Today, I have to travel daily in local trains to reach my workplace. Trains hold no thrills for me, only the dreary utility of getting from home to work in the shortest possible time.
Years ago, it was different. Trains were an occasional thrill, not an everyday chore. Trains were meant to take us to Calcutta for a picnic, or to exotic locations like the zoo/museum/New Market/P.C. Sorcar's magic shows, or, sometimes, to homes of interesting and far-away relations for some family occasion.
Train rides came on Sundays or holidays. Train rides meant getting up earlier than usual and putting on our smartest clothes. Train rides would mean looking with pleasure at the old red-brick colonial-era Barrackpore railway station, and listening with joy to the cacophonous birdcalls of all the thousands of pigeons that roosted under the high asbestos roofs of the paltforms. Train rides meant holding Baba or Ma's hand tightly and waiting breathlessly for the Barrackpore local train to pull in.
And then the rush to get seats. Usually, Baba would be able to bag window seats. Otherwise, Bhai and I would take turns in standing at the window (we were still too short for people to grumble about us blocking the breeze at the window.
Looking at the gradually crowding train compartment, I would check out the other travellers, and look yearningly at Ma everytime a vendor selling foodstuff would board the train. The most yearning silent pleas would be for sour amlaki, sweet Mysore Pak and salt-encrusted guavas.
Looking out of the windiw, we would see the stations flashing past, each with its own stereotyped image in our minds.
Titagarh was the unruly station crowded with immigrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Khardah was somehow idyllic and village-like, perhaps because of the name ('khar' means hay in Bengali).
Sodepur and Agarpara were interchangeable middle-class Bengali small-towns in my mind, unaspirational and uninspiring.
Belgharia was too crowded, too uncosmopiltan, too RED.
Dumdum was where I would begin to get really excited, because we were now, OFFICIALLY in Calcutta, and also because of the exotic promise of the AIRPORT.
Ulta Danga was just an impatient comma before we landed at
The country bumpkin had arrived at the big city, and would be all wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the sights and sounds of Kolkata. But that's another story.
WHAT DID TRAIN RIDES MEAN TO YOU AS A CHILD?