Out of the blues, like the proverbial flash of a bright tungsten bulb above the head, I realized today that every house I have lived in in
has been close to a railway line. Not out of design, I must say. But nevertheless, I have loved listening to the train blow its horn, sometimes when the night’s not so young, sometimes when my evening’s just begun. Sometimes, when there is still some light left, the annoying horns from vehicles hurrying home drown the sounds of the train about three streets away. But if I close my eyes and strain my ears, I can still hear them. Strangely, the sound of the train has always been soothing for me, in all the houses I have lived in, here in the city. Bangalore
Perhaps it reminds me of journeys; now I don’t have to write again how much I love those! Perhaps it reminds me of life itself, of how you are constantly meeting new people like when you step onto a train, like how you get along with some in your compartment while others annoy you, like how you cannot wish away the latter, like how some stay with you till the end of your journey while others get down after a few hours. Much like life, wouldn’t you say? Or perhaps it is to me one of the very, very few constants in the last five and odd years, given that the sound of the train is something I have waited for and listened to, even when I was caught in whirlpools of change in each of the houses I have lived in, here in the city.
As these thoughts drifted by my mind, I suddenly remembered one night somewhere in
West Bengal about one and odd years ago. A mild kal baisakhi had scared the hell out of a bunch of us returning from a trek in the Himalayas. We were in a car, crushed together, highly uncomfortable, being driven to Kolkata by a mad driver who kept nodding off to sleep (gasp, now that I think of it!). At some point, I woke up with a catch in my neck and looked out of the window. Along side the highway, with few stars up above and village lights far, far behind, a train’s headlight, coming from the opposite direction, pierced the night. The driver blew the horn and our small car’s light lit up the night just enough for me to make out a little more of the train’s length. The light, and the sound of the chugging and the horn, out of the deep dark countryside night, remains my most favourite image of trains.
I did a story once, when I was working with The Times of India, about a bunch of people who were members of the Indian Railways Fan Club. I learnt then that there is actually a code for how the train drivers blow the horn, one that means the train is about to leave the station, one that means it is ready in the next few minutes. I no longer remember which kind of horn means what though.
Here is that story. Reading it, I felt like it was written by a different person! I can’t explain this, but often I read something I have written a long time ago and wonder if the words really came out of my head. I wonder whether this happens to others who write as well.
Ah, there it is, almost as if on cue. I hear the train again.