out.