Come on…quick…don’t be scared, Solapur is a water filling station, half an hour to go
And so the day would begin. The Madras mail left Mumbai at midnight, and this was the first thing I would hear the next day, with my father prodding his scared son to leave the confines of the great carrier that is the Indian railways.
Summer vacations invariably meant heat, mangoes and trips to madras. I used to love travelling by trains, I still do. I’m a complete sucker for trains. There is an irresistible romance associated with train journeys that flights just can’t make up for.
And we always took the madras mail, even though it took 30 long hours to cover the distance between home and a city very very close to home(not geographically, of course…of all the insanities that one could attribute to me, geographical incorrectness is not one of them). The train would speed through the fertile landscape, cutting across states, blurring views, relentlessly southeast. Solapur would be followed by Gulbarga, and the names of the stations would no longer be in comforting Devnagari, but in alien squiggles. Karnataka would pass by in a blur of a small novel and lunch. Andhra was always dreaded because of the heat. The landscape was unforgiving as well, barren parched earth, clumps of trees. Here and there a farm would exist, defying the lack of water and the killing heat, shoots of rice swaying to the trains slipstream. Crossing over the Krishna and Tungabhadra granted views of sandy expanses, dry riverbeds and occasional relics, sure to be submerged with the oncoming monsoons.
Another thing that would occur would be that chaiwallas no longer served chai, but coffee. South India slowly began, Hindi would be replaced by a patois, of Telugu and Tamil. Rotis would be quickly consumed and curd rice would be the main course. Onward we would go, Cudappah and Renigunta and finally Arakkonam in the wee hours of the morning. The train would suddenly bustle with the eagerness of people to leave the train. Groggy eyed, I’d embrace the hot morning air (only in Madras, can even the mornings be hot). And near basin bridge, the inevitable stench of sewage, as the train pulled into central. Sunrise and I’d be bear hugged by any aunt, (who had managed to wake up by then). Madras. Marina. Grandmom’s. Cousins. A whole month of fun. Aah…nostalgia.