Standing on the platform, it felt different from the other times I had travelled by train. Of course I was early, that’s a given in my family. I had a good 20 minutes to enjoy the Trivandrum sun after chaining my suitcase under my seat. The weather was surprisingly good; the stormy clouds of the previous day had drifted off, granting the city a brief reprieve from the pounding rain.
The coconut trees were swaying in the breeze as the family seeing off an elderly couple kept asking me if I would look after them during the journey. Though their constant questions were vaguely irritating, it felt good. I had only recently moved from the category of being looked after to being expected to look after others. The novelty had not worn off yet.
The first time I travelled by train, I was just over six months old. The old photograph shows an extremely chubby baby looking critically at something close by, possibly one of the vermin that inhabits these trains. I love that picture of myself. Infinitely less cute today, I don’t think I could hold back my smiles as I rode the train alone for the first time.
My jeans and thick top were perfectly warm for the strong wind I knew would come my way sitting at the window seat number 12. It was towards the back of the train, as far as I could tell, when we went along curved tracks and I could see all the blue bogeys ahead of me.
With just that couple and I in the compartment, it was amazingly peaceful, and the music I played was the only accompaniment to the dug-dug-dug-dug of the train. The playlist was rather random, based entirely on the songs’ capacity to put me to sleep every night. Imagine Dragons, the Lee Dewyze version of Hallelujah, Lips of an Angel, The Script, and Taylor Swift all make an appearance on my various “Sleepy” playlists. They fit most of my moods, including the laziness of being on a train. With nothing to do but read or stare out the window, music is a good complement to either.
Although the scenery outside is largely the same, every journey is different. The backwaters my mother loves never looked as good as on this November evening. Fighting off the urge to take a nap on the lulling train, the greenery outside turned into a blur. The sun began to sink, and the reflection on the sea was what I knew I had to see. It was worth the effort it took to stay awake. The spreading colours from the sun hit the water at incredible angles and it lasted an eternity.
I had to take my trips to the loo with my little backpack on. I left the bag with my cheese sandwiches, chicken cutlets and Appy juice behind. There was no chance in hell I was leaving my bag with all my money in the care of the dozing elderly couple next to me. A friendly feeling grew between the lady and me, she pointed out nice things to look at outside, insisted on sharing her Unibic cookies, and I smiled at her from my window seat on the windward side of the train. The window seat came with the lower berth, and suited me perfectly; I could rest in peace with my chained and padlocked suitcase, and footwear within my reach.
The noisy bunch of three men who got in at 9pm were typically annoying, making comments about why anyone would go to sleep so early, something I chose to ignore. Secure in their little nearly middle-aged gang, they talked for a long time but the music in my ears drowned them out as I lay on the lower berth. The morning was equally uncomfortable, my desire to thwart them left me lying down for a lot longer under my cozy brown-and-white-striped sheet than if they weren’t there.
At some point in the night, another young woman got on and we shared a few smiles in the morning, and fewer words. She absorbed in her phone, with a flip cover and me with mine, but together we helped the elderly couple with their luggage when they got off the train at Cantonment the next morning.
Of course the train was late, but not quite as much as it usually was, or so my mother said when I called her to tell her I reached City station. Staring out my window, I saw what I always see coming back from Trivandrum, and it doesn’t stay in my mind longer than the prepaid auto journey home from the station.
The images have blurred like the scenery, this journey has become just like the others I’ve been on. You meet the same people, have the same conversations, you forget their faces, and they forget yours. The brief camaraderie of delayed trains, the weather, and other minutiae fades, leaving you alone on the platform with your luggage, in a city you call home.