Friday, November 29, 2013

Train journeys of yore

Undertaking a train journey during my childhood was like an adventure.  Let me slowly trudge back to the bygone decades to 'nostalgiate'.  We traveled from Mysore to Bangalore occasionally, because of many relatives there.  Sometimes we took the bus also, but trains have that 'something' special.  We traveled to Bangalore for various purposes.  From our house we would take a tonga [autorickshaws in the 1960s and 70s were only a handful] to reach the Mysore Station [right] which was just over a mile and a half away.  

The journey of eighty seven miles took four hours.  I have no idea how much the fare was.  Mysore Railway Station had only one platform, which was vintage. I found an old picture that was shared in "Heritage Objects of Mysore" group on facebook. Here it is:

 My grandfather Subba Rao used to pack a lot of clothes even for a 3-day trip.    Two pants and two shirts separate for the onward and return journeys.  It was because, in next to no time the clothes got blackened in the train.  Seats were wooden planks, painted light yellow.

Before occupying the seats, we would wipe the seats with something.  Yet, we would find all portions of clothing coming in contact with the seat or anywhere, blackened.  'Black magic'!  It justified my grandfather who always wore light coloured clothing having a separate journey set.  But we were no exception either.

Tracks were metre-guage and the trains were pulled by coal-fired steam engines.  It is well known that burnt coal produces a lot of smoke. Fine particles of invisible coal ash would be all over the train, but 'black magic' was inevitable.

Traveling with my grandfather was exciting more because he was my favourite and also for his fascinating old-time stories that he 'nostalgiated'.  I used to ask for the window seat.

Glass window shutter and the rain/sun protection shutters were quite heavy and were held up with a crude stub.  The construction was quite crude and the bogies looked old too.  When the train rattled quickly, the vibrations would cause some loose shutters to slip down past the stub and fall with a thud.  Sometimes it fell for no reason too!  We used to hear incidents of passengers' hands getting injured by them esp. children. So we were advised to be careful not to keep the hand at the window base.  Those who were drowsy would wake up with a jerk when such a shutter fell suddenly!

When the wheels of the bogey passed over the rail joints there was the continuous tak-tak....... tak-tak sound throughout the journey.  It was so hypnotic that the sound kept ringing in the ears for quite a while, post journey.  We also felt as if the bodies were slightly swaying left to right.   These were the brief after-effects for a journey even this short.  Longer the train journey, longer these funny effects lingered.

Looking out of the window was a joy, but many times small cinders of coal flying out of the engine's chimney landed in the eyes.  "Do not rub the eyes." they would instruct. Someone would remove it from the finger-tip or blew hard into the eye to get rid of it.  When it was quite tiny, the corner of a folded handkerchief was the tool.  It dampened the joy of window-seat travel for the rest of the journey, because the eyes would become red and burned.  The thick black smoke spewing from the engine chimney added charm to the scenery.  Without smoke, like this, the picture would not be complete! At times there were red-hot cinders in large numbers 'whooshing' up as well.  When the wind took it away from my direction, I was happy.

I was very curious of going near the engine when we had time before boarding the train.  Feeling the heat radiating many feet was itself a small thrill.  The engine drivers, usually two, were blackened entirely and their skin shone due to sweating.  What a tough job I used to wonder. There were some clock-like meters that displayed something.  It was great to watch how they would use a huge spade to pick up coal from the huge container behind the engine and throw it into the oven. When the whistle was tested, the driver would pull some wire at the top..... my hairs would stand on end and was watching when the whistle blew 'koooo.....koo'!  Then some steam would escape from another outlet next to the engine chimney.  Great fun!

In recent years there was one popular man selling groundnuts [peanuts] on the train.  In the earlier days, vaguely I recall fruit vendors who hopped on at the stations on the way.  Coffee and tea were not sold on board in those days.

We have seen trucks and cars being pushed by people to get them into motion, but not trains.  Wait.  Hear this amusing real story of my grandfather fondly narrating how train passengers got down and pushed the slowing train up a steep gradient.  He would start his story as soon as the train picked up speed a couple of miles ahead, to gather the momentum required to cross the  upward gradient, going towards Bangalore. He knew from his journeys over many decades perhaps dating from the 1920s that we were nearing that gradient.  In fact when the broad gauge was made a few years ago, this gradient was taken care of.  It was somewhere near Ramanagara. In my grandfather's time when the engine's HP was lower, many times, he used to say the train stopped.  That is when the passengers got down and pushed it forward till it crossed the gradient!!

Whenever we got close to Srirangapatna, my grandmother was ready with a coin. She would give a coin to me also, for 'offering' it to River Goddess Cauvery [Kaveri].  We threw the coin out of the window to the river when the train was passing on the bridge over it.  It was fun following the trajectory of the flying coin till it touched the water, by which time, the train would have passed a long way. I also enjoyed the hollow sound the train made with the air as it passed on the bridge.  Took this picture recently when the train was on the bridge.

People used to carry water in glass bottles.  These bottles sometimes broke when it fell and made a dangerous mess with water and broken glass on the compartment floor.  Pre-plastic days, you see!

My grandmother used to carry her drinking water in a brass vessel with a handle.  There was a perfectly fitting brass cup underneath, placed at the neck. The handle-lid is screw type.   I cannot remember exactly the luggage she carried, but I vaguely recall that it was a sort of basket containing her saris.   My grandfather used to carry a kit bag or a suitcase.  In days still older, the only luggage was steel trunks of different sizes, which we now use as storage trunks. Imagine the days when they used to carry them for those journeys!

The train would stop at every station for a short while. Srirangapatna, Pandavapura, Mandya, Maddur, Channapatna, Ramanagara, Bidadi, Kengeri and then reach Bangalore.  Maddur Station was famous for its Maddur Vada and people would flock at the platform counter when the train stopped briefly.  But there are many instances of people having missed the train at Maddur while engrossed in eating! My grandfather's cousin Chandu was one.  This was another of my grandfather's stories.

Outside the Bangalore Railway Station we would look for an autorickshaw - they were in great numbers there.  We would ask him to take to "Tata Silk Farm", a famous landmark in Basavanagudi.  That was the southern end of Bangalore then.   We 'pitched tents' almost invariably in my aunt's house there.  Depending on the programme the return journey was either by train or by bus as buses were more frequent.  "Non-stop" buses [the board mentioned it] had become popular.

We also went to Nanjangud by train.  It is 'nostalgiated' in a separate post. 


Susan Hirneise Moore said...

I could feel and see the black sooty grit, as I read this post, Dinu! Great job!

tamsen williams said...

Hi, have you seen other brass vessels like those your Grandmother used to have? I have just found one going through some stuff and I was wondering if you know of any significance this style of container has or what era/country they are related to.