Rail Travel – 1955

June 10, 2010

In 50’s, the only option to go from my parent’s town Wani to Indore, my maternal uncle’s city was by rail, since the bridges had been built only for the trains. There are limestone and coal mines near Wani. As such, it had a privilege of a Railway station, which itself was a luxury those days. We used to go to Indore every alternate year, or when there was a family function on mother’s side.

I used to live with my grandparents. I had just finished my exams. I was busy making holiday plans when I was called to Grandpa’s room and he told me to go to Wani by Hapton Bus (https://rajeevne.wordpress.com/2010/05/30/half-ton-to-st/) the next day and that too alone. Grandma refused to allow me travel alone, but Grandpa was adamant.

“When will he learn to travel alone?” he said.

“But he is too young” Grandma said, “At least find somebody to take him”.

Why there was nobody to escort me? Why I was being summoned?

“Am I going to Wani permanently?” I asked.

“No. That is not the case. You should start to travel alone. How long do you need protection?”

“He is barely five. You have to rethink.” Grandma said.

“He is leaving tomorrow morning.”

As a rule, smile never left Grandpa’s face whether he was happy or brooding or angry or in pain. Nothing distracted him. This was the state of affairs at this moment also. There was no point in throwing my weight.

“I have to wash my clothes” I said.

“They are ready, washed yesterday. Your bag is also packed. Set your playthings in it and you are ready. Don’t take too many though.” Then he took out from under his pillow a 2”x1” pack of cards, which I was requesting for a long time. “New! This should be sufficient for the travel.”

Now I was angry with Grandma. She knew, and did not tell me.

“Your exams were on. How could I have told you?” Indicating towards Grandpa, she said, “He insisted.”

I took a deep breath and started preparations. There was a danger lurking though that here onwards I would have to travel alone on Hapton.

In the evening Grandpa refined my knowledge of ‘nine card patience’, my favorite. After the meals, he asked me in confidence if I was really ready to travel and whether I shall be able to do that alone. Don’t know where from I picked them, but to everybody’s surprise came out my words which later were made famous amongst relatives by Grandma,

“If one has been given mouth to make inquiries, he can reach anywhere, even Delhi.” I said.

“See? Did I not tell you?” Grandpa said to Grandma triumphantly. “Do you remember your last train travel?”

How could I? I was two years then.

“You are travelling by train to Indore tomorrow. Enjoy and write to me when you reach.”


Next day, our Rikshawalla came in time, took me to the bus stand and helped me board the Bus. No front seat though, since I was not with Grandpa. The bus travel was uneventful and I reached Wani. When I accompanied Grandpa, there would be no hassles at Wani. But today, how was I to reach my home? Hire a Rikshaw myself? But that proved unnecessary, because my Father had come to receive me in person.

We did not go home, but went straight to the Railway station. It must have been about one o’clock in the afternoon.

I befriended a porter.

“Where is the train?” I inquired, because I could see two wagons filled with coal standing near the platform where the train should have been.

Courtsry Indian Railways website

“This is the train.” He said, “The passenger compartment and engine has gone to Rajura to fill water, (which was the loading station for mining products and of course water) and will arrive in a few minutes.”

Minutes turned to hours and there was no sign of the train. Meanwhile we finished our lunch and I converted the platform into playground. There were not many children though waiting for the train.

“What happened?” My initial enthusiasm was over.

“Place your ear next to the rail and you will know when the train arrives.” my porter friend said.

I did, and indeed I heard a rumble. I went to my family and declared that the train has arrived. Everybody stood almost on the rail and started watching. Alas, this was a mechanized trolley carrying two persons. They were checking the gauge and alignment, I learnt from the friend.

Now my father started getting upset. Until now, he was standing patiently, his hands tied behind his back. He now started pacing the platform with me in tow. If he stopped, I stopped. If he started fast pace, I ran. After some time, he turned, looked at his wrist watch, smiled and said, “Ok, whenever it arrives, it arrives. Why bother? ”

We came back to where my mother and kid sister was sitting. No sooner than my mother started telling us about Indore, her home city, there was a commotion on the station. The porter went and changed the line-shift. We got ready to board, bags in our hands.

A solitary engine indeed arrived, but from the other direction. It went straight ahead, without stopping for us. This was my first sight of a rail engine. What a monster it was and what a tail of smoke it left behind, blackening our clothes.

“Now what?” I asked my friend.

“Now it will bring your compartment from Rajura. The original engine failed, we got a message. That is what.” Apparently he was also fed up answering me. None the less, he showed me the Morse machine from a window.

he lantern - Courtsey Indian Railways Website

The station was now lit up with petromax’es. The porter lit his lantern which had red and green glasses for signaling.

When we had our supper, the station suddenly started filling up with passengers. We heard the hoot, the bell and the makeshift engine arrived from the correct direction this time, with a solitary compartment, half of which was a wagon full with limestone.

We boarded. It was only half an hour’s ride from Wani to Majri, the first junction where we had to change the trains. Courtsey the engine trouble at Rajura, we had already missed the connecting train from Majri to Warora. As such, we had to spend the night at Majri and catch the morning train. The station was in dark and there was no use of the pack of cards Grandpa had presented to me. And you cannot joke around or play with sisters barely three year old, although they try hard to do so!

Having gone through the ordeal until now, I had to ask, “How much more time we are going to spend like this on stations?”

“Not much, provided we do not miss the connecting trains. We are now on narrow gauge. We will go to Warora from here, then change trains to go to Wardha where we reach broad gauge, then change at Bhusaval, then Khandwa, and then reach Indore. Easy.” was father’s reply. How could they keep smiling?

“But how many days?”

“How can I tell? It all depends on when the trains arrive.”

The next legs upto Bhusaval were uneventful. Although our trains arrived in plus two hours accuracy we could catch the connecting trains, sometimes running and sometimes falling. Aboard trains, sometimes sitting and sometimes simulating sitting. Further we had to run to change the platform every time when you changed the train, wading through a swarm luggage carts, which was gruesome.

Bhusaval junction was something. As I remember, I was informed it had 38 platforms then. There were trains parked, leaving and arriving everywhere. A number of engines were shunting this and that, some running forward, some running backwards, hollering multitude of horns. Some through-trains passed without stopping at a breathtaking speed.

The engines we had until now were flat faced and had search light on top of the boiler. But there were one which I liked most had bulbous face and a star painted around the search light. Really beautiful. Some enginnes had wheels a good three times taller than me and when they started to move, you had to step back to avoid the steam, smoke and people.

People – people eating, sleeping, throwing about or dragging their luggage, taking bath or wash, men and women, children, old people and young people, people selling this and that…..Too many people, but interesting people.

Although our train was delayed by 5 Hours, and we had completed nearly 48 hours until now, it did not matter much. What mattered was that my arms, palms, legs, face, hair and also everything inside the clothes was now jet black with layers of coal dust and itchy. I had lost appetite because every time you ate you had to go and wash your hands at the nearest water tap which was a minimum one kilometer away and mother would not allow me to go alone. There were no WCs on the platforms for children. The train’s Pakhana’s- if you were able reach them in time- were also not to my taste though it was thrilly in the beginning to balance and aim. My healthy habits were going down the drain.

I was told that we were now to board a superfast express train, which would only take three hours to reach Khandwa. By previous experience, I could easily make out that this was not a good prophecy. The express train that arrived late was overfull. I clearly remember how we survived that leg of the travel, because I was sitting on a trunk, which was sitting on my father’s head and he was standing on somebody’s head who was trying to shake off the entire load. I could not view my mother or sister, and prayed that they were aboard the train and not left behind on the platform. The train would stop every now and then; people would curse the signal or the train arriving from the opposite direction or water point and start a quarrel or try shaking me from the roots of the tree I was sitting on. Instead of three, we took six hours and I was a fruit gone bad by then.

Before the train stopped at Khandawa, I was bundled out of a window on to the platform. By the time we got down, our clothes were in tatters and the luggage was battered. It was so nice to breathe fresh air at last; I vowed aloud there and then that I would never travel on an express train in future.

Looking at us, my father decided that enough was enough and we could take the last leg by bus instead of train. We therefore came out from the station and he started inquiries about the bus timings. Hearing what was said about the bus, everybody surrendered, came back to the station and waited for the next passenger train.

This train had its own character. It arrived at a snail’s pace, it cruised at its leisurely speed, stopped wherever it liked and when people or cows on the way waived. But no sweat, because finally I had a window seat, there was not much rush and I could actually enjoy the nature. The moving pictures outside were super green with idyllic stations like Patal Pani, Kala Kund, Tantya Bhilla’s Stone. The famous sweets like Kala Jamun and Kalakand were being served in right earnest at a throwaway price on platforms and wherever the train rested. We crossed a breathtaking bridge, tunnels, a waterfall and what not along the way. This is why my mother must like train journey and hates buses, I thought.  Mother was now speaking in Hindi, was in extremely good mood since we were approaching her city and started to praise Indore again.

When we got down at Indore and when my maternal uncle inquired as to how was the trip, I could remember only the last leg which had taken out all the fatigue. I wrote all this to my Grandpa the very next day in a detailed version.

Since he had only a few days’ break, my father went back the very next day. Before he left, he said, “Now I am relieved. You are now in charge and will bring your mother and sister on your way back safely. Can you?”

“Why not, if you have been given mouth to speak, you can go anywhere!” I repeated.

I carried out the duty as ascribed by my father truthfully on the return trip – that is what my mother used to say if anybody dared to say I was not of a responsible kind. On our way back we were accompanied by an elderly escort. That she would not tell.


(All Images Courtsey Indian Railways Websites)


2 Responses to “Rail Travel – 1955”

  1. The climax i.e. the last few lines are great!

    Also “simulated sitting” and “.. I was sitting on a trunk, which was sitting on my father’s head and he was standing on somebody’s head who was trying to shake off the entire load” – hilarious 🙂

    Overall, nice anecdote, in your own inimitable style!

  2. rajeevelkunchwar Says:

    Thanks Nikhil.

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