Before flights became the norm, shortening long-distance travel to a mere few hours, the most feasible option for inter-city travel available to Indians was the railway network. The sight of blue, snake-like trains chugging up and down the world's fourth largest railway network is something all of us are familiar with. Train journeys meant long hours of being cooped up in compartments with strangers that became friends by the time you reached your destination. Most of us have a story or two to tell from our train journeys and the rock band Indian Ocean is no different.
Nostalgia struck the band's members – Rahul Ram, Himanshu Joshi, Amit Kilam, Nikhil Rao and Tuheen Chakraborty – during the making of the soundtrack for Station Master's Tiffin. The song, The Symphony of a Rail Journey, composed and sung by Indian Ocean with lyrics by Swanand Kirkire, brings back the good old memories of travelling by train in India.
No matter how many years go by, the Indian train experience seems to be stuck in time, with the sounds, smells and sights feeling the same even today. "Travel in the general or second class and it's all still the same," says Ram, the band's bass guitarist, "The only difference is that people now have mobile phones."
The Indian Ocean members are immediately taken back to childhood as they recollect their earliest memories of travelling by train. For Chakraborty, his first experience with the train was disappointing. "The pictures in my class one textbook showed trains with big compartments in the front and small compartments in the back," explains the band's tabla player. "When I reached the station, I remember telling my mother that this train is not real. For me, the real train was the one I saw in my textbooks," he confesses, when Kilam, who plays the drums for the band, jokes, "Tuheen is definitely not cut out for a career in photography."
Even as a child, the drummer couldn't help but notice a beat pattern in the sounds of the 'rail gaadi'. "As a kid, I used to listen to the sounds carefully," says Kilam, "Even the movement of the wheels had a particular beat pattern." As if by instinct, the musicians begin recreating the various sounds of the train as it makes it way over bridges and through tunnels.
Like the rest of us, the sounds of the train would lull Rao into a sleep. "I think I used to sleep the best on train journeys, better than the sleep I got at home also," says the lead guitarist of Indian Ocean. Recollecting the time he was travelling from Ahmedabad to Mumbai, he says, "At around 11 or 12 in the night, a man reached out from the window and snatched a woman's chain. She screamed so loudly that everyone's sleep in the compartment was disrupted. As for me, I learned about the incident only in the morning." On hearing this, Ram tells him, "Your name is now Railway Sleeper."
A conversation about travelling by train is incomplete without the mention of travelling "unreserved", a ubiquitous feature of the Indian Railways. While Rao is quick to mention he has never travelled unreserved, Ram says he travelled unreserved from Kanpur to Delhi. "I spent eight hours sitting on a sewing machine in the narrow space between the two washrooms of the train," he recollects. Kilam adds, "I sat on someone's suitcase the entire journey from Delhi to Mumbai."
Revealing a train travel hack, Joshi says, "The experienced train travellers told us that only if we gave Pan Parag to the Ticket Collector would he let us sleep peacefully. So before getting on to the train, we used to buy a box of Pan Parag and lots of newspapers." The newspapers were spread out on the train's floor to lie on and that's how Joshi, who lends vocals to the band, remembers travelling from Kolkata to Delhi.
Travelling unreserved came with the struggle for basic space but even travelling with a ticket led to arguments over berth preference. "One of the transitions I have noticed is that as kids there used to be a fight for the upper berth but as we grew up the preference changed to the lower berth," says Joshi when Ram adds, "I still prefer the upper berth." Meanwhile, Kilam recollects the gymnastics it took to come down from the upper berth, "There were some people who would stamp on everyone's hands and feet while coming down from the upper berth."
All these and more memories have been beautifully encapsulated in the song by Indian Ocean that is also the soundtrack of the latest show from Living Foodz, Station Master’s Tiffin. Watch the music video here!
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