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06-2022

Getting on the train for the first time

Getting on the train for the first time in your life always feels surreal. It was in the 2000s that my tryst with the Indian railways swung into full force after I started traveling back home from Chennai during weekends. Entering a train compartment, making your way through people, luggage, finding your window seat, and savoring the view is enjoyable if you have a good imagination. There is always scope of extending the characters you meet in a train to full-fledged stories. The variety of situations and people you encounter on a train in such a limited area is varied and entertaining.

I would reserve train tickets on IRCTC for the next journey, the day after I returned to my office on a Monday morning. I had tickets for every second Friday and last Friday of a month consecutively for the next three months ahead!

Thanks to Chennai Mail and the innumerable trips taken from Chennai to Thrissur during those days, I have come to love the whistle of a train departure, the nameless and famous stations, the deserted and crowded platforms, the ubiquitous chai, kaapi calls, the hot potato bondas as snacks and the slipping of stations through the windows of compartments.

When I first saw the hit movie Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, I felt it was the ultimate romantic dream with a playful hero, Shah Rukh Khan, falling in love with a serious heroine, Kajol, after missing their train. Of course, the train stations Zweisimmen, Switzerland and King’s Cross Railway Station, London, where the famous scenes of Rahul catching Simran’s hand to pull her into the train, just as she’s about miss it, is another league altogether.

The railway romances would be incomplete without mentioning Mani Ratnam’s iconic ‘Alaipayuthey’ movie. The train stands witness to the budding romance and its aftermath between Madhavan and Shalini, the lead characters.

Ruskin Bond has beautiful stories set in steam-hauled trains, like ‘A night at Deoli’ and ‘Time Stops at Shamli’ which haunts the readers with stations that had no passengers to get off or get in. The great romance of the Indian railways will always haunt us with the melancholy of the passage of time. Ruskin Bond rightly said, ‘It isn’t time that’s passing by, It is you and I.”

Coming to our dearest UAE, it is no wonder that futuristic location scouts for ‘Star Trek beyond’ landed in Dubai Metro which is recognized as the world’s longest driverless metro network.

I am waiting for the day when Etihad Rail from Abu Dhabi to Dubai with its swanky coaches and stylish interiors will make its way to being a central character in one of Tom Cruise’s movies!

Feby Imthias is a writer based in Abu Dhabi and author of the book, Children of the Sun, Sand and Seas. Twitter: @Feby_Imthias

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