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Such a Long Journey...

Travel time again- pack your bags, check everything, lock the house. All the signs of travel anxiety begin to crop up as soon as I sit in the cab for the airport.

The journey mostly turns out to be an impersonal experience. Am lucky if I manage to speak a few words to other people in the check-in queue, otherwise it’s the mundane routine 1 hour of waiting at the airport with a cup of cappuccino and my phone.

As I started on another one of these mundane flights, it made me go back a few years when even the journey was an experience in itself. Flights were either a luxury or used if travelling in emergency. Low cost airlines had not flooded the market and the trains were the preferred mode of travel. We used to prepare ourselves for the journey with an extra bag comprising of air pillows, bed sheets, food for the way packed by mom (the ubiquitous poori sabji and pickle being the staple meal for most passengers).

The railway station in itself was an experience. The “station wali chai” had a distinct taste and is still used as a connotation for sweet, milky and over boiled tea. Reaching the station early would also provide entertaining experiences. Once, my train which was supposed to reach Delhi station at 6:00 a.m, reached earlier at 4:30 a.m (that too during the month of December!). Wary of taking an auto, considering the fog and darkness at that hour, I decide to spend a couple of hours at the station itself and leave only after sunrise. An amused coolie walked upto me and asked “Aap pehle aa gayin? Ladke ko pehle aane ke liye kehna chahiye tha.” To my chagrin, he had assumed that I was running away from home at that unearthly hour with someone and was waiting for my partner in crime!

And then there was this episode where we were literally chased away from the railway platform by a policeman for playing cards. It was Diwali time and with a lot of difficulty and huge expense I and my brother along with a friend of his had managed to get a seat on the train home. Since the train got delayed by 5 hours and we did not want to miss it by any chance, we decided to wait at the station amidst the thousands of others (for the first time I was scared of being killed in a stampede). We had a pack of cards with us and to while away time, the three of us sat on some newspapers on the platform and started playing. The policeman took us for some urchins who were gambling and chased us away with a danda!

While these may have been my maverick experiences, I am sure others too have some interesting tales to tell.

Within a few hours of boarding the train, people would have exchanged their names, professions, purpose of visit etc. Incidents of people being fed drugs and looted did not dissuade them and for a majority these interactions helped in making the journey interesting and memorable. During my college days, I used to travel by the regular 3 tier sleeper alone and though it may sound hilarious (or scary to some), tea was always a treat from co-passengers. Either the aunty with the two kids, the newly married bride, the fatherly professor, the chatterbox accountant-all these encounters provided an interesting anecdote to share along with my travel experiences.

In flights these days, when the baby on the seat ahead cries, co-passengers start squirming. People jerk their seats backwards the moment they step in forgetting that the passenger behind would have to squeeze herself in. Our patience has reduced drastically from the times when on long journeys the ends of a bedsheet would be knotted to the four chains of the berth to make a cradle for the baby. People would happily or noisily adjust luggage here and there but there always seemed to be space for everyone.

With the economic barriers fading, low costs, easy online ticket booking and better facilities, both trains and flights are now easily accessible and there is a huge diversity amongst the people travelling. But the journey in itself has lost its personality. With the growing hygiene consciousness, need for personal privacy and depleting sense of social adjustment, our enjoyable experiences during the journey are diminishing. Barely does one hear a group playing Antakshari any more. Home made food is quickly disappearing; station wali chai has now been replaced by the tasteless tea bags. As for the co-passengers, there is practically no conversation. Most of the times, we end up getting irritated with the conversation if any. Of course, the art of conversation in itself is changing meaning. Will get into that some other time.

When I boarded my current Air India flight, there were two old ladies ahead of me. Clad in typical Haryanvi ghagras, huge silver anklets and long drawn ghoonghat, they were clueless about this monster that they had entered. I couldn’t help smile when the air hostess gaped in surprise (or probably shock) while she checked their business class tickets. As I pen this, I just hope that the journey provided them an interesting experience to remember. It surely for once gave me a flight memory worth quoting…

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