It is time we started travelling by the trains once again. I am a little out of touch with the timings, so, please excuse.
But there is the Punjab Mail, at one time my favourite train. Leaving Bombay in the late afternoon, ensconsed in an old first class compartment (lower berth, please), armed with one Erle Stanley Garderner, one Agantha Charistie, one Sexton Blake (all purchased at A.H. Wheeler, VT).
The suburbs fleeting past, Kalyan and a cup of tea, Deolali with the cantonment bugles playing into the sunset, Nashik Road. Then into the right with a thali from the dining car, or the station buffet.
I have always slept well on trains, except when I have had to stand on one leg in cramped and crowed unreserved second-class compartments (on one occastion, from Bombay to Kurundwad on the Madras Mail).
But we are taling of the Punjab Mail, tearing through the night, whistle blasting, smoke puffing out of the engine, somewhere during the night the electric engine having given way to a steam engine. You sleep through the night, dreaming of chaiwallas calling out garmagaram chai at wayside stations where a mail has no business to halt but does.
And in the morning, you are on the outskirts of Bhopal, men with little pots squatting along the railwayline. I have always wondered where women go, even on the Sahar-Bandra Eash highway. And in Bhopal itself, men coming in with the Madhya Pradesh Chromicle and dak editions of the Bombay papers, asking you to shift a little so that they may sit down.
And travelling through Madhya Pradesh, bits of UP, bullocks ploughing fields (you have to go to Punjab to see tractors), buffaloes lying in ponds, farm labourers sitting under trees, the still silent music of Central India. Fair glimpses of two forts, Jhansi and Gwalior, then Agra, though without the Taj. For a view of the Taj, you have to pass through the Agra Fort station and across the Jamuna Bridge.
The men who got in at Bhopal have long since got out, they are not passengers, they are commuters. Another family has entered the compartment, going to Delhi. We are all going to Delhi, and we are all going by train, because it is sheaper and safer.