Sunday, October 28, 2007

Train of thought 0 - A man, a plan.

Note: This is one of a series of posts about this journey. Other episodes of this trip are here: numbers 0, 1, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5, 4.75 (in order).

**

“Daphne Dolores Moorhead,” opined my friend Wodehouse “was as full of curves as a scenic railway.” After the numerous scenic railways that I saw during an 8 day ride on the Indian railways, the possible charms of ol' Daphne verily boggled the mind.

The journey's beginnings lay a month or so before the actual ride, when I rediscovered the joys of map-gazing. Map gazing, if you aren’t aware, is an activity wherein you spread a map out, move your gaze along routes, imagine your journeys, and go places.

I would, since I was 6 or so, carefully unfold and open the creases of what would call itself a ‘political map of India’, and spread it upon the floor. I’d sit half on the floor, half on the map, moving my fingers up and down the barbed black lines that were railway tracks. With a railway time table for reference, I’d spend hours together ‘driving my train’ - deciding what train I’d be, where I’d stop, what sort of landscape would suit the vicinity of, say, the Ratlam-Kota stretch.

I’d imagine what ‘Collectorgunj’ or ‘New Bongaigaon’ stations would actually look like. I’d just *know* that the Chattisgarh Express really was a passenger train masquerading as an Express, and ponder over why trains must go all the way around Solapur-Daund-Bhusawal to get to Delhi.

So, twas a vacant evening a few months ago. While doing some mindless surfing, I trawled some travel sites. While flipping through the IRFCA and the pics therein of places and routes unseen, I was reminded of the mapgazing of all those years ago. Before I knew it, I was staring away into an India map on my laptop. I spent the next couple of hours on mapsofindia.com, and sat back in the sort of peaceable contentment that is brought on by not necessarily having to do anything at all.

Earlier that evening, I’d had a conversation with a friend when I’d suggested that being able to surprise yourself is the best way of making your life much more beautiful. That came together with the thoughts of mapgazing from all those years ago. Both these, catalyzed by a fairly long drive in the dark, formed what some writers would call a heady brew. The seeds of an impulse quickly took root, a plan was formed, and there I was, ready to try something I’d never done before, for no reason other than that I simply felt like it.

In 15 minutes, I was at my laptop, buying tickets that would take me places I didn’t know anything about, to take a trip I that had pretty much no purpose to it, and yes, expending a fair amount of my credit card’s limit in the process.

It’d be 8 days, because that was the amount of time and money I could manage. I’d sleep and reside on trains, and spend most part of those 8 days at train doors. I wouldnt stop to stay and see any place, but would move on to catch the next train right after I got off the previous one. I’d see none of the destinations themselves, but I’d catch all of what was in between them.

In the month that was to elapse before the start of the ride, I wondered if pragmatism would kick in sometime. I occasionally mulled over whether I’d be tempted to chuck it all - to just sit back to watch movies and read books and relax, rather than spend early mornings in bleak waiting rooms, at damp train doors, waking up amid a new set of strangers every day.