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December 9, 1997


A manager at the pantry car!
Riding the 6339 Dn
... a journey home on the Nagercoil Express

A Ganesh Nadar

Bombay is a throbbing, pulsating city. Even after you leave it, it takes a week for the heart to slow its beat.

As usual, I had to thread my way through umpteen traffic jams to get to the Victoria Terminus.. er.. -- sorry, it has been renamed! -- the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. I had to give the cabbie Rs 1 in change. I did not have it. He unleashed a tirade of abuse, ending with "I've lost hundreds of rupees because people conveniently do not carry change." I wondered aloud why he didn't carry change himself.

A map by Dominic Xavier It was 11.45 am. The station wasn't crowded. VT, with its Gothic facade, is usually a giant sea of humanity. But, then, most trains out of Bombay leave in the night. The announcement board was up to its usual pranks. It indicated that the Nagercoil Express would leave from platform 13.

But when I wound my way through the crowds and red-coated coolies doing balancing tricks with their luggage and reached platform 13... surprise, surprise... a train from Howrah parked on that platform.

As I was leaving the platform, the ticket collector wanted to check my ticket. I told him I wasn't arriving, but wanted to leave. He told me that the train was on the next platform.

A tender coconut break The Nagercoil Express was crowded as usual. But, surprisingly, not with hangers-on who come to send off their friends/relatives. Usually Tamilians make a point of arriving in hordes to see off a solitary relative. But one couldn't blame them today. It was a Wednesday morning. The relatives were probably in their various offices.

But I am a good Tamilian. I had declared that I wouldn't leave unless somebody came to send me off. So two of my friends were there at the station. They finished half my supply of mineral water.

I was shocked when the train started on time. I hugged my friends and charged into the train. I had a tough time getting in as quite a few guys -- some of those fond relatives -- were trying to get out. I managed to squeeze in and then turned around to wave good bye! My friends looked relieved.

The pantry car boys were onto us in a jiffy. "Lunch: vegetarian, 16. Egg, Rs 18. Chicken, Rs 32." I ordered a vegetarian meal. I wasn't up to digesting chickens or their eggs…

Lunch preparations on at the pantry car I love travelling on trains with pantry cars. The fragrance keeps you guessing as to what's cooking. Have you ever paid a visit to one of these cars ? Those boys are pros at slapping up perfect omelettes as the train lurches along at 75 mph.

It took the train a full hour to leave the suburbs of Bombay behind and another 45 minutes to reach Kalyan. Normally, it takes an hour. But I guess they were trying to make up for the fact that we were already late. Well-begun is half-done.

At Kalyan, the station vendors let out a chorus, "Vada pav, sanddddd… wijh, chai."

A Higginsbotham book stall, a favourite at every stationAt Lonavala, their chant changed to was "Aam papad, chikki". Lonavala is famous for its chikki, a kind of candied peanut fudge.

The Western Ghats were a beautiful, bright green since the monsoons had just ended. As a kid, I used to count as the train slowly passed through 23 caves in this section of the ghats. The train swooped in and out of the darkness 23 times. Now, they seem to pass much faster. Maybe trains travel faster these days.

Photographs by Ganesh Nadar. Map by Dominic Xavier.


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