When James Watt invented the steam engine, he set the world in motion in more ways than one. A couple of centuries later, the railway spans a network, which would put most social media engines to shame. For some would argue, the bonds and friendships made in the small confines of a train bogie will probably outlast an easy and convenient journey we make on our preferred dotcom’s timelines. Railways were designed to travel but perhaps trains were built for travelers. And whoever made a case in point about ‘overlooking the destination for the sake of the journey’, unknowingly encapsulated and testified a train-ride to the utmost.
The elements are in the steel tyres, numbered seats, wide windows, narrow doors and central alleyways. But the real stories are in embarrassingly ‘easy to fall-over’ naps, the unreserved bookings, the shared cigarettes, in the gangways connecting the bogies, in the queue for toilets, in the hikes to the upper berths, in the neighbours glance on your watch and on the opposite facing seats. The conversations, they take place here and on opposite facing seats. And as unfair the world might seem when you are allotted a seat with your back to the engine, it’s your best shot at an eye contact. This seat placement is unique to any other mode of travel and it is crying out for you to nod, to smile, to interact; to say namaste, hola or ciao. Or simply to read the open newspaper glaring at us in someone else’s hand. Watching the ever-changing landscape out of the large windows is an endless love affair but by nightfall even they only reflect what is on the inside; for us to be on the lookout to look-in. Once you buy your ticket to ride, a train journey will offer you time; the time when we remain captives in motion. And it’s only worthwhile to spend it by getting to know your fellow travelers. Share your stories with them as they share their journey with yours. And chances are, you’ll only end up making more stories.
I’ve had the privilege of befriending and learning a lot from the ones I was fortunate enough to meet on my train rides. From discussing the topography of Sau Paulo with a Brazilian, to taking mandarin lessons from a Chinese, getting a political outlook of an Indian, an invitation to visit Osaka from Japanese boys or an insight into the Danish culture from an old couple. I may not travel to the same places again but I have these memories to revisit and perhaps these newly made friends too.
So its much like life you see. Where you reach will perhaps be not as important as who you go with. Every once in a while, your train will halt too, some will get off and some will get on. Won’t you want to know them too? Outlive your 70 km an hour journey with a 150 words per minute conversation? So find your own platform 9¾ and take that ride. There’s a world out there waiting to meet you on that friendly train ride.