Around India in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh
Trains are fascinating almost everywhere across the world. But Indian trains are special. They are the world in themselves. A small little universe on the move where people spend time with strangers. Sometimes for days together and at the very least for few hours. Debutant author Monisha Rajesh, a foreign born daughter of Indian parents, who had spent a small stint in India earlier decides to go across India traveling in exactly 80 trains. From the bare minimal Mumbai locals and passenger trains to the ultra luxury Indian Maharaja and everything in between. This is what she documents in Around India in 80 Trains. She travels with a companion for the most part of the journey, as she is too scared to travel alone in India. Though I wonder if it really helped her in the end.
Being a south Indian and a part of India she is a bit familiar with, she starts her journey from Chennai. And then starts ticking off the train numbers as she moves across the country, with a wee bit more emphasis on the south. She had a few defined things that she wanted to do. Besides being in exactly 80 trains, like touching the four corners that the trains touched in the country in all four directions. And traveling in couple of luxury trains. And special trains like the world heritage trio of Kalka-Shimla, Ooty and Darjeeling trains and Lifeline express in MP. Everything in between had a rough overall plan but flexible enough to absorb any changes required.
By carefully choosing these mixes she presents the whole spectrum of trains that exist in India. I wonder if there is as much diversity in trains as well anywhere else in the world.
People that you meet in trains are the real element that intrigues one as a train traveler. You share a closed space with these people. See them eating, doing their daily chores and still trying to make an acquaintance with you. And try to help you with any problems that they may perceive you have. People from all kinds of background suddenly find themselves next to each other. As I read author’s experience of dealing with various co-passengers, her interactions, and her apprehensions, I got reminded of a conversation I had with a lady in Bangalore-Hampi train. And numerous other long trips during my student days. It is interesting that she sometimes gets help. Sometimes makes friends and most of the times get advised on what to do.
Her interactions with the railway’s staff that tell its own story are hilarious. With her companion Passepartout, she tells the tale in the first person and with a lot of herself in the story – sign of a good storytelling. Here and there she has given some trivia about Indian Railways. But at the end of the book, I wanted more of it.
What caught my eye through the narration that is more or less linear is the fact that at no point in time she faced any safety issues. A genuine fear that she had at the beginning of the trip. Having traveled in half of the trains she traveled in including the Deccan Odyssey and on many more routes, most of the times alone, all by myself, I always thought traveling by trains is the safest mode of travel. As both the trains and the railway platforms are very crowded places giving you a safety net. I am happy that Monisha’s journeys kind of re-enforced that. Of course, I am just ignoring the uncomfortable looks and remarks that you learn to deal with when you are out there.
Around India in 80 Trains is a light enjoyable read. A travelogue for those who know or want to know Indian Trains and the world around them.