Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Train of thought 4.5 - The Easternmost point on the Indian Railways

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).

**

My bones feel squeaky, and produce occasional snapping noises like cracking knuckles. Muscles feel like they’ve decayed to a pulp, and seem to be in a squashed, rubbery, gooey state. When the only energy expenditure you’ve done in four days is walking-to-door-and-standing-there-and-return-to-seat, you understand why the body feels uncomfortably stifled, trapped within itself. Having eaten frugally over these days hasn’t helped ease the bodily rustiness.

The hour-long stop at Guwahati, then, is just what the doc ordered. One walk all the way up and down the platform, and the muscles and bones feel slightly better. That, even though there is this persistently uneasy feeling that the paunch is slowly expanding, growing – some tummy patting gives little consolation.

I’m now right in front of the engine, having walked across the tracks and come back. I think it’d be neat to be photographed on the track between the engine-with-torchlight-headlamp that’s on one side and the signal-post-with-red-light that glares out on the other.

And before I know it, the engine leaps out from where it parks, having decided that it is time to depart, for it was already running late. It is, you’ll realize, extremely unfunny when you’re some 20 metres away from a million tonne railway engine hauling a billion tonne train, and when the said engine-and-train abruptly decide they’re going make a lunge towards you.

Yes, so 20 metres are perhaps 20 metres too many. But there still is the small matter of registering the engine’s pounce, activating instinct-of-self-preservation, leaping off the track, panting, recovering, immediately recognizing the fact that you still have to get into the train, reactivating instincts-and-reflexes, commanding whiny legs to run back like crazy, braking at just the right moment, turn around in an instant, start running in the other direction and simultaneously leaping into the speeding train.

All ended well, as you’ll have guessed by now – the episode culminated in a new world record for the aforementioned series of actions.

**

I pry my eyes open, and push the white bedsheets away. There’s mild, slight light outside the window. The watch shows a quarter to 5. I mutter a ‘huh?’ to myself. The train’s stopped. I slowly, sleepily totter to the door.

Tis New Tinsukia, under an hour from destination. There’s a gentle, soft sunlight that’s spread on the clean platform that’s hardly peopled. The station clock confirms that it indeed is a quarter to 5. It takes a while to realize that I’m now so far east that the day begins and ends much sooner – it really should be in a different time zone.

The compartment, fully occupied from Delhi till yesterday night, is only one-third or so full now. Everyone around has gotten off at various points of time in the night. No matter how often you’ve travelled, how often you’ve seen the here-today-gone-the-next-station nature of train travellers, you can never really help feeling vacant, weird when you wake up to see empty berths and seats, vacant luggage-less aisles. This, even though the infinitesimal familiarity you have with your-fellow travellers is further diluted by your parking at the door most of the journey.

**

Dibrugarh arrives at5:35 am. Getting to the Easternmost point on the Indian Railways has an Everest-ish thrill while map-gazing, while fantasizing. Reaching Dibrugarh for real doesn’t have the adrenalin-and-excitement of the fantasies – there’s a calm, an understated peace about it that makes you feel content about all that’s come on the way. I look out from the door as the train squeals slowly through the suburbs of the town. I realize I don’t quite know what to expect from Dibrugarh Town. I mean, hey, so it’s the Easternmost point on the Indian Railway. But what’s an Easternmost-point-on-a-railway *supposed* to look like? And what is one supposed to do, having gotten to the Easternmost-point-on-a-railway?

Still, the anticipation, the expectation that has been building up all these days has been quite an experience. The build up is somewhat like the trip to Chamarajnagar station that I did when I was 8 or so. Chamarajnagar was(and is) the dead end before the Nilgiris thwart any attempts at railway line building. I remember the days before that trip, almost jumping in expectation of seeing a place where the tracks would just stop. They just wouldn’t go further, and I couldn’t imagine *how* that would be possible. I mean, hey, tracks are supposed to go on and on and on, right? How could they just *not* continue?

Very often, when you do give yourself a build-up, such an eager sense of expectation, it turns out that your destination is much more familiar-seeming, much more un-exotic than you thought. You go far away from where you are, and yet you find the land, the people, the crowds aren’t new, aren’t novel. Somehow, not seeing something radically new doesn’t disappoint you – it’s a reassurance, a comfort, a feeling of belonging. Perhaps that just means you’ve made your peace with the place.

**

So, what plans have I for Dibrugarh town? Scheduled arrival is 5am, and I’ve planned a fleeting, running view of the town before moving out by the Dibrugarh-Amritsar express that leaves 6:45am. That just so I can see the 567km Dibrugarh-to-Guwahati stretch in the daytime(the stretch that passed in the night while arriving). The 5:35am arrival leaves just around an hour to check out the town.

2 comments:

Gee said...

Tsk Tsk. Overexploitation of gtalk has robbed you of html skills.
Not that Blogger wants you to have any, particularly. And yet.

Sincere condolences.

QKumar said...

HTML skills? Elaborate, my lady. The page looks alright from here.

Condolences I deserve, though, overworked and underslept that I am. :-)