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An Incomplete Memoir

Kawaljit has recently moved to Mumbai. Kawaljit now also has a digital camera. These two events were bound to lead him to a blog; and they have! He is a keen observer. He is also a whiz with Photoshop. The culmination of these two factors, quite naturally, makes for an interesting photoblog.

His last post was about local trains in Mumbai. Mumbai, thanks to the dimension of the city, has had trains as means of intra-city commute for a long time; even before the Metro in Delhi came up on drawing board. They might be stretched beyond their original intended capacity but that doesn’t make them any less valuable to thousands of commuters who use them as practical, economical means of transport each day. Kawaljit recently had his first stint with the local trains, and was curious if I had ever traveled in one. This innocuous question of his set my mind off to reconnoiter by-lanes it had crossed years ago.

I had just moved to Eighth grade (or perhaps it was Seventh, these little details which were of considerable significance years ago, now seem frivolous in grand scheme of things). The month of May brought with it the two-month-long summer vacation. By a stroke of sheer coincidence, Dad was traveling to Mumbai (then Bombay) on work around same time. So we did what is logical for a family of four with two kids on their school vacation – we planned a trip to Bombay with him. Incidentally (and quite logically), months of May and June are busiest months for Indian Railways. Most families with kids embark on their holiday tours around these two months. The seething, scorching summers of North make sojourn far away from the capital a welcome idea. Most other families, it seems in hindsight, stumbled upon the same bright idea pretty much around the same time, because the trains to Mumbai were running full. In those days, air travel was something you would consider only if foreign shores beckoned. (I have faint recollections of it having something to do with it being ludicrously expensive for a middle class family of four but I digress). All this added up to the fact that when we locked our house and reached the New Delhi station on the designated day of our journey, we were still not certain if we had managed those four elusive seats in Rajdhani Express. Indian Railways back then were a terribly entangled bureaucratic setup, as a side effect of which they had practices like keeping quotas of seats for employees, politicians and for anyone who was well connected to the right people in right places. Dad, if I remember correctly, knew someone, who knew someone, who knew how to tap into this pool of reserved seats. The end result of Dad’s acquaintance with this bonhomie Samaritan was that when the train was readied for departure on platform (no. 3 I think), we could find our names in the printed passenger list stuck outside one of the coaches (how we got to the right coach was a profound mystery to my adolescent mind; it still is).

The journey to Bombay and our stay there comes to my mind as a set of disjointed, incoherent flashes - like a dream of weeks ago. Time not only heals, it also scrubs your memory clean of the insignificant, of the inconsequential. The only recollection I have of the 17 hour train ride is that of discomfort from sitting in the AC chair-car bogey and that of bad train food. We reached Bombay VT in the morning. The world outside station was abuzz with frenzied activity. I vaguely remember waiting in the lobby of our 3 star hotel (Kohinoor, Shalimaar - thanks Sis) for 30-40 minutes before our room became available. I remember enjoying that ride in the elevator to our 6th floor room – 603. I remember looking at the world below and marveling at how small the cars looked from up there. From the right hand corner of our room’s window, far far away in the horizon, you could see the sea water shimmer, we were in Bombay indeed. This was my first stint with luxury. Air conditioned room, plush bathroom, room-service were all sources of constant amazement. Dad had to report at work, so Mom took us for lunch in the restaurant at the hotel itself. It was just three of us, Mom, Sis and Me. I remember the bill (for our chicken curry and nans) being way beyond anything we had ever spent on food before, which forced us into a tacit resolve of never eating in the hotel’s restaurant again.

I feel overwhelmed at having recalled just a few hours from that 10 day long stay. Memories from childhood do this to you sometimes.. I hate to abandon this blog entry abruptly; but I hope that I will get down to wreathing beads of my recollections soon again...
posted: 25.5.04


Hey...thanks for the plug! :)

Never thought my passing question would bring back so many memories to you. You remember quite a bit from the 90s! Room 603...wow...I dont even remeber what section I was in, in class seven ;)

Will wait for you to complete your memoirs...

By Blogger kawaljit, at 26.5.04  

LOL..and you think Indian Railways have changed? Whatever gave you that idea?
(Personal opinion - the style and use of words seem heavy for a childhood memory...but then its a personal account. Subjectivitiy et al...)

By Blogger Geetanjali, at 26.5.04  

Hey Geets, thanks for wading through the entire memoir! I've been a spoilt child for 5 years now, haven't even seen a train since I started working *embarrassed*.. I assumed that they would have gotten better because one sees so many changes in the system in general - like being able to check my ticket status online...

As for the style, it is a childhood memoir written by a grown up in retrospect, which probably adds the filagree to an otherwise simple experience...

By Blogger Deepak, at 27.5.04  

I was at a workshop a couple of weeks ago where we did an exercise called random autobiography. We took 20 minutes and jotted down whatever significant memories from whenever in our lives and in whatever order they came to us, one or two lines for each to register the significance for us, as a means of developing material for future writing. Prompts as they say. Anyway, I love autobiographical stories, I hope you continue!

By Blogger Susan, at 7.6.04  

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