Thursday, September 23, 2010
Musical Train Compartments
One of the best things about taking the train from Dehradun to Delhi is the 20 minute halt in Saharanpur. ( I love the announcements at each station. They all say "The scheduled stop at XYZ station will be for two minutes only." At Saharanpur, they keep to the set formula but the number changes: "The scheduled stop at Saharanpur Station will be for 20 minutes only.")
20 minutes only.
20 minutes is all I need to walk a quick mile and a half, and since my day prior to catching the train is always too hectic for exercise, I never fail to make use of the opportunity. The moment we stop, I am out on the platform, headphones in place, striding.
It's a very interesting experience. Lots of men get off, but I haven't noticed anyone else walking. They all stand in clumps around their compartments, smoking and chatting. The Ticket Collectors confer importantly with each other, consulting their clipboards and fending off anxious passengers if it happens to be an overbooked day, the waiters fly back and forth from the food carts which stand waiting with dinner for the whole train and passengers arrive in varying degrees of haste, increasing as the departure time grows closer.
I just walk. Back and forth, back and forth, from the engine to the brake van and back again. Four rounds, five if I walk fast. Enough to take note of individual scenes - the sadhus in one corner, the children who seem to know the place as if it is their home.
There are whole worlds on the platform. People create their own little spaces in full public view and temporary inhabitants like me, who are literally passing by, feel small and insignificant in the face of a universe we can only observe from the outside.
But as fascinating as the world of the platform is, the train has its own logic. It's running on schedule; it's about to depart. I become more conscious of my 20 minutes only. Now my solitary walk up and down the platform takes on a sense of urgency and the door to each compartment begins to feel like part of a game of Musical Chairs: can I make it from one entrance to another before the train starts to move? I hurry the length of each compartment and slow to a crawl by the doors, straining for a glimpse of that green light at the far end of the platform, the visual equivalent of the music coming to a stop, signaling the end of the game.
The light changes, the whistle blows, I clamber on to whichever compartment I am standing beside and make my way back or forward to my seat. My world is moving on. The platform remains.