Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 4, Issue 10, Tuesday March 13, 2007


soul train

If you're looking for a fast and easy way to travel across the country, there's no better option than a bus ride. With all these new deluxe bus services offering you the modern amenities of air conditioning, on-road entertainment and snacks, they're definitely gaining popularity.

Nostalgic as they may be, train journeys are now being less favoured than buses, for a journey by bus takes a good few hours less than the same train journey between two points of the country. At one time, though, trains used to be the first priority for communication, and even though they are still number one among a lot of people, in the age where time is money, people prefer faster transportation rather than long journeys.

Even if the train journeys are longer than their bus counterparts, somehow a train journey exudes a much more personal feeling than any other long distance journey, especially if one is travelling on a train in Bangladesh.

A journey by train is more than just a trip; it is a story, a new chapter which is waiting for you at every corner, beginning right from the starting point, or the station. Whether you're standing in line to get tickets (unless you've given in to the pressures of modernisation by booking them online), or waiting for your train to come in, you find a vibrant stage where the first act of your story will be enacted. This stage is peopled with the most interesting characters, from the bustling commuters to the colourful vendors selling their different wares, to the inevitable beggars whining for alms, to the brisk porters, and the very air is charged with a myriad sounds, sights and smells.

Getting the ticket is the easy part, but the hard part, at least for me, was to find the train itself. Nonetheless, the initial setback was worth the hours of scenery that was waiting to be viewed. Personally I feel that the train journeys in our country are one of the best journeys that a person can have. Although living in Bangladesh has certain perils like blockades and what not, it also has certain advantages. The personal feeling arises in a train journey when you see that you can do whatever you like to do, especially cut down on the boredom of sitting on the seats, something that is not much of a choice in other modes of long distance transportation. With the luxury of smoking near the door of every carriage, and with a kid offering tea every now then, the door region can very well be turned into an adda place. The few times I did go on a train journey, I used to wonder why I bothered to buy a ticket, because for most of the journey, I was at the door chatting away relentlessly with my friends. Of course, that doesn't mean that you are allowed to board the train without a ticket, though.

The slow rush of scenery as the train passes through the villages and the wide expanse of the countryside is enough to make anyone ponder thoughtfully on the beauty Bangladesh has to offer. After all, staying in the city doesn't always make you appreciate the natural beauty that the country has, and a train journey is the perfect way to appreciate it.

As the train accelerates from the platform, the seemingly familiar tug or pull from the back seems real, and every time the train accelerates, this feeling somehow injects a new found enthusiasm that is quite hard to explain, but it feels great. In fact, nothing inspires a sense of nostalgia quite the way a train ride does, and countless film-makers have used this as some sort of symbol for homecoming or a return to roots. Consider Shahrukh Khan doing his trend-setting ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ routine on the roof of a train in Dil Se, or the internal monologues being carried out in the berth of the train in Ontorjatra.

As you move away from the station, it's fun to see everything slowly shrinking from view before finally dissolving into oblivion in the midst of its surroundings. The speed of the train is just right for the onrushing wind to be judged as comfortable, not the wild howling winds that emanate from the bus window, which are invariably so fierce that you can't even enjoy the country air. On this account, train journeys are certainly more pleasant. Following the old idiom 'slow and steady wins the race', I guess train journeys might not win any big races (at least not the Bangladeshi trains), but it sure wins the hearts of passengers. Nowadays, very few people of today's generation have travelled on the slow but steady contraption that has served as a prime transportation for the past many decades, but in my opinion, the train experience can only be experienced, never told and understood.

By Asifur Rahman Khan

set adrift on memory bliss

For me train journeys were like picnics. My earliest memory of such rides include those of my mother serving goodies from a wicker basket and my father pouring hot water from a chequered blue flask and dipping two tea bags to make a strong cup of hot tea. The moments were magical because I was always offered a cup and vacations were devoid of mom's do's and don'ts.

Food was an integral part of the journey. In fact the only thing we did was eat; from street food to homemade goodies to train food. With an entire jamboree of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, crammed together into two or three compartments, which was typical, such journeys were never lacking in munchies. There would be parathas and bhuna chicken, someone would bring the cream rolls and the cup cakes, and there was always a bag of Nabisco candies and Mimi chocolate bars, in their cute colourful wrappers, and the picnic commenced as soon as the train started.

Conversation bubbled and flowed through the compartments, peppered with jokes and laughter, and invariably someone in the crowd would become hungry every thirty minutes or so, and open a packet or a container which would then make its jolly way from hand to eager hand. My hot favourite was the train breakfast of cutlets, omelettes and toasts with fluorescent coloured orange wobbly jelly.

When the train reached a station my father would get down for two things; boiled eggs and a smoke. The ‘dimwalla’, who invariably had a muffler wrapped around his ears and neck and his oval basket packed with both good and rotten boiled eggs, attracted my father like a moth to light. The dramatics that followed were always a must-watch. My father would hold an egg up to his ear, give it a little shake, touch it to his cheeks to measure the right temperature, haggle about the price and quality and finally when the whistle would blow he would order a dozen or so for everyone. The entire time my mother would be trying to tell him that one of the gang had already brought boiled eggs, and I'd be fretting that the train would leave without him.

Childhood memories are so colourful and such fun; small irrelevant things gave such pleasure that they leave life long impressions that are hard to erase.

Later when the intercity train service got introduced, my father's posting had installed us in Chittagong, and we rode the train every alternate weekend to Dhaka. My mother was homesick and missed her mom extremely. To cheer her up my father would always surprise her with return train tickets to Dhaka.

Train journeys as a teen held a different kind of fun. The cute boys from the Chittagong Medical College in the other compartments, boldly passing phone numbers on a chit note, those meaningless flirting and infatuations that lasted for the few hours of the ride, are things that still make me laugh.

The last train journey that I took with my husband and child was fun too; only, the things I found 'cool' were not so cool with my child. She failed to understand my glee when I spotted the 'dimwalla' or tried the train cutlet and giggled when I saw phone numbers inscribed on the compartment walls.

As eager as I am to revive the halcyon days with yet another journey, I'm somewhat saddened by all the stories of how dirty and dingy the trains have become these days. As Owens Lee Pomeroy puts it, "Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson: you find the present tense, but the past perfect."

By Raffat Binte Rashid
Photo: Amirul Rajiv


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