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Simultaneous Journeys

Updated on October 16, 2017

Everyone who has experienced a railway-train journey, associates a word-train to represent the rhythmic sound that emanates from the point of coincidence of the surfaces of the train wheels and the surface of the rails where two lengths of rails are joined. This metrical reverberation accompanied by a matching gentle swaying of the coach also induces long thought-trains that sometimes transports us, making us to live in an almost astral-projection like ambience, as such a phenomenon is generally described. Few would have really been there, if at all, so this comparison is more of a ludicrous banter.

A more rational banter would be a detailed description about how I formed my favorite word-train to go with such journeys. The story begins a while before my first train traveling expedition. I have always had this problem of falling asleep. It was fascinating and sometimes even envious to watch people wade into slumber minutes, if not seconds, following their head reclining on a pillow. That must have been a fairy-bestowed gift for good children that stood them in good stead lifelong. To my knowledge, I too came into this world with a tag that said "Good Child". At least that is what my mother said. It was probably the fairy's bias, forgetfulness, or her work-ethic that was wanting, that resulted in my endowment going out of the window. It could also have been attributable to a scenario where the fairy was fit and fine, but I arrived with the wrong tag. The consequence was that four generations of women in the family - from my grandmother to my daughter, have unsuccessfully struggled to bridge the yawning distance, literally filled with meaningless yawns that led to anything but sleep, between the moment of my deliberate recline and the instant of unanticipated somnolence.

In her days, narrating or reading a story was my grandmother's preferred prescription for this malady. That it failed to have any effect on me did not seem to bother her. Having been brought up in a village, all her narratives had a rural backdrop filled with characters living their lives according to cultural norms and practices that applied during her early life there. One character that invariably found a place in all her stories was a well-endowed village belle, who would walk every day to the common source of drinking water, carrying a clay pot with curved sides snugly perched on her shapely hips. Grandmother would describe the swaying of her body with the expression, "Jhatak, Matak…Jhatak, Matak…" The catchy word-train was etched deeply upon a nascent brain. A funny idea of associating any swaying motion to gyrating bottoms was established upon a budding intellect. A dubious deed was innocently done; with no ulterior motives; no mischievous intent; and it remains a pious thought to this day, a sincere admiration-filled reflection of motional magnificence.

Hence my trains always went "Jhatak, Matak…Jhatak, Matak…" As a better part of railway travel was through the countryside, where one could sometime actually get a fleeting glimpse of a village belle in flesh and blood, the association between the two trains and sometimes even the third, was securely cemented. The bonding was of such potency that even a passing thought of a railway train, sitting in the comfort of home, set the associated sequences of related entities into energetic activity; to this day; and I believe for ever more.


The growth of technology had been so rapid that keeping pace with it required an all-new approach to understanding and responding to the environment. It was something that those schooled according to the old approach and who had spent their working life in situations where the earlier mode of knowledge and training was sufficient to cope and deliver the expected output, found difficult to relate to. The flip side to this, even if attempted with a positive attitude, was the constant experience of fascination and wonder at every turn handling modern gadgets and understanding their impact upon mundane life.

Take for instance a train journey. Having stood in long and winding queues for a few hours each time, to book seats, and obtain little rectangular cardboard pieces with information embossed in every possible direction, most of it that made no sense to the prospective passenger, the present online system of booking with its instantaneous and paperless means of precise information transfer appeared almost magical. Even more mysteriously thrilling seemed the fact that it was now possible to track the motional progress of a train in real time. It was in this very exercise that I was engrossed in for an entire day the previous week, avidly following the movement of an express train from the capital city to the place where I resided, spanning a distance of almost two-thousand kilometers scheduled to be traversed in about twenty-four hours. My adult son was on it, returning home from a short trip. The anticipation of seeing one's offspring, regardless of it being a child or adult, is always a special feeling, isn't it? This inherent specialty was increased manifold by the stimulating means of knowing where he was at any moment. The combination of the two sensitivities provided a whole new perspective of the scheme of life.

The train stood on its designated platform ready to depart. My son was on his identified seat. I was at my desk with the computer monitor glowing in front of me displaying the route map of the train with its current position marked as a pulsating red blip. Precisely at the appointed time, the blip started to move gradually. The journey had begun and I imagined the village belle going Jhatak, Matak…Jhatak, Matak… in slow motion. My mind's eye could visualize a steam engine powering the string of bogies in its forward motion, plumes of steam gushing out of tiny openings all along its own journey along pipes of steel from the boiler to the cylinder and back; a curved spiral trail of smoke bellowing out of the locomotive's funnel; the giant cranks, cams, and spoked wheels in purposeful action. My mind's ears could hear the strangely agreeable scream of a steam-operated whistle horn…

That was when the part of my brain attuned to modernity and its manners, stopped the nostalgic thought-train in its tracks and reminded me that today's locomotives were electric; they sped along at three times the speed of their messy steam-dependent cousins of yore, and everything about them in terms of visual or auditory consideration and appreciation were different. Even the representative belle gyrated at a rapid clip more akin to an over-energetic Mambo or Rumba rendition upon a polished wooden floor, than a leisurely barefoot walk with craftily calibrated sub-anatomical sways and swings, along a muddy village path. My imagination stood and stayed corrected.

The pulsating little red blip on the computer screen gathered pace, and names of stations that the train passed by were flashed next to it. Each time this happened, I had this curious connect with the unknown station-master, clad in white with a black coat, tie, shoes and beret for contrast, who flagged the train on after ascertaining that all pertinent parameters for its safe movement were adequately met. He too would have a family and home, I imagined, and a supportive-enough environment to fulfill the demands of his job responsibilities properly; his family would be accepted and supported by the community that constituted the settlement around the station for it to function as a cohesive unit. The entire community associated with the station name that flashed for a few seconds on the monitor, seemed vaguely responsible for my son's secure progress up to that point. This was most certainly a view influenced by my natural affection for my son, as it would be with every parent, intensified to an upsurge in my case, as he would be leaving home again very soon involving a long period of absence. But what was life, other than being a perspective of our environment and our equations with it as it is at a given moment - biases, emotional upsurges, poignant downswings, and equanimous poises all included?

Parallel thinking is perhaps the exclusive preserve of the human brain. It is moot whether this ability broadens our ability to comprehend existence and its mysterious ways or befuddles it to loose its way in this futile quest. But indulge in it we do; and without caution or care. My mind too pandered to this unstoppable urge. Perhaps, I said to myself, my reflections on the train journey were an unconscious projection of the journey of a fetus in time, from an embryo to a fully-formed baby, all ready to see the light of day. An array of genes needed to fire along the way during the nine-month-long journey, in exactly the correct sequence and time to ensure the desired result. At each instant, a proper gene expression is necessary, akin to the timely service of a station master, which was dependent upon the safe, secure, and supportive environment of the mother's body system. If parallel thought was indeed a reasonable and dependable exercise and instrument, it provided a unifying perspective of everything in existence.

The blip reached its destination upon the monitor screen. My son reached home into the welcoming embrace of his parents. Modernity with its complexities revealed itself to be just a new, time-compliant avatar of simple obsolescence. My cute curvaceous belle and a lanky, lithe ballerina seemed to be the same representation of charming rhythmic motion viewed upon diverse backdrops. Existence appeared to be a unified domain with a material substrate organized as innumerable nodes in an awesome web, topped by a super-strata of thought-strands connecting all the nodes in myriad ways. A disturbance at one node effected every other node in the domain. And I had unknowingly and unintentionally accomplished time-travel where my representative word-train now went the way of a generally 'un-letter-able' Death Metal Rap …


How does your word-train go?

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      Savitha Vishwanathan 4 weeks ago

      Very well written. "Jathak Matak" is really apt.

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      R Subramanian 4 weeks ago

      Brilliant narration. You took me back to our younger days when train travel used to be real fun.

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      Sharath Siva 4 weeks ago

      Very nice Jhatak Matak. Interesting read.

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      Ajay Mehta 4 weeks ago

      Nice effort to relate train journey episode to the ways of life and it's rhythm...

      As a typical Indian, we turn philosophic quite fast, but I guess train journeys will be integral to Indians well into the next generation... And thank geography and our society for that...