Flash back 50 years, the world was an innocent place or may be we did not have an all pervasive media that reported on every little happening. I remember my childhood travels with my parents. Those days when you boarded a long distance train, your fellow passengers in the compartment became your family for the journey.
The great Indian railways provided many happy travel memories. A typical trip would take an average of two to three days and pass through many stations. There were many stations renowned for a special food item and when the train reached those stations, the food vendors would hawk their fare. Those days there was no concept of food standards or hygiene, but I don’t recall any food related illness from the travels.
It was more of a rich social experience because you had people from different parts of the country in the compartment and in those days, each family packed food for the journey. So it was customary for a family to share their food with others sitting next to them and vice versa.
Likewise, people who lived along the route would drop by the station with food and coffee for their relatives that were travelling. I recollect going to the station on one such occasion to meet an uncle and his family on their way to Chennai. We offered them coffee and some refreshments for the journey and I was delighted to have a glimpse of relatives that I had only heard of before.
Families in the compartment would keep an eye on the children so that every one reached the destination safely. And when you got down from the train at your destination, for the first 10 minutes you could feel the vibrations of the train compartment even though you are on terra firma.
One of the highlights of a typical train station was the news paper stand. They used to offer all the news papers and my main interest was in the comic books that they sold. I would save up money to buy the monthly issues. The main problem was that to get into the station you had to buy a platform ticket and that would cost almost half as much as the comic book. These were published by Bennet, Coleman & Co and consisted of my heroes such as Phantom, Mandrake, Flash Gordon. There was also an Indian hero called Bahadur illustrated by Indian cartoonist Abid Surti. we had perfected an elaborate route into and out of the station to avoid the ticket checker. Every month it was an adventure trying to acquire the latest issue of the Comics. The way back home was a horse cart or walking.
Fast forward to today, there are no horse carts to be found. Long distance trains still run but the romance is gone. Most people prefer flights and even among those who still take the train (there are many), there is mutual suspicion of every one else in the compartment. People hesitate to take any food offered by their fellow travellers because they are afraid that they would be drugged and robbed. People get suspicious if the fellow travellers ask anything about them. Children are closely monitored by their parents. Travellers prefer bottled water and packaged food due to health concerns. And about the comics, the last edition of Indrajal comics was published on 16th April, 1990. Every thing has changed. For the better perhaps…..