Ninaivugal by Srividya

Blog post by Srividya Bharatrajan

How rightfully it is said that childhood memories remain with us for a lifetime .It becomes a part of us and we hold on to the good memories with great fondness.

I have always associated the word journey with a “Train journey” since for me as a kid holidays meant visiting our native place and the journey to the native place down south meant travelling by train for 2 days.

Today as I am keying in , once again my mind is flooded with the beautiful memories of travelling by the great Indian Railways. I loved to watch the changing landscape as the train chugged from one state to another. The dry arid regions, the lush green forests, the changing terrain, rivers flowing with current,the dry river beds, farms with crops swaying in the breeze , the night sky with millions of twinkling lights from the houses all visible in a single journey of 2 days!!.Isn’t this someway similar to the changes that occur in this “journey of life”?

As a young girl I would love to watch from the window the view after the sun went down and the night set in . As the train would speed ahead , no change in terrain would be visible except for the tiny innumerable lights that dotted the land ( light bulbs from houses) with cool air touching my cheeks. I would wish for the view to continue without a change. But that is not possible. Similarly only the good times cannot continue in life too I guess.

 I spent my early growing up years in Allahabad and Delhi. Those were the days when vacations were meant to be enjoyed, play outside with friends instead of attending summer camps. We were actually” avathu vittai kazhadais ” during the entire summer holidays.

 I have very fond memories of my summer vacations when we would visit our relatives house and Thatha, Patti & attai’s home in South India. Travelling by train all the way from Allahabad or Delhi to Trichy involved changing trains at Madras , ( I would not prefer to write Chennai but would instead write Madras as that is what it was called then!) and taking another train for the onward journey to Trichy. It used to take three days to reach our grandparents home.

 As kids the “koo rayil ” travel excitement would commence the day the tickets were booked. We are three siblings and we would immediately announce as to “naan mella berth la ratri thungaven” . The one who announced first would always want the upper berth . There would also be announcement of ” yennaku first window seat” !.

 The ticket used to be of thick cardboard and small in size , ( like the one that pops out in a coin operated weighing machine in a railway station ). It was also a time to look forward to weighing oneself in the coin operated machine at the station and read the forecast with an actor/ actress pic on one side. That card that would come out of the machine mentioning the weight will be preserved by us!!

 A Paanai ( earthen pot) too would be a part of our luggage . Travel was by normal non ac coach and we never ever felt of cribbing or grumbling about the heat.. Amma would carry idlis with molaga podi smeared on it, lemon rice,tamarind rice, curd rice, vadams and oorgai in a stainless steel carrier. The food used to be consumed in the order of their shelf life on the first day as some items seekram oosi poidam. From the second day it was food available in the different stations that were bought. Water was refilled in the surai in a station. When we drank water Amma would say” tumblera yechha panni kudikadai, thooki kudi.”

We never bothered about using a hand sanitizer, dettol soap or mineral water. Life still went on without any illness.
We would play a game of cards, ludo, snakes and ladders . The co- passengers too would become our friends and play with us. A bonding happened during the course of the journey.

 I loved to watch the changing landscape as the train chugged from one state to another. Somewhere without our realizing it a learning process was happening simultaneously. We were actually visualizing the physical features of the land , be it plains,rocks., rivers, plateaus, valleys,vegetation and like a sponge every detail would be getting lodged in our memory.

 Even we learnt about food, snacks, fruits that were special to a particular place when the vendors would hop in to sell their items at different places. It was also a learning about the different outfits worn by different people in India during our journey from north to south or even vice versa.

 Getting to learn how to use the Railway timetable book was fun. We would keep asking Amma and Appa as to ” ippo yenna station vara poradu?  We learnt about big stations being called as ” junctions”.
We would pass by tunnels,rivers, thick vegetation. , bridges.
Throwing coins into the river was another fun activity that we looked forward to.  The innumerable trips up and down the ladder would be so thrilling when trying to reach from one level of berth to another.! Amma would say ” jagardai, kai kaala odachakadengo, konjum odambu la bayam bhakti oda irungo. “

 It was a time to bond, learn, spend more time together , play, watch the world outside.
The ” Jayanti Janata express” ( Allahabad to south) and ” The Grand Trunk Express” ( Delhi to Madras) have left their imprint in my mind.
On nearing Madras , we would sing the song ” Madras nalla Madras”& would keep asking Appa ” innum yevalavu time bakhi iruku station varathuku?”

Our relatives would be waiting at the station to receive us and would give home food packed for our onward journey to Trichy. Sometimes it even meant changing station in Madras.
We would bid goodbye to the surai in the train itself which had helped us in giving chill tootham to quench our thirst in the summer heat.

 From Trichy it would be a bus or bullock cart to the village where my thatha , Patti stayed. We would sing the song ” mapalai vandaan, mapalai vandaan maatu vandilei  , ponnu vandaal , ponnu vandaal potti vandilei song”

 We never felt the journey tiring or boring. These are memories that are etched in my mind and I cherish them.

 At the same time it sometimes makes me wonder if the current generation is missing something like this? Because for them vacations and travel both have taken a new different meaning!!

Travelling as a family was so much fun.
Not that travelling now is not fun with my family, kid . But there is a difference- I am a parent now with a kid. The role reversal is definitely very different I believe.
In this journey of life I do intend to undertake more fun filled journeys with my loved ones .I can definitely be a kid at heart if not by age to relive those moments of childhood once again!!

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24 thoughts on “Ninaivugal by Srividya

  1. A very nostalgic trip down memory lane, Srividya… Your writing is very professional indeed… almost as good as Preety Shenoy….Reading the blog made my day.. Thank you…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Varadarajan sir, just thought of mentioning this- my another article ” ancestral house” you can read on this blog ( 23rd april 2016) . I once again thank the admin for posting my articles.

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  2. A very descriptive writing Srividya!!
    I loved every bit of it & could actually visualise my train travel from Bombay to Chennai during summer vacations!
    1 week munnadiye packing would start …checklist oda..tick tick adichindu..such great excitement to travel by train..we used to carry a plastic water can..and refill it in junction water taps.. 🙂 along with aathu saapadu..in stell dabbas ofcourse!!
    No mobile, no GPS..no tracking on phone..appa was the whole & sole person whom we used to torture..ippo enna station vara poradhu…enge reach aanom nu..
    What an experience..& this is making me nostalgic..
    Train aada aada thookam varadhu..train window lerndhu etti engine lerndhu how far is our bogie nu parkardhu…berth & window sandai..station la appa yerangina..window lerndhu appa va seekarama vara sollardhu..illai na train start aayidum nu bhayam..T kaaran, vadai kaaran..
    My appa will always have tea in train..chai daan nanna irrukum vandila..Kaapi madras poyi aathula koodikkalam…he used to say..
    Our kids are really missing this fun….now due to time constraints & leave approvals..our main intention is to save time..so always flight travel dhaan..but still..even today I yearn to go by train.. Train Travel is the best..
    Thanks Srividya for this wonderful lively post!!
    You made my day!!

    Love
    Kavita

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    1. Thankyou Kavita that you could relate to it, I too could relate to all that you have mentioned :-)). Some experiences like these make me wonder and realize life was simple and equally enjoyable !

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    2. Most of the people who travel or likes to travel always prefer train journey. Why? It offers plenty of opportunity to have interesting experiences, to meet different people at different stations and whether your stomach is full or not , one liked to get down to munch or sip whatever is on offer. it was also exciting. Nowadays we don’t to get to hear a long piercing sound of the whistle from the guard of the train before the start of the journey and equally a long steam whistle from the big gleaming steam engine and it was very wonderful when it began to pull the carriages slowly and you begin to hear the steady rhythm of carriage wheels on the rails ( “Thadak Thadak”) and the rhythm and volume increased when the train picked up speed which lulled us into half sleep, half awaken state and you woke up with a jolt when some bundle fell upon you from the upper luggage rack due to sudden jolting of train and with sheepish grin the gentleman sitting opposite to you mumbled ‘sorry’ and picked up the bundle and also picked up some conversation; ” Sir, endha Oorukkuku Porapple?” and you replied ‘Mayavaram’ and suddenly the gentleman squealed an exclamation stating that he was born and brought up there and asked you ‘Mayavarathle Evvide?” and you said ‘Pattamangalam Street’ and then began mutual camaraderie which resulted in sharing of eatables and coffee and when the destination arrived you took leave of that gentleman promising to keep in touch regularly and promptly forgotten him immediately when you stepped outside the station….Hmm… that’s life..sorry, I am rambling, nice reading your rejoinder which is equally interesting as that of Ms. SriVidya’s–The fun is totally missing in flights when you have to sit among persons who have stiff upper lips and look at you as if you are from Mars!

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      1. Enjoyed visualizing the falling luggage , the conversation that takes place thereafter with copassenger, the rhythm of the carriage wheels on the rails., munching what is bought in stations. I also remembered one more sound_ ” kaapi kaapi sooda sooda kaapi nd idli vadai , idli vadai ” on Railway stations in South. Nice to go back in flash back mode 🙂 Also the Kari from the steam engine could be felt – during Kai kaala alambika poradu with soap immediately after reaching house.
        I recollect there used to be a TV serial in Hindi on doordarshan called ” yatra” (sometime in mid 80’s) . I used to love watching that serial

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        1. It seems your original narrative of the train journey has ‘provoked’ several responses from several people which goes to show how we all love ( and loved) train journeys with all the Engine’ Kari anointed at the wrong places ( “Kattele Poravane! Jannal vazhia Etti parkadhe nnu Ethana Thadava Sonnen..Ippo Udambu poora Kari, Unakku ‘Sunlight’ soap dhan layakku, Appadi kariyai Appindu Vandhurukkan…( Patti Ippadi Solvale thavira Vanjaiyudan Kuluppatti viduval, Aana, Azhkku poga mudugai Thechu Vittadhinale ( Turkish towel) Konja Neram Mudugellam Eriyum!)–And your narration of the coffee/tea vendor ‘marketing’ his ‘merchandise is apt.( In those days when we travelled by ‘Boat mail’ from Egmore , Vizhupuram Jn. will come at dead part of the night, and the ‘T’ vendor will pronounce T, T,T ,…in his sonorous voice and the half awake and half sleepy passengers will buy that not so hot liquid. Once I observed that the vendor, carrying an aluminium vessel with tap, was selling Tea and one sleepy passenger from the upper berth squeezed his head out and asked “Coffee irukka?”The tea vendor ,without batting his eye-lids ,coolly served the tepid warm liquid from the same container from which he was selling tea, served the same terming it as coffee! That was adroit salesmanship at its best! –Thanks for the response..

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          1. “T” sounded also this way ” chaaya , chaaya ” nd also for some soft drinks it would be “coool drinks , coool drinks ” with a tring tring sound made by the bottle opener on the glass bottles.! There is lot to write if one starts remembering the travel experiences by good old Indian Railways !! A Coolie also was an integral part of our journey as yepavom naraya saaaman would be there. Having graduated from trunks & holdalls to suitcases & now with further graduation to strolleys , a coolie’s assistance in carrying luggage is not availed by everyone anymore. He would walk fast with luggage on his head and someone was required to match his steps to trail behind him.:-)).Amma would say “avan mella oru kannu vechakon, romba fasta nadapan avan” . Searching for our name in the chart stuck near the door of the coach was another thing to look forward to! During teenage years apart from our names one would also try to look at the chart to check if someone of our age group or a youngster was a copassenger!!

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            1. Yes, that’s true, the ‘tring’ sound of the bottle opener on glass bottles is part of our ‘sound’ journey whenever the train stops at stations and one has to appreciate your keen sense of observation. And it is also true about the red-shirted coolie-porters who disappear in the melee with our luggage ( One has to wonder his dextrousness while he carried all the heavy suit cases on top of his head at the same he carried all our inconvenient bag and baggage on his lifted hand which also protected the suitcases from falling down and he carried the water bottles, sarai,etc on the other hand). He was also an expert guide at the starting station ( say at Central), one was bewildered about the jostling crowd, maze of lengthy platforms and to find out the correct platform No. of our train ( which was susceptible for change at the last moment and the Railway employees were equally clueless when we were able to ‘establish’ contact with them at the rush hour!) as to when and from which platform the train is likely to start but our ‘red shirt’ always had the correct information at his finger tips and guided you correctly not only the platform but also located your correct birth number! That was another age and experience and as you have correctly mentioned , the ‘strolleys’ have come to stay. Nowadays, we miss the smell, sound and frenzy of travel as we are safely ensconced in air-conditioned carriages , barricaded from the outside world with tinted glasses of the carriage windows and we hardly hear , neither the staring whistle of the engine nor able to ‘wave’ to those who came to send us ‘off” and we realize that the train has started moving by hearing a gentle thudding sound from beneath the carriage ,presumably 23 rd coach from the engine. To-morrow is another day with new locales whizzing you past ( if your journey is over 24 hours, say for instance, from Chennai to Delhi) )and one looked forward to ‘Dheenshaw’ ice cream when the train entered Nagpur Jn. around 1pm.

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  3. This is a very fine piece of ‘travel writing’ I have come across in recent times and the flow of narration is like a gentle brook. I have experienced exactly what has been written by Srividya when I was young and two sentences…”..Eccha Panni kudikkadhe..Konjam Thookki Kudi….” and ‘..Eari erangi Kai Kaalai Udachukkadhengo…Udambule konjam Bayam irukkattum..” exactly what my ‘Patti’ told me when accompanying me in train journeys ( for, I lost my mother at my very young age and patti took care of me) and I will not hesitate to confess that a thin film of moisture clouded my eyes when i read those lines , to remember those words uttered 60 years ago).Srividya’s writing comes out of deep observation and keen sense of humour.May be she is an accomplished writer, I may not know, for, I have given up reading Ananada Vikatan Kalki, Kumudam long ago when they all turned into ‘Filmy gossip’ and published glossy photographs of film stars. Anyway , glad I came across this nice writing but Srividya has forgotten to write about one thing which my ‘eye’ did not come across but surely ,my eyes were red, at the end of the journey , because there was ‘kari’ in my eyes from the train engine when I frequently peeped out of the window seat! May God’s full blessings be with Sri Vidya and her family.

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    1. Thanks for that wonderful article. I too lived in Delhi during school years and every summer we used to head from hot Delhi to hot Madras whereas other classmates went to hill stations. We have mostly travelled only on GT express. I relived every incident described in the article. Thanks again.

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  4. Brings back great memories of my own summer vacation train journeys from Delhi to Trichy. It was my own Bharat Darshan — a slow, meditative experience — exactly as you have described. I am glad to have had that wonderful experience, and richer for it. Thanks for taking me down memory lane.

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