The very mention of the train journey leads our twin daughters to jubilation and excitement. B +ve and O +ve look forward to train journeys as if we are going to a second home. Their reaction is like the brand ambassadors of the adage – It is the journey that counts, not the destination. For their interest lies in the train journeys, like none other.
The Railway Station
Our children love going to the railway station. Leave aside our train journeys, we go to the railway station to wave goodbye and say welcome to any of the family members that cross Secunderabad railway station. We wave to not just departing family members, but to all the passengers looking out of their windows and doors, guard, TTEs, pantry staff and sundry.
Even though the train has departed/is yet to come, we loiter on the railway station inspecting the escalators, sweepers, food stalls, trolleys, large rats scavenging on the tracks, leaking water pipes, pigeons and crows, and of course the stray dogs. The girls do want to have a peek inside the engine but the government staff does not believe in giving hands-on experience to children.
At times, we have taken food from home and gone to the railway station to have our meal. It has been a worth-while experience for our children just being at the railway station.
The train journey – Outside of the coach
We used to travel in AC class when the girls were young. However, after they turned two years, we realized that they are not enjoying the view behind the glass. So, we moved to the sleeper class / general class.
Whatever the girls see outside the moving train – trees, flowers, fields, crops, barren land, hills, factories, cattle, people, railway stations, dried river-beds, sky, birds and of course the garbage that accompanies the railway tracks – is a topic for discussion. The children want to know about each and everything that passes by and why it is the way it is.
Whenever the train has an extended stoppage at any station, we get down acclimatizing ourselves with the new place.
The train journey – Inside of the coach
The girls love to walk through the compartment. They are not comfortable crossing the coaches yet. They make acquaintance with the fellow passengers and run around merrily in the walking aisle. As I walk behind them, people get to identify me as the harried father of the two bundles of energy.
The girls love climbing up the upper berth. As they monkey around – up and down the upper berth, I end up standing in the aisle for an extended duration so that they do not fall in the moving train.
No matter what the Railways claim about the bio-toilets and the cleanliness drive, the wash-room is a big thumbs-down from the girls. Unless it is an over-night journey, they would not step inside.
The girls chant cha-chai coffee-coffee whenever the vendor passes by. We have tried out almost all the snacks – non-packaged and non-branded, bhel, vada pao, samosa, kachori, soup, cutlet, idli, vada and the local fruits that otherwise would not be available at our doorsteps.
The girls have seen the beggars at the traffic junctions. However, seeing the handicapped people sweeping the compartment and begging, women going around with medical files, people coming and singing yesteryears Hindi songs, eunuchs asking for money etc is a different experience altogether for the children.
At times, we have asked ourselves if we should change our mode of travel to shield our daughters from this experience. The answer has been – Indians ought to know India in all its avatars.
The games and the food
When we travel to my home-town Rajkot, it is a 28-hour train journey one way. All the above loses its sheen after the 18-24 hour time. Then, it is the time for the blocks, books, play-doh, activities that we carry along-with and of course the toys, that we buy along the way.
Needless to say, the children get hungry more on the train journey. We carry a good amount of food to keep their little tummies full.
Indian Railways is not at all an easy place to travel in with children. We have a tough time sleeping in the night with the two girls. The wash-room invariably stinks and the girls refuse to go. It was difficult feeding them and changing diapers when they were young.
Now, the girls are enjoying themselves in the train and at the railway station, come what may.
I suppose they have internalized the Indian Railways train journey.