As I stood on the weighing scale this morning, partly with trepidation, partly with nervous anticipation (after all I had been putting the effort to unsettle what seemed to have settled over years together), it struck me that the luxury of a weighing scale which gave results to a decimal place were not always so. God only knows that breed of people who need to view it in decimals- as far as I was concerned, I missed the wholesomeness of the whole numbers from a time gone by, peeking at us as we passed by the lone man sitting on the pavement with a weighing scale, happy to be sharing results of passers-by who hadn’t yet indulged in the machinations of weighing themselves in their washrooms on a daily basis, but were happy to have their curiosity satisfied once in a while, in return for a few coins shelled out for the purpose.
More than the mechanical weighing machine, which was a familiar sight at doctors’ clinics, was the colorful contraption that was ubiquitous at Indian railway stations. Standing proudly and prominently was this bulky, gaudily colored, lighted piece of amusement for all those who spent time at Railways stations, awaiting the arrival of dear ones, or heading to their respective journeys. I remember the excitement one felt just coming across this as one went about their business, or the days when business did not consume so much of one’s time.
As we collected change from the elders (and God knows the value of change from the times of yore, the size and weightlessness of it is the only change – no pun intended- that has happened) and excitedly went across to step up, to insert the coin, hear the familiar sounds as it heaved itself to share with you the load it felt that you exerted on the planet, ejecting its findings on a small piece of soft cardboard. Our records of our weights were a collection of these small pieces preserved over a period of time to be shared with those who were privy to your eccentric collections.
Why just the weighing machine, a visit to the Railways station, other than the emotions of the arrivals and departures, had so much else in store. The book vendor, purchase of comics from whom was a ritual unbroken, the tea stall serving tea in the clay cups (‘kulhads’ as they are referred to), holding temperatures irrespective of what the weather may be, or the canteen serving snacks which later seemed to have a thousand and one issues justifying their avoidance, but not when it was the only option one could find to indulge in savouries that would satisfy the grumblings of stomachs that knew no timing for consumption.
In fact, the excitement of each of the above was only matched by the actual journey that one might undertake. Whether with a bunch of friends and relatives who had planned the trip together or with parents and siblings, the train journey always had a special place in our middle-class hearts. Right from feeling the ownership of your berth to sleep on (that is once you had grown beyond the size that couldn’t be accommodated with another) to actually having the bedding nicely laid to create your lair. Of course, one had to deal with the several sounds that emanated from nostrils struggling from (what later I was to learn) sleep apnoea. But never did one sleep better than with the rocking motion of the broad gauge (I just missed the timing of the generation that still remembers the meter gauge rocking, a rather rigorous one at that).
The midnight stoppages at stations unknown with passengers engaging in the cycle of disembarking, embarking, settling, rocking and resting in what seemed like a mass cradle for the lesser souls, undertaking an overnight journey only to be woken up at the wee hours of morning with the calls of the tea vendors, happy to get the sleepy souls out of their slumber as they awaited the arrival at their destination. Conversations with strangers weren’t unheard of, details of lives and livelihoods exchanged without much of a worry on data privacy. Promises made to connect again, acquaintances developed or discovered as everyone seems to try and find someone who may have some connection with you somewhere. It’s a human trait I have noticed ever since, especially for those who like to connect at a plane deeper than just the exchange of cards.
Meanwhile, the piping hot breakfast, whether in the form of boiled eggs or the ‘idlis’ taken right out from their steamer, were to be partaken with utmost relish without much of a thought given to the origin of the batter or the cleansing of the vessel they were cooked in. Our systems were so content and excited, they seemed to have developed enough antibodies (and God knows we have heard of those ad nauseum) to ensure nothing came in the way of us and our gratification. Of course, there were elaborate meals packed from home that seemed to taste even better when eaten with grime-laden hands, because hygiene was not exactly the topmost worry on our minds. Perhaps unimaginable for my daughter who balks at the absence of sanitizers and hand washes near the water fountain (or rather taps) anywhere.
I can muse on about those days, when travelling by air was a luxury only some could afford or were willing to spend money on. When the choice of travelling by train was more by compulsion, with the absence of much else on options. It was actually the time when vacations began with the journey. When it was not just about reaching your destination but also enjoying everything on the way, and sometimes more so than the destination too. Whether school trips, travel for family weddings or just visiting relatives, whatever was our objective to embark on the train journey, the journey itself was always a highlight with fond memories of shared camaraderie as you sat, lay down or just looked out of the window as everything sped past, waving at urchins for whom it seemed to be one of the highlights of their day to holler at the passing train.
Somewhere in the rush to get somewhere, we seem to have missed about the delight one can draw from the journey to get there. Actually, much like life, it is the journey that matters and not just the destination. It is the former we are to relish, rather than just await the arrival at the latter. In most cases, unlike the train journeys, several of us are not even clear on our destinations- and there is nothing wrong with that. After all the ultimate destination is the one which no one has returned from. So why not make most of the journey… it is the only one we’ve got, and the one we can make a difference to- living each day- now- in the present- the only gift we have!