Think of the gentle swaying of the coaches, the path traced through paddy fields, mountains and forests, breaking out into a song now and then and being joined by a chorus of other voices, the laughter and staying up the nights to gossip — train journeys conjure up an image of longing and nostalgia.
Says National Award winning film editor, Arghyakamal Mitra, “I remember travelling from Mumbai, then Bombay, to Pune in 1975. The iconic trail traced by the train involved a lot of tunnels. The play of light and sound as the train used to leave one tunnel and enter another, the sudden emergence of a waterfall here, a little hill-top there, were like a dream sequence for me. Later on, when I went to the Film and Television Institute in Pune to study, this dream sequence shaped my creative bent of mind and made me what I am today. So, I can say that my train journeys made me see light at the end of the tunnel! But now, work pressure and deadlines do not permit me to take the train. Also, I don’t want to destroy those sweet memories of childhood associated with train journeys by force-fitting myself into trains in this age!”
Cinematographer Soumik Halder, whose work we have seen in films like “Autograph”, “Jiyo Kaka!!” and “Takhan Teish”, to name a few, says that a train journey is all about the sense of movement. “Out of all modes of transport, the train is one that makes you feel like you are ‘going somewhere’. The swaying of the coaches from side to side gives you a strange sense of comfort which in turn, sparks off a thousand creative ideas even when you are sitting idle. For a camera person, along with the interplay of light and sound, it is important to get a feel for movement. Though I wish faster trains, like they have in Japan, are introduced in India. That way, not only will we be able to reach our destination on time, we would still be able to have our share of the romanticism associated with train journeys,” says Halder.
Train journeys, believes author, Shankar, are not always romantic, though. “This is especially true for those who are daily passengers. For them, it is nothing but drudger. For others, it is not just about romance but also about separation, horror and fear, think of the robberies and accidents associated with trains. But that apart, I feel trains are a great leveller. It doesn’t matter who boards the train, which strata of society they come from. Once a railway man, always a railway man!” Shankar also feels that the journey is as important as the destination. “In a plane, people are more formal. They are like islands, sitting quietly on their seats, somewhat lonely. In a train, human contact still exists. Passengers laugh together, share their food, sing along and even make matrimonial alliances! I would love to pen something on train journeys, given a chance.”
The romanticism associated with train journeys is still alive. So the next time you are planning a trip, consider booking yourself a berth. No, don’t be daunted by the duration of the journey. Just get yourself a copy of Ruskin Bond’s “The Night Train at Deoli” or American novelist, Paul Theroux’s “The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia” and feel the hours melt away.
( First published in Times of India)