"Gitanjali Express, train number 12859 from Mumbai to Kolkata will be arriving at platform number 4 shortly.
Jatrigan kripaya dhyan de....Mumbai se kalkatta jaanewali Gitanjanli express......"
It was difficult to hear anything clearly over the cacophony of people talking, tea vendors selling, porters shouting and thousands of other things.
The train slowly rumbled into the platform.
"S5", my father shouted .
We gathered our baggage and walked towards the compartment S5. A few tired faces got down from the train, a few tearful faces said good bye, a few happy smiling faces could be seen through the windows. We boarded the train.
"58, 59, 60, 61"...I heard my father shout from the back trying to maneuver the trolley suitcase in his hand. A young man was sitting at the window seat 60 and showed no signs of moving even after hearing our ticket numbers. Thankfully the seats around him were empty, so we happily settled down without any uncomfortable conversation. A junior jumped to the other window seat and settled down happily.
After years of travel in non-AC compartments, at some point in life, we had shifted to AC travel. Comfortable, hassle-free, vendor free and cool. However, this time, due to some last minute changes, S5 was the only sleeper class non-AC ticket available.
Nostalgia. Food. Fun. Action.
Loved it! ....Am not going back to the cold, dull, lifeless AC compartments anymore!
As the train gathered speed, I looked out of the window and breathed in. A long breath.The "smell" of India...took me back to my childhood travelling days. Ma used to always make puri-sabji to take on the train. I longed for that taste. I remembered my yellow sabji-stained nails, the water bottle, trying to wash my hands through the window, ma saying "shabdhane! hath bar korish na" and so many other things.....
It was also very exciting for the 9-yr old boy. Travelling in a train where windows were open! With grandparents! Enough space to sit, stand, lie down, walk! He loved it!He loved it in more ways than I imagined he would!
My father always loved the train vendors as much as I did. Ma's protests were usually wiped out by father-daughter duo's love for vendor food. Most of the vendors had to stop at our seat side. The tea, the coconut, the samosa, the ......
My trance was broken. One quick glance at my father. Our eyes met for a brief second.
YES!Thankfully nothing has changed. He still loves the vendors!
The Jhalmuriwala was stopped. Jhalmuri was served.
This taste can beat any Michelin star taste. Crisp muri mixed with the rest of the tasty ingredients, a sprinkling of mustard oil and a coconut slice on the top. Heaven in a packet!
Telepathy! Just when my parched throat wished for some tea with the jhalmuri, a tea vendor walked by. A-junior asked if he could have some tea. Grandparents looked towards me for approval. As I nodded my head, the little boy's eyes shone with happiness. He took a sip from the steaming cup in his hands and said "the best tea I have tasted in my whole life"! Something in his genes? The weather? Jhalmuri? the ambience? Whatever it was, I loved the way he enjoyed the journey!
Now for some Kolkata highlights (and low lights):
1. I am not from Kolkata. So I stare a bit blankly when people discuss College street, or Birla planetorium or Chelo kebab of Peter Cat .....They too, stare at me with disbelief!
"Really? You have never tasted the Chelo Kebab of Peter Cat?"..the shock is so evident in their eyes that I start feeling guilty.This time I was lucky enough to break this reputation and successfully walk out of the Peter Cat restaurant with a full plate of chelo kebab in my stomach. The fact that I shared this experience with two of my closest friends made it even more unique.
What can I say? How can I best describe the juicy kebabs lying on a bed of fragrant white butter rice topped with a poached egg? How can I explain to you the melting of the kebabs inside my mouth tickling the taste buds with a taste beyond imagination? How is this feeling of eyes closing on their own after the first bite different from attaining Nirvana? You were right friends, going to Kolkata and not having the Peter Cat chelo kebabs is no less than committing a crime!
2. Birla Planetorium: I had neven been to Birla Planetorium before. Again not being from Kolkata, the opportunity did not arise. This time we thought it may be a good thing to do with the son. So we went. The building was impressive.
It was an extremely hot and humid day. The gates opened and we were welcomed by a gust of refreshing cold air as we walked into the air conditioned building.
Darkness. Cool. Nice.I felt sleepy already.
The show started.
After 2 mins, A-junior asked me, "mama, is the REAL show going to start after this?"
After 5 mins, same question.
After 10, same question.
I had to tell him..."THIS is the real show".
Jokes apart, I was genuinely disappointed with the show. Other that the star-filled dark sky there was nothing interesting at all. The photos were from 1960's, no updates. I think the photo of Mars was taken by a click3 camera from the Earth! The narration material was just being read out from the pages of a geography book. On top of that the narrator had a very strong accent. He kept on saying "WONLY Saturn has rings". At some point of time the accent became so strong that my son asked me, "which language is it now Mom?".
In today's world of computers and google maps, how can such a show survive? The more important question is WHY should such a show survive? For whom? and for what?
When I compared notes with my father later, I realized that he had seen EXACTLY the same show in 1969!! At that point of time he LOVED the star filled sky. So did I! In 2014!
The list of holiday highlights is quite long....but so much for the time being....