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Thursday, February 29, 2024

HOLIDAY? DITCH THE FLIGHT!

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Travelling by plane has taken the fun out of a holiday which in reality is supposed to relieve stress

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Recently, we have been reading about the utter chaos and mayhem at airports caused by delayed flights and uncaring airline staff, and I am glad I’m not taking flights anywhere in or out of the country. Irate and frustrated passengers are even beating up airline staff leading to further slowdowns at airports. Travelling by plane
has taken the fun out of a holiday which in reality is supposed to relieve stress.
But instead of enjoying a beach resort in Kerala or Goa as people had planned, they are now finding themselves locked inside aerobridges or aircrafts because of flights not taking off due to the absence of pilots or bad weather!


But decades ago, flights were so expensive that our families preferred to take road trips or travel by train. These were not only fun but gave us a thorough education about the country – of how vast it was, of how varied its geography and land were. And of its myriad communities, their clothes, their language, their faith and above all, their generosity. As we whizz past in a car, even now images flash, of little girls standing by the roadside selling groundnuts or guavas, or the boys driving home cattle, or the colorfully dressed women with pots delicately balanced over their heads. We didn’t have to see National Geographic documentaries about India. We saw how real people lived in the country on road trips.


Besides, on car journeys, we as a family bonded as a unit, and sang songs, played word games or constantly ate off huge steel tiffins, the meals and snacks prepared specifically for the journey. A car journey gave that family bonding that hardly comes from going to Geneva or Germany which kids and their families
undertake nowadays. Of course, being closeted in a car for long hours also led to sibling fights, that to me seemed like a good way of getting frustrations out early in life!

Travelling by trains was even more memorable, something that I still remember even now, more than a trip to holidays in Bali or Burma. Before a train journey, we planned for days what we should take: the books, the food, the board games. Once on the train, we children would scramble for upper berths where we would whisper and plot against some school friend. Or do devilish things like hang upside down, scaring fellow passengers in the lower berths. The next best thing was the window seat on the lower berth where each of us would get a turn for a few hours. On the train, everyone was an uncle or aunty or thatha as they pinched our cheeks and told our parents how cute, or clever we were. The cuter we were, the more chocolates or biscuits we were gifted by them. If it was a first class  compartment, we could run from one end to another, playing wild games of cops and robbers or even hide-n-seek, hiding behind random strangers or under their seats. As for food, I still cannot forget the flourish with which the dinner thali was delivered to us at a station like Kazipet or Kharagpur (does anyone else remember these pit shops for lunches and dinners?) where the uniformed railway attendant leapt onto a moving train with much elan, holding dozens of similar trays, one on top of the other. They now serve food in aluminium foil trays, but back then steel thalis with rice or chapati in the center with all sorts of liquid items in little depressions around it were served to passengers. I still remember how the rasam or sambar used to jiggle with a speeding train’s movement, and the soggy papad that went with it, has few rivals to this day. We could hardly distinguish the dal from the curry on these thalis, as they flowed freely from one end to another. If this was one aspect of the pre-paid thali, another were the vendors who kept coming throughout the journey to serve us everything from half-melted ice-cream to soggy bhajjis. I still yearn for that train coffee which was more water than milk, and more a sugary drink than a caffeine boost.


Another high during a train journey was getting off at platforms even if the train stopped for just a few minutes. Once off the train, we would explore the platform, look for AH Wheeler’s bandis to buy desi comics like Tinkle or hunt for stalls that sold the famous chikkis at Pune station or the kajji kayalu at Vijaywada. On a train journey we just went with the flow of things. When the TT came, we simply showed him the ticket that he punched nonchalantly. When the watery coffee came, we just paid for it and sipped it without complaints. Even if the train was delayed, we were not overly concerned, because either we had the family to play cards with, or there was an aunty on an adjacent berth who told us stories from Panchatantra. No one was irate about anything because the journey itself was so de-stressing. We forgot the stress and tensions of our lives, as we let our life pass by on a train, interacting with what seemed like a slice of humanity.
There was a slowness to the journey and we didn’t care when we would reach. As they say, the journey itself was as important as the destination.

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